Have you ever suffered from athlete's foot? What about jock itch? Then you've had ringworm. Ringworm is an infection of the skin caused by the fungus tinea. In spite of its name, it has nothing to do with worms. The name comes from the ring-shaped rash that appears on the skin.
Ringworm is contagious and passed through direct contact with an infected area. These can include the skin of infected people or animals, shower and locker room floors, combs and unwashed clothing or towels and infected soil. Ringworm likes warm, damp surfaces like skin, hair, and nail beds and can come in several types, depending on the area of the body involved.
This type affects the scalp or beard and sometimes leaves bald patches. The black dot variety begins as a small patch and develops redness but no itching as it gets bigger. Hair breaks off at base of the scalp, and the particles that build up in the follicle look like black dots. The gray patch type also starts as a small patch, but spreads and stops in stages. Redness and scaling occur, and the hair has a frosted look when it breaks off just above the scalp.
This type of ringworm is very itchy and occurs on the top layer of skin on the face, arms, trunk or legs. It begins as a rash and then forms circular sores that can be red, flat or raised and may have small blisters or bumps. Over time, the centers clear up, leaving a ring.
Commonly known as jock itch, this ringworm infects the groin and sometimes the buttocks or inner thighs. More common in men, the rash that appears is well-defined and scaly, causing a burning feeling and peeling, cracking or flaking of the skin. In time it may develop blisters and get larger. It can spread through sexual intercourse or shared use of contaminated clothing or towels.
Sometimes called athlete's foot, this ringworm infects in between the toes but can also infect the foot. It usually begins with scaling between the toes and can later develop small fluid-filled blisters. Because ringworm likes a most environment, athlete's foot is more common during hot weather, when wearing heavy footwear or when sweating.
Risks and Treatment of Ringworm
Although ringworm can affect people of any age, it is more common in children, people whose skin, scalp, or nails are constantly wet, people with compromised immune systems (diabetes, HIV or AIDS) or people who already have eczema. If left untreated, ringworm infections can spread and cause permanent scarring.
Some infections clear up on their own, but keeping skin and nails dry and clean will help. Several antifungal creams are available without a prescription (Tinactin, Micatin and Lotrimin), but a more aggressive antibiotic may be needed for persistent infections. Most take about a month before the infection completely disappears.