Ringworm, also referred to as dermatophytosis, tinea corporis, or tinea, is a highly contagious skin infection that is characterized by the development of a red or silvery ring-like rash with a raised, snaking border and clearer skin in the middle.
This infection carries a misleading name that would suggest that it is caused by worms, when in fact, the blame lies entirely on a mold-like fungus that thrives on the dead keratin or protein found in the surface layer of your skin, hair, and nails.
You can pick up this fungus from direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person and just as easily through indirect contacts, such as sharing of items with the infected person or contact with a contaminated surface. It is important to remember that ringworm affects animals too and can be passed on to humans.
Although your torso, arms, and legs are most susceptible to a ringworm rash, it can appear almost anywhere on the body, including the scalp, feet, groin, and nails.
Tinea corporis is a broad umbrella term that includes many variations of this condition, each accorded a specific name depending upon the part of the body affected.
Given the widespread prevalence of such fungal infections, they have become quite easy to treat without the risk of any serious complications. The skin damage associated with ringworm infection remains confined to the epidermal layer of the skin, which makes this condition even more non-threatening.
What Causes a Ringworm Infection?
There are 40 different species of fungi that can be held accountable for this infection. These pathogens fall under three separate genera, namely Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epidermophyton.
Given that these dermatophytes require warmth and moisture to flourish, they are particularly common in tropical regions with predominantly hot and humid summers.
Signs and Symptoms of Ringworm
The different types of ringworm infections may exhibit varying symptoms, each specific to the area of the body affected.
Ringworm rashes that appear on the glabrous skin
It initially manifests in the form of flat ring-shaped patches with a raised, irregular border. With time, these circular patches tend to expand, multiply, and overlap, thereby covering other areas of the body.
As the ring grows in size, the skin in the center tends to clear and appear relatively healthy while that around the border appears red, bumpy, and irritated.
The skin underneath the patch can be intensely itchy, and without proper treatment, blisters or pus-filled sores may develop around the ring.
Ringworm rashes that develop on the bearded area
These are not always shaped like a ring but can take the form of itchy red spots on the cheeks, chin, and upper neck. The swollen skin gradually become dry and crusted.
As long as the infection remains untreated, your facial hair may continue to break and fall out. People with this form of infection also report feeling lethargic without any justifiable cause, and some experience inflammation of the lymph nodes.
Ringworm of the groin
It is characterized by itchy red spots in the crease where the leg meets the body. The rash then spreads to the inner thighs and might extend to the buttocks and waist.
The infected skin has a scaly texture and is prone to flaking, peeling, or cracking. In severe cases, the jock itch can turn intensely painful, and the symptoms tend to get aggravated by tight clothing and while walking, running, or exercising.
A ringworm rash on the scalp
It starts off as a small pimple that grows larger and creates thick, crusty patches on the scalp that are prone to hair loss. The hair in the affected region tends to become brittle and break off, leaving the scalp with a swollen and tender bald spot.
At times, the hairless area may even develop black spots due to the remnants of broken-off hair just below the dermis. In extreme cases, the affected skin may even develop kerion, or large inflamed sores, oozing pus-like discharge.
It refers to the condition when a prolonged case of tinea pedis or manus spreads to affect the toenails or fingernails. This type of infection begins with the thickening of the nail bed tissue, causing the nails to appear discolored and disfigured.
As the structural integrity of the nail is compromised by the fungus, it becomes thickened and brittle and tends to crumble easily. Over time, the infected nail may begin to detach from the nail bed. Delaying treatment can cause the infection to spread from one nail to the next.
Ringworm of the foot
It usually begins as dry, scaly, and itchy skin between the toes, which may spread to the side of your feet and to your soles and heels. The rash does not have a conventional ring-like appearance. Instead, the infected patch of itchy skin may turn flaky, thickened, and fissured or moist, mushy, and white.
In severe cases, the irritated skin may crack open, begin to bleed and give off a foul smell.
These ringworm symptoms usually appear 10 to 14 days after contact with an infected person, pet, or surface. If the affected skin is light-toned, the rash tends to be red or pink. In darker toned skin, the patches acquire deeper hues and appear brown or gray.
Given its characteristic appearance, identifying a ringworm rash rarely requires an in-depth inspection. Doctors can usually tell if its ringworm or not simply by looking at the infected area. Sometimes, however, the condition can present symptoms that apply to other skin problems such as eczema, granuloma annulare, and psoriasis.
In order to rule out the possibility of a misdiagnosis, the dermatologist may order a skin biopsy or fungal culture. He/she will take a scraping of the infected skin, hair, or nail tissue as well as a discharge sampling from a blister, which will be microscopically examined for traces of the suspected fungus.
This form of testing entails placing the sample of infected skin in a potassium hydroxide (KOH) preparation and subsequently reviewing it under the microscope to confirm the presence of a fungus.
The KOH will destroy the healthy skin cells without affecting the fungal cells, thereby making it easier to identify fungal hyphae or branches.
Medical Treatment for Ringworm
The conventional treatment approach for ringworm makes use of a number of medicinal options. Your doctor will determine the appropriate course of treatment depending upon the location and severity of the infection.
In most cases, a ringworm infection can easily be managed and cured at home by over-the-counter antifungal products, which may come in the form of creams, gels, lotions, sprays, shampoo, and powders.
It is, however, imperative that you take no liberties regarding the stipulated dosage or application technique and adhere to the instruction manual that comes with these products.
Some of these antifungal products warrant a single application only, whereas some may have to be applied regularly even until after the infection has cleared to prevent recurrence.
If the infection has advanced to a severe degree and covers large areas of the body, your doctor may have to prescribe something a little stronger.
For instance, ringworm of the scalp or nails, which is relatively stubborn and resistant to topical treatment, may call for prescription-strength oral medications such as griseofulvin, ketoconazole, and terbinafine.
Natural Treatment Options for Ringworm
Ringworm of the body can be easily treated by maintaining good hygiene and using some simple, natural, and effective home remedies.
Here are some adjunctive home remedies to get rid of ringworm.
1. Maintain Good Hygiene
When it comes to treating ringworm of the body, maintaining good hygiene is a must. This helps prevent the infection from spreading to other areas of the body and reduces the healing time.
According to the World Health Organization, personal hygiene, supported by the availability of adequate quantities of water, is an important preventive measure to prevent the spread of ringworm.
Keep the affected area as clean as possible. Wash the area with water and some mild soap daily. After taking a shower, dry your skin well, especially between the toes, groin, and armpits. Also, prevent sweat from accumulating around the affected area, as moisture makes it easier for the fungus to grow and spread.
Always make sure to wash your hands thoroughly in hot soapy water after treating ringworm, or wear disposable gloves.
Also, avoid sharing towels and clothing with someone who has the infection.
2. Use Tea Tree Oil for Symptomatic Relief
Tea tree oil can successfully treat ringworm of the body, thanks to its antifungal and antiseptic properties. It can help kill the fungus responsible for the infection and can provide quick relief from the discomforting symptoms associated with it.
A 2016 study published in the Nepal Journal of Dermatology, Venereology & Leprology concluded that tea tree oil 50% cream was safe and as effective as clotrimazole 1% cream for the treatment of tinea corporis or cruris.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology identified that most components of tea tree oil have activity against a range of fungi.
- You can dilute tea tree oil in an equal amount of carrier oil such as coconut oil and then apply it on the skin. Do this treatment once or twice daily.
3. Exploit Garlic’s Antifungal Properties
Moreover, this herb can also fuel your immune responses to make them more effective in combating this pestilent infection.
- One of the simplest ways to use garlic for athlete’s foot is to add a few finely crushed cloves of garlic to a foot bath and soak the affected foot for 30 minutes per day.
- Also, eat 1 or 2 cloves of fresh garlic daily. This will make it difficult for the fungus to survive and spread.
4. Apply Coconut Oil to Soothe the Irritation
Its moisturizing property helps reduce the itchiness of the affected area. It also aids in the healing of the affected skin.
In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, researchers concluded that coconut oil should be used in the treatment of fungal infections in view of its success against emerging drug-resistant Candida species.
You can choose any one of the following remedies based on your preference.
- Warm up coconut oil in the microwave for a few seconds. Apply it directly on the affected area and massage it to help the skin absorb it quickly. Do this at least three times daily.
- Put 1 tablespoon of warm coconut oil in a bowl. Add half of a camphor tablet to it and let it sit for a few hours. Apply the mixture to the affected areas two to three times daily to get relief from the infection.
- Mix coconut oil and oregano oil in a 5:1 ratio. Massage the oil blend on the infected skin. Leave it on for 10 minutes. Then, rinse it off with lukewarm water and thoroughly pat your skin dry. Do this twice a day for at least 4 weeks.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar for a Speedy Recovery
Also, apple cider vinegar is good for your immunity.
- Dilute raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar with an equal amount of water. Soak a cotton ball in it and apply it on the affected skin. Do this three times per day.
- Also, mix 1-2 tablespoons of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and a little honey into a glass of warm water. Drink this solution twice daily to help fight the infection from within.
6. Trust Lemongrass and its Detoxifying Effects
Lemongrass helps treat ringworm due to its powerful antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. It also relieves itching. When taken internally, lemongrass helps give your body a much-need cleanse by flushing out harmful toxins.
- Drink lemongrass tea or a combination of lemongrass and chamomile tea three times a day.
- You can also apply used lemongrass teabags, lemongrass essential oil, or a paste of lemongrass leaves and buttermilk topically on the affected area.
7. Licorice Helps Combat Fungal Infections
- Pour 1 cup of water into a saucepan, and add 5 or 6 teaspoons of licorice root powder to it.
- Bring it to a boil, and then let it simmer for 20 minutes.
- Strain the liquid and allow the solution to cool down.
- Soak a cotton ball in the liquid and dab it on the affected areas.
- Leave it on for at least 10 minutes, and then rinse it off with lukewarm water.
- Repeat this process two to three times a day until you see improvement.
8. Turmeric is a Promising Healing Agent
Another natural ingredient that is renowned for its effectiveness against skin ailments such as ringworm is turmeric. It works as an effective antifungal that inhibits the growth of the fungus at the root of this infection.
It also has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that aid the healing process.
- Extract the juice from grated, raw turmeric root. Apply the juice on the ringworm two to three times a day until the infection clears.
- Alternatively, mix a ½ teaspoon of turmeric with enough olive oil to form a paste. Apply it on the affected area. Cover the area with a bandage or gauze if you wish to prevent getting turmeric stains on your clothes. After 1-2 hours, rinse off the turmeric paste and reapply it. Do this until the infection is gone.
- Turmeric can be taken in the form of a supplement, too. Consult your doctor for the correct dosage.
9. Aloe Vera is a Trusted Skin Healer
Aloe vera is touted as a quintessential natural skin balm, all thanks to the abundance of studies backing the healing properties of this plant. The gel enclosed within the aloe leaves stores much of its therapeutic goodness and is particularly treasured for its potent antibacterial and antiseptic properties.
Simply break off a leaf from the plant and apply the exuding gel-like salve onto the rash. You can do this by gently massaging the exposed interior of the leaf on your irritated skin.
Be sure to wash the leaf before application to prevent further contamination by dust and other grime that might have lodged on its surface.
Alternatively, you can scoop out the aloe gel and apply it using your fingers, given they are properly sanitized. For people who may not have the plant available at home, they can always opt for a packaged brand of aloe gel.
10. Apply Holy Basil (Tulsi) Juice on the Irritated Skin
Holy basil, or tulsi (Hindi), is among the gold standards of all the curative herbs in traditional, organic, and Ayurvedic medicine. Given its formidable antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects, this skin-friendly plant is highly reputed as a natural cure for ringworm infections.
A study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine found that Ocimum sanctum leaves possess antifungal activity against clinically isolated dermatophytes at the concentration of 200 mg/mL. Tulsi leaf extracts showed both inhibitory and fungicidal activity against the dermatophytes studied.
- Extract the juice from about 20 holy basil leaves and apply it on the infected skin.
- Repeat this application three to four times every day.
- Results will start to show within 2-3 days.
The following remedies are neither backed by scientific evidence nor are they reviewed by our health experts. Nonetheless, a number of general users have reported an improvement in their condition using these anecdotal remedies.
Apply Indian Lilac for Faster Healing
It helps prevent the fungus from spreading and also provides quick relief from the symptoms.
- Apply neem oil on the affected area two to three times a day until the infection clears.
- Alternatively, combine equal parts of neem leaf paste, turmeric powder, and sesame oil. Apply this paste on the affected area and leave it on for 1 hour. Rinse it off with lukewarm water and thoroughly pat the area dry. Do this twice daily until the infection has cleared.
Use Colloidal Silver Topically
Colloidal silver is a great option when it comes to treating ringworm of the body. It has potent antifungal abilities that help fight the root cause of the problem.
Plus, it’s nontoxic and it starts working almost immediately.
- Spray some colloidal silver on the area and let it dry. Repeat this two to three times per day until the infection clears.
Dab Some Iodine Solution on the Affected Skin
Iodine tincture is effective in eliminating ringworm of the body, due to its antifungal and antiseptic properties. It not only helps fight the root cause of the problem, but it also prevents the infection from spreading.
To treat ringworm, you need 2% iodine solution, which you can easily find in a nearby drugstore.
- Soak a cotton ball or cotton swab in the 2% iodine solution.
- Dab it on the affected area.
- Do this two to three times a day for a few weeks.
Types of Ringworm
There are five different types of ringworm based on the location of the rash:
- If the rash appears on the bearded area of the face, the infection is referred to as tinea barbae, more commonly as “barber’s itch.” This type of ringworm is most prevalent among adolescent and adult males and is characterized by a red and scaly patch with an ill-defined outline.
- Tinea capitis, or ringworm of the scalp, first appears in the form of small sores that gradually grow into itchy, scaly patches. Children and adolescents are most prone to this type of infection, which often induces hair loss and leaves one with bald spots on the affected area of the scalp.
- Tinea corporis is the term assigned to itchy rashes that appear on the arms, legs, or any other area of glabrous or hairless skin. These rashes are often but not always ring-shaped and tend to have an active reddened border that grows.
- When the infection manifests in the groin area, it is scientifically referred to as tinea cruris and colloquially as “jock itch.” The patch usually has reddish-brown hues and is often mistaken for a yeast infection and psoriasis or dismissed as a case of skin chafing due to tight clothing.
- The condition goes by the name of tinea pedis, or athlete’s foot when the rash develops on the feet and tinea manus if on the hands. Such red and itchy rashes generally appear in the spaces between your fingers and toes and can cause thickening and scaling of the affected skin. If not tended to properly, the infection can even spread to the heels or soles of the feet and the nails.
How Does Ringworm Spread?
- Direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person remains the most straightforward way of picking up this fungus. Much the same way, nonhuman mammals such as dogs and cats, especially kittens and puppies, goats, cows, pigs, and horses are also prone to this infection and can pass it on to humans through direct or indirect contact.
- These fungi may even survive for extended periods as spores in the soil, making all those who regularly come in contact with the contaminated soil easy targets of infection.
- The infection-carrying pathogens can also stick around on objects or surfaces that an infected person or animal has recently touched or rubbed against, such as towels, clothing, combs and brushes, bedding, and linens. Sharing or touching such unclean objects is another easy route for the infection to make its way to you, especially in the case of children.
- Similarly, walking barefoot on damp, fungi-infested floors commonly associated with public pools and showers as well as gym locker rooms can make one vulnerable to a ringworm infection, particularly athlete’s foot.
How Long Does Ringworm Last?
Mild cases of ringworm usually resolve within 2 to 4 weeks of starting treatment. However, relatively serious cases, wherein the nails or scalp might be affected, warrant a more extensive treatment plan that can stretch up to 3 months.
If you or someone in your family has symptoms, it is important to treat ringworm right away to safeguard other family members from it.
How to Prevent Ringworm?
To prevent ringworm:
- Don’t share clothing, sports gear, towels, or sheets. If you think you have been exposed to ringworm, wash your clothes in hot water with an antifungal soap.
- Wear appropriate footwear such as slippers or sandals when walking on the damp floors of locker rooms and communal showers or near public swimming pools.
- Don’t overlook your scalp hygiene and shower and shampoo well after engaging in any type of contact sport.
- Try to wear light, breezy fabrics that don’t cling to the skin during the hot and humid months.
- Try to bathe regularly and change your clothes every day, particularly your socks and underwear.
- Wash your hands every now and then with soapy water.
- Keep your nails filed and clean.
- Wash your clothes, towels, and bed linens regularly, and try not to share them with others. It may help to give them a more thorough wash with hot water and fungicidal soap occasionally.
- Avoid sharing your combs, brushes, and footwear with others.
- Keep your skin clean and dry at all times. Always dry yourself from head to toe after bathing or swimming.
- Thoroughly clean and dry yourself after engaging in sweat-inducing activities. Also, avoid excessive perspiration by keeping your living environment comfortably cool and dry.
Who is at Greater Risk?
- Ringworm is a fairly common skin ailment. An estimated 10%-20% of people are likely to suffer from such a fungal skin infection at some point during their lifetime.
- People of all ages and gender can fall victim to this infection. However, children are found to be most susceptible to it. This is especially true for scalp ringworm, which is most prevalent among children under the age of puberty, especially children residing in urban areas and those of African-Caribbean descent.
- While body ringworm continues to be a threat for people across all ages, the incidence of groin infections is particularly high among young men.
Other risk factors include:
- Living in damp or humid areas
- Excessive sweating
- Taking part in contact sports
- Wearing tight clothing
- Having a weak immune system
- Sharing clothing, bedding, or towels with others
Possible Complications with Ringworm
A fungal infection such as ringworm remains largely confined to the epidermal layers of the skin and rarely penetrates the skin’s surface to cause serious illness.
This fairly harmless skin infection, however, can become quite long-standing and unresponsive to conventional treatment in people with compromised immunity, such as those with HIV/AIDS.
When to See a Doctor
A visit to your doctor becomes mandatory in the following events:
- If the symptoms fail to subside despite preliminary treatment and persist for more than 2 weeks
- If the rash appears in a particularly sensitive area such as your scalp
- If the affected skin becomes painfully red and swollen
- If the infected rash begins to ooze pus-like discharge
- If you run a high temperature
- Do not scratch the affected areas of your skin, as it will only spread the infection to other areas.
- Prevent ringworm of the body by avoiding contact with someone who has the infection.
- If you have a pet, make sure he does not have a ringworm infection. If you notice any worrying signs such as patches of missing fur, take your pet to the vet immediately to prevent the disease from spreading.
- Build your immune system to help fight the infection by eating foods rich in vitamin C and D and zinc.
- To fight an infection, eat whole grains, vegetables, olives, coconut, eggs, seafood, yogurt, garlic, lemon, oranges, and grapefruit.
- Avoid sugar and sugary foods, alcohol, cheese, bread containing yeast, and chocolate.
- Avoid wearing thick clothing for long periods of time in warm, humid weather.
- Avoid excessive sweating by staying in a cool place.
- If you have athlete’s foot, put your socks on before your underwear so that fungi do not spread from your feet to your groin.
- If your child happens to be suffering from any form of ringworm infection, keep him/her out of school until the day after appropriate treatment has commenced. This precautionary measure is more in the interest of his/her peers who might contract the infection through contact with your child.
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