"Ringworm" may be one of the most visibly appropriate, yet factually misleading medical terms. Looking at a patch of ringworm, you could easily imagine that an actual worm is the culprit, but in reality it isn't a worm at all… it's a fungus! Were it not for the itching and the spreading, and the discomforting redness, you could almost admire it for its elegant circular design.
If you’re facing a persistent fungal skin infection it can make you feel self-conscious and uncomfortable even if no one else knows what it is. Sometimes, even prescription medication doesn’t solve the problem because some fungi can be resistant to common prescriptions.
Below you'll find information to help you determine whether you may have ringworm and should schedule an appointment with your doctor. You'll also find steps to treat a new infection.
What is ringworm?
It is a fungal infection caused by Dermatophytes. Dermatophytes are mold-like fungi. Medically, ringworm is known as Tinea.
How is ringworm transmitted?
It is transmitted through direct contact with an infected person or animal. Ringworm is quite contagious, spreading through contact with infected skin or objects that have come in contact with it (like towels, brushes, hats, bedding and articles of clothing). This skin fungus can spread from animals to people, and (very rarely) even from soil to people, though that requires extensive contact. Those with a compromised or weak immune system may be more susceptible. It is particularly common in children. Damp and humid areas increase the risk of getting it.
Common areas where children or adults may become infected with ringworm are:
- Swimming pool areas
- Mats at the local gym
- Shower areas and stalls at a gym
Pets can easily become infected with ringworm if they play in contaminated soil in, for example, a dog park or kennel. You may not even realize that your pet, or the soil, has it until you play with or pick up your family pet and get infected! Pets can get ringworm easily since they play with or come in contact with animals that may be infectious. Have pets checked by a veterinarian regularly to avoid infection. Be attentive and do not walk barefoot on potentially infected soil.
Common areas on your body to find ringworm
Ringworm can appear on any part of your body that has keratinized skin. Thankfully, that excludes your eyeballs and mucus membranes! The fungus thrives in warm, moist places; so common areas to find it include the scalp, fingers, nails, feet, thighs, toes, and the groin area. “Jock itch” and “athletes foot” are technically a form of ringworm. Depending on which part of body is infected, the symptoms can be mild or severe.
In children, look for ring-rashes around the stomach, chest, back and thighs and, as the fungus spreads, the ring will start to enlarge. Being able to identify it will help you to stop the fungus before it can infect other areas.
Here's how you'll know if you have ringworm:
- Appearance. On skin, ringworm can appear as a single circular patch, or multiple distinct patches, or a patch that seems to be dividing into several patches. Together, the shape and topography of the patch are your main clues that ringworm is likely to blame. A patch is basically circular and red, but the redness often diminishes toward the center of the circular rash. If you look closely at it, the outer edge of the circle is slightly elevated from the interior of the circle, and you'll likely see some dry, flaky skin along the surface. Skin may also appear crusted and bumpy on occasion.
As a ringworm patch ages, its circle expands, at which point smaller circular patches can form from it (as mentioned earlier). Because ringworm is highly contagious, you should keep an eye out for any other patches elsewhere on your body.
If the fungus has infected fingernails, nails will appear yellow, brittle and thick. This causes them to break easily. More than likely you will notice it in between toes, and not under fingernails. Symptoms include cracking of the toes, and itching and flaking around the area. A red scaly rash can spread to the bottom of the feet as well. When it appears on the scalp, you'll notice hair loss over the fungal patch of skin.
- Symptoms. Other than the obvious ring, symptoms will include burning, itching, rashes and dryness in areas mentioned above. An itchy area often triggers the discovery of ringworm in hard-to-visualize places, like the groin or back. If an itchy red patch of skin resembles what was described earlier, the likelihood of a fungal infection is high.
If you're uncertain as to whether you have a case of ringworm, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. However, in the meantime, it is strongly suggested that you adopt a simple course of treatment until you are properly diagnosed; there's no harm in rubbing some antifungal ointment on rashes before confirming diagnosis, and it just might prevent it from spreading.
Identifying ringworm in pets
Ringworm can affect both cats and dogs. The signs on animals include a scaly patch on the head or paws or broken hair around a scaly patch of skin on the body. The most common areas to look for infection are the tail, head and legs. There will most likely be a persistent itch on the infected area and it will be sensitive and even painful to the touch.
A common way for animals to get ringworm is by having contact with contaminated toys, bedding, mats and nail clippers. Another way is by having contact with other animals that are already infected. If your cat or dog is infected with ringworm, be very careful not to let children near the animal since it is highly contagious in animals. Seek veterinary care immediately. Use disposable gloves if you are required to provide any treatment to the animal. Prevention includes having regular vet checkups and doing regular grooming. Even though ringworm is non-life threatening, once infected, it is very uncomfortable and treatment can take 6 weeks or more to fully heal.
How do you treat and get rid of ringworm?
Natural remedies for treating ringworm
Depending on the severity of the ringworm, there are some natural remedies you might try for treating it. Most are natural ingredients that are made into a juice or solution, a paste or a poultice and you would apply it directly to the patch of ringworm on your face or body to help treat it. They include:
- Natural apple cider vinegar (like Bragg’s): soak cider on a cotton ball or towel and apply for 15 minutes several times per day.
- Raw Papaya: Rub slices or make a paste from dried papaya seeds and apply to patches of ringworm.
- Garlic: mash 1-2 cloves and apply 2 times per day.
- Turmeric: Apply the juice of grated turmeric while taking take 1 tsp turmeric juice with 1 tsp honey internally.
- Raw vegetable juices: Drink fresh vegetable juices such as juiced spinach and carrots to help build your immune system back.
- Dead sea salts: can help dry up the ringworm if applied directly.
- Iodine solution: Apply to the ringworm patches directly.
- Pure tea tree or lavender essential oil.
Summary. Ringworm is not a life–threatening disease but it is very contagious. It can be treated easily once identified but can take several weeks to be eliminated completely. The best advice is to take precautions and prevent ringworm in the first place. Just washing hands frequently is the easiest form of prevention.
If you do happen to get ringworm, act quickly and get the proper treatment. Be patient if you get a prescription from your doctor; it will most likely take 6-12 weeks before it completely disappears. Ringworm can be contagious before physical symptoms appear, so don't just sit back and let it spread over your body when you do notice it! Ignoring the skin disease won't solve the problem. Be aggressive in whatever method of treatment you choose.