Ringworm is a common condition that affects the skin or scalp. It is characterised by a red/silver rash that is in the shape of a ring and will usually be raised at the edge and clear in the middle. It is a highly contagious fungal infection caused by the dermatophyte fungus and is not caused by worms as the name suggests. The rash can be dry and itchy and can spread across the body. You can catch ringworm from other people, clothing, household items and animals.
Fungal infections are treated with antifungal medicines which kill the fungi and stop them overgrowing. Ringworm is often treated with antifungal cream which usually clears the infection in around 1-2 weeks. However, if the condition is persistent and severe and is not clearing with cream, you may need antifungal tablets.
“Many people mistake ringworm as a condition that is caused by worms, when it is in fact caused by a fungus. It can also be mistaken for other skin conditions such as eczema, but it should not be confused as it it is treated differently. Fungal infections such as ringworm are firstly treated with an antifungal cream such as Lamisil to kill the fungus. As well as medication you should also take care to not spread the infection to other parts of the body or to other people, by washing your hands after touching infected areas.”
What is ringworm?
Contrary to its name ringworm is not caused by worms and is in fact a fungal infection of the skin. Also known as tinea corporis, ringworm is a skin rash that usually forms in a red ring and can appear anywhere on the body including the scalp (tinea capitis) and the groin (tinea cruris). The rash can grow and spread across the body and may not always look typical of ringworm. Ringworm is not a serious condition but the symptoms can be unpleasant and irritating. Symptoms of ringworm include:
- Patchy red or silver rash with a red raised edge and clear centre
- Scaly, dry and itchy skin
- Blistered skin (severe infection)
- Inflammation of the infected skin
- Pus-filled sores (severe infection)
- Multiple rings that may merge together (severe infection)
Ringworm is a contagious infection that can be spread through close skin-to-skin contact.
What causes ringworm?
Ringworm is caused by a type of fungi known as dermatophytes. It predominantly affects the skin, hair, and nails because these parts of the body contain keratin, something that fungal infections thrive off. Anyone can contract this infection but it is more common in children and pet owners. Ringworm is spread through close contact between humans but also between animal and human as ringworm can also affect animals. It’s important to always wash your hands after touching an animal just incase they are infected with ringworm or other contagious diseases.
Some people are more at risk of catching this infection and certain health conditions make you more susceptible to infections. Those with weakened immune systems can catch infections such as these easily and it can hard to fight the infection, this is why it’s particularly important to be careful around people with HIV or AIDS if you have ringworm as it could be dangerous for them to catch even minor infections.
The very young and the very old are more at risk of developing fungal infections as well as those who are overweight, have poor circulation, have atherosclerosis (hardened arteries), receiving medical treatment such as chemotherapy or steroid medicines as these can lower the immune system, and those who have diabetes.Fungal infections of the feet are particularly dangerous for diabetics and they should take extra care to avoid infections or seek treatment straight away if infected.
How is ringworm treated?
Depending on which part of the body the ringworm is and how severe it is will determine the type of treatment you receive. Sometimes ringworm can be mistaken for other skin conditions such as eczema so it’s important to get a proper diagnosis so it’s treated in the right way.
Topical antifungal medicines are usually prescribed to clear and heal the infection. Creams are applied directly to the affected area to attack and kill the dermatophyte fungus. These treatments are usually applied twice a day for around one to two weeks when you should see your infection cleared. However, if the infection is still persisting and antifungal creams have not worked you may need to take antifungal tablets. For ringworm of the scalp, antifungal shampoos are prescribed. Antifungal treatments for ringworm available to buy at Doctor-4-U include:
- Lamsil cream/gel
- Terbinafine cream
Are there complications if ringworm is left untreated?
Like any infection, if it is left untreated it may cause further problems. Some infections may clear up on their own but to prevent it worsening and to ease the symptoms, treatment may be required. Ringworm is not seriously and will stay on the surface of the skin. However, for those who have low immune systems and cannot fight off infections quickly may find it difficult to get rid of the infection. If the skin is left in a broken, irritated and itchy this may lead to further bacterial infections, particularly if you scratch the skin and this may need antibiotics, something we all need to avoid taking due to antibiotic resistance.
There is also a risk of ringworm spreading to other parts of the body and causing widespread infection. Other parts of the body may respond differently to ringworm and may cause worse symptoms and make it difficult to treat. If the fungal infection reaches the nail it can take a while to treat and can cause permanent damage to the nail.
There’s also a chance of abscesses developing if ringworm is left untreated and you react highly to the fungi.
Complications of ringworm are rare and in most cases ringworm will clear easy with topical antifungal creams.
How to prevent ringworm
The fungi that causes these infections not only lives on human skin, it also lives on animals and even household items such as furniture, towels and clothing. You should avoid sharing these types of items as much as possible to prevent the spread of fungal infections. If you or someone else is infected with ringworm or any other fungal infection you should definitely not share items as it can easily be passed from one person to another.
Try not to scratch the infected area to prevent spreading it other parts of the body, particularly the nails. If you suspect your pet may have ringworm you should take them to the vet straight away to get treatment and prevent it spreading to you or anyone else in your home, and remember to always wash your hands after touching your pet.