Ringworm has nothing to do with a worm. Quite simply put, it is a fungal infection of the skin and gets its name from the shape of the rash that accompanies it. (See Figure 1)The rash forms small raised red circles in the groin, armpit and areas of the body that remain warm and moist.
This skin infection is highly common among children and is contagious, but ringworm can affect anyone at any age. Cats and dogs can carry ringworm, but catching it from an animal is not as common as once thought. The fungus for causing the infection is known as tinea and this also causes several other related infections such as; jock itch, athletes foot and certain forms of dandruff on the scalp.
Contrary to popular belief, ringworm is not a “dirty” infection. It is actually a clean one. Tinea is a type of yeast that lives on skin and certain conditions cause the yeast to grow and thrive. The good bacteria that live on the skin help to keep this fungus in check. Over washing with anti-bacterial soaps is one factor that causes ringworm. Let’s take a look at some more of the causes of ringworm.
Figure 1: Ringworm
Photo Courtesy of: medicinenet.com
What causes Ringworm?
Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin and is caused by keeping the skin too moist. It is also caused by high sugar levels in diabetics, compromised immune systems and overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics can kill of too much of the good bacteria in your body that helps to control yeast and fungal growth.
People who participate in athletics, especially swimmers are the most susceptible to ringworm. Over bathing and not drying off completely also puts anyone at risk for fungal growth on the skin.
Yeast thrives on sugar in the body. Diabetics with high blood sugar are at risk for this infection. Also, people with compromised immune systems and people who have to take steroid medications are at risk for ringworm.
This infection is contagious and can be found on used towels, brushes and combs, unwashed clothing and public shower areas. There is also a high incidence of ringworm contamination to tanning beds.
What are the symptoms of Ringworm?
Ringworm starts with a red circular rash in areas covered by tight clothing or other skin such as; armpits, groin creases and abdominal folds. The rash can spread to other areas of the body. Other symptoms include:
- Oozing blisters
- Hair Loss
- Loss of skin pigmentation
- Flaky Skin
Ringworm can also affect the nails and cause them to appear yellow, brittle and thickened. (See Figure 2) Nail fungus can be one of the most difficult to treat because it requires medications that can penetrate the nail beds.
Figure 2: Toenail Fungus
Photo Courtesy of: toenail-fungus-treatment.net
What is the treatment for Ringworm?
Ringworm treatment requires commitment to daily topical and/or oral medications and the entire body must be treated from head to toe. Ringworm can spread to untreated areas and return if treatment is not done daily for weeks to months. Common treatments for ringworm include:
Anti-fungal Creams A mild case of ringworm can be treated with over the counter anti-fungal creams. These are the same creams used for athlete’s foot.
Tea Tree Oil An alternative to anti-fungal creams is a natural substance that can be obtained in health food stores. There is also tea tree oil shampoo’s and body washes. (See Figure 3)
Figure 3: Tea Tree Oil Plant
Photo Courtesy of: therabreath.com
Oral Anti-fungals for more severe cases of ringworm, the doctor may need to prescribe an oral pill to be taken. The doctor will need to check the patients liver and kidneys before administration of this type of medication. Severe adverse effects can occur in these organs.
Dandruff Shampoo Dandruff shampoos that contain salicylic acid or zinc pyrithione can help to control fungal infections over a long period of time. People with chronic ringworm can use the dandruff shampoo daily in the shower. It does need to be left on the skin for at least 10 minutes each application to help kill the yeast.
Low Sugar Diets More recently alternative medicine practioners are encouraging a “yeast free” diet and diets low in sugar to help curb the growth of yeast. This diet encourages healthy carbohydrates, but ones very low in sugar and high protein intake. The diet must be followed for at least 6 to 8 weeks for any result to be seen and it is very strict. People who use a low sugar diet report almost complete resolution of yeast on the body.
How can Ringworm be prevented?
It is important to take precautions against ringworm if you have ever had an infection or are at risk for infection. These are simple daily changes to lifestyle that will help to keep the risk of ringworm lower:
Keep skin very dry after swimming or showering. Make sure to dry the feet and between the toes well. Keep groin, armpit areas and abdominal folds very dry. Some people try cornstarch powder, however this is discouraged due to the high sugar content in the corn will encourage yeast growth. A good powder to encourage dryness is talc.
Use only clean towels after your shower, bath or swimming. Moist towels can encourage yeast growth or spread it from person to person. Hang your towel to dry thoroughly or grab a fresh one if it is still damp.
Shower after using public pools and saunas because these are prime places for transmission of fungal infections. Any place that is warm and moist is a good place for yeast to live and thrive. A quick shower can clean the skin and be sure to dry off thoroughly with a clean towel. It is also helpful to use shower or water shoes to prevent fungus from infecting the feet.
Figure 4: Cat with Ringworm
Always wash your hands after touching pets especially cats and dogs. If you notice bald spots (See Figure 4) on a pet this may be a sign of ringworm. Any pet can carry ringworm so it is always a good idea to wash your hands after playing with them.