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Show full transcript for Ringworm video

In this lesson, you'll be learning all about ringworm – what it is, who is most at risk, signs and symptoms, along with the customary treatment options and prevention techniques.

Ringwork is a common infection of the skin and nails that's caused by a fungus. The infection is called ringworm because it causes an itchy red circular red rash. However, there are also different types of ringworm that have a variety of names based on the location. In fact, there are approximately 40 different species of fungi that can cause ringworm.

Areas of the body that can be affected by ringworm include:

  • Feet
  • Hands
  • Fingernails and toenails
  • Groin area – inner thighs, buttocks, etc.
  • Scalp
  • Beard area on face and neck
  • Arms and legs

Who is Most at Risk?

You have a higher risk of getting ringworm if you:

  • Live in a warm climate
  • Have close contact with an infected person or animal
  • Share clothing, bedding, or towels with an infected person
  • Participate in sports with skin-to-skin contact, such as wrestling
  • Wear tight or restrictive clothing
  • Have a weakened immune system

Ringworm is a fungal infection caused by mold-like parasites that live on cells in the outer layer of the skin. And it can be spread in the following ways:

  1. Human to human through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.
  2. Animal to human by touching an animal with ringworm, such as petting or grooming dogs and cats. It's also fairly common in cows.
  3. Object to human by contact with infected objects, surfaces, etc.
  4. Soil to human by contact with infected soil, though this is rare and requires a prolonged exposure.

The incubation period is between four and 14 days after exposure.

Signs and Symptoms of Ringworm

Ringworm can affect the skin on almost any area of the body, as well as fingernails and toenails. The symptoms typically depend on the body part affected but generally include:

  • Itchy skin
  • Ring-shaped rash
  • Red, scaly, cracked skin
  • Hair loss

There are two different classification of ringworm lesions – classic and severe.

  1. Classic lesions – a raised, scaly ring with a central clearing
  2. Severe lesions – scalier in nature, more like a superimposed bacterial infection

The symptoms and type of ringworm depend on the location of the body affected.

  1. Feet – ringworm on the feet is known as athlete's foot and known by red, swollen, peeling, itchy skin between the toes, particularly the pinky toe and the toe next to it. The soles and heels can also be affected, and in severe cases, the skin can blister.
  2. Scalp – also known as tinea capitis, it appears as scaly, itchy, red, circular bald spots that can grow in size. There can be multiple spots if the infection spreads, and this type is more common in children.
  3. Groin – also known as jock itch, it also appears as scaly, itchy, red spots, usually on the inner thighs.
  4. Beard – also known as tinea barbae, it also appears as scaly, itchy, red spots on the cheeks, chin, and upper neck. The spots can crust over or be filled with pus. Affected areas may result in hair falling out.

Ringworm Diagnosis

There are a few ways to diagnose ringworm.

  1. By physical exam, including a thorough patient history. This is usually sufficient.
  2. By microscopy using a potassium hydroxide (KOH) stain using scrapings from a lesion placed in a drop of KOH and examined under a microscope for the presence of fungal hyphae. It's inexpensive, easy to perform, and highly sensitive.
  3. By ultraviolet light, known as a Wood's lamp. This test is not normally useful; however, it is for two uncommon species – microsporum canis and audouinii.
  4. By culture, using a fungal culture test to confirm a diagnosis if other tests are inconclusive. This test is more specific that the KOH stain, but it takes up to three weeks for results.

The period of communicability – a person can spread ringworm as long as lesions are present, and the presence of a viable fungus persists on contaminated surfaces and materials.

Ringworm Treatment Options

Treatment depends on the location of the ringworm and the severity. Some forms can be treated using over the counter (OTC) medications, while others require a prescription medication, which will be stronger.

Ringworm on the skin, such as athlete's foot and jock itch, can usually be treated with OTC antifungal creams and powders, typically applied for two to four weeks.

Pro Tip: Ringworm on the scalp often needs to be treated with prescription antifungal medications taken orally. Creams, lotions, and powders will not work for this form of ringworm. Healthcare providers should be contacted if this type of infection gets worse or doesn't go away.

Ringworm Prevention Techniques

For athletes involved in close-contact sports, they should:

  • Shower immediately after practice or competition
  • Keep all gear and uniforms clean
  • Not share gear and uniforms with others

For everyone else who wants to avoid getting ringworm, they should:

  • Keep their skin clean and dry
  • Wear shoes that allow air to circulate around the feet
  • Not walk barefoot in locker rooms and public showers
  • Keep finger and toenails short and clean
  • Change their socks and underwear daily
  • Not share clothing, bedding, and towels with someone who has ringworm
  • Wash their hands with soap and water after touching animals, and if you suspect your animal has ringworm, take it to the vet immediately