Ringworm is a common skin infection that can affect the skin anywhere on the body. Some of the more common sites are on the feet (tinea pedis or athelete’s foot), groin (tinea cruris or jock itch) and scalp (tinea captitis or head fungus). Although these infections are not common, it can cause damage to the skin in the area leading to infections, darkening of the skin and even hair loss.
How To Spot Ringwom
Most of us know that ringworm can be seen as a red ring lesion on the skin. This is considered typical of ringworm. However, it may not always present in that manner. First it is important to understand than ringworm is not due to a worm, like how pinworms or other intestinal worms infest the bowels. A ringworm is a superficial fungal infection of the skin.
The term ringworm arose because of the red ring that dermatophytes (a type of fungi) form on human skin. Dermatophytes are the main type of fungus to infect human skin. It has the ability to digest the protein within human skin which is known as keratin and therefore lives on the skin surface. There are many species of dermatophytes that can be transmitted to humans from other people, animals and even soil.
Read more on ringworm skin fungus.
Ringworm infections rarely penetrate beyond the outermost layers of skin whereas yeasts infections of the skin, which are uncommon, tend to cause deeper lesions. Some species of fungi naturally occur on the skin but do not cause an infection on healthy intact skin. A health and properly functioning immune system also helps with limiting these infections.
Fungal infections tend to affect skin which is moist and warm. Therefore areas like the feet and groin are prone to these infections. Furthermore, it is more likely to occur on skin that is diseased or damaged. Even scratching an area vigorously can injure the skin and make it prone to fungal infections with dermatophytes (ringworm) and less commonly with yeasts.
Who gets ringworm infections?
Any person can get a dermatophyte infection (dermatomycosis), including children, adolescents, adults and teens. Tinea pedis (athlete’s foot) and tinea cruris tend to be more common among men than women. Tinea capitis (scalp fungus) affects both genders equally but infection with certain species may be more common in adult females than males.
People live in warmer climates are more at risk of ringworm, particularly in tropical climates. The infection can also spread easily between two people who are in close contact. Sharing personal items like towels, clothing and even bedding with an infected person increases the risk. It can also spread to humans who in close contact with infected animals.
Any skin-to-skin contact is also more likely to increase the chances of getting a ringworm infection. It can also be spread through contact with objects and surfaces with which an infected person or animal had made contact. These infections are also more likely to affect a person with a weakened immune system as is seen with HIV infection or poorly controlled diabetes.
Despite these risk factors, any person can get a ringworm infection. Ensuring that the skin is healthy, properly protected when broken and moisturized is important for prevention. Always treat fungal infections immediately once it arises in order to prevent it from spreading to other areas of the body.
Read more on signs of yeast infections.
What does ringworm look like?
The ringworm rash presents in a very specific manner but this is not always evident in every case. Sometimes other skin rashes can be mistaken for a ringworm infection and vice versa. Therefore it is necessary for a fungal infection to be diagnosed by a medical professional. This may at times require scrapings of the skin which are then examined under a microscope. However, the following signs and symptoms tend to occur with a ringworm infection.
If there is oozing discharge, swelling and pain at the site then it may be a bacterial infection. These secondary bacterial infections tend to occur on areas infected by fungi if it is not treated properly. Scratching can cause tiny breaks in the skin and introduce bacteria into the wound. Bacterial infections can become serious very quickly and needs immediate medical treatment.
Ringworm tends to present with an itchy red rash. The itching usually comes and goes although sometimes it can persist even after scratching. This is made worse by skin that is dry as the ringworm infection damages the skin’s ability to remain moisturized. Therefore itching may ease with moisturizing but this is temporary.
Red Ring Rash
As mentioned, the term ringworm is derived from the red ring-like rash of a dermatophyte infection. This is the typical presentation where the middle of the rash is flat and the skin may even be normal while the borders are red and raised. At other times the middle of the rash is dry and scaly or has red spots. However, this typical red ring rash may not always be evident.
A chronic ringworm infection can lead to discoloration of the affected skin. It may appear darker in color and depending on the severity, the skin may become rough and leathery over time. Depending on the duration and extent of the hyperpigmentation (discoloration), it may be irreversible even after the fungal infection resolves.
Scaling of the Skin
Scratching the area will often lead to a white powdery residue which is due to the scaling of the dry skin. When there is hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin), this may appear as a dark brown to black residue. Sometimes this residue may be evident in the socks or underwear even without scratching and appear on the hair as dandruff.
Sores on the Skin
The term sore can refer many different types of skin lesions. With a ringworm infection, the skin may be broken (open sore) with whitening and moisture around the wound. This is often seen in the web of the toes (between the toes) with severe fungal infections of the feet (athlete’s foot). It is prone to secondary bacterial infections which can be serious.