Ringworm is actually not a worm. It is a fungal skin infection caused by a fungus called dermatophytes. Fungi are microscopic organisms that live on dead tissues. Ringworm is characterized by a reddish circular blisters or scaly patch that grows on the skin when the infection spreads. It is a common disorder among children but it can also occur in adults.
Ringworm is classified into four types depending on the area affected:
- tinea corporis (skin)
- tinea capitis (scalp)
- tinea cruris or jock itch (groin area)
- tinea pedis or athlete's foot (feet)
It is a highly contagious skin condition that can be passed from one person to another through skin contact or contact with contaminated items like hats, clothes, comb, and shower or pool areas. It can also be acquired from pets. Cats are common carriers of the fungus that causes ringworm.
The primary symptom of ringworm is an itchy, raised, scaly patch, often in the form of a ring. Bald patches will appear on your scalp, if your scalp is infected. Hair doesn't grow on the infected area. For those whose nails are infected, the nails can become thick, discolored or even crumble.
To diagnose the condition, a doctor will examine the appearance of your skin. Certain tests will be done. One example would involve putting your skin under a blue light in a dark room. This works because the fungi appear florescent when put under blue light. The doctor would also scrape some of the infected area and examine it under a microscope.
To prevent infection, do not share personal items with other people. Personal care items such as clothing, towels, combs, brushes, headgear and so on should not be shared with anyone else, not even with your closest friend. It's also essential that you clean and dry these items after using them. When going for a swim or exercise, always wear slippers or shoes at gyms, lockers and pools. Don't touch pets that have bald spots.
As for treatment, self-care for three to four weeks is usually effective. If the condition alleviates within that period, you may not need to see a doctor. Take care of yourself well by keeping your skin clean and dry. Make use of a mild cleansing soap and dry yourself thoroughly after bath.
Aside from your body, you also need to keep the items you use clean. Wash everything that you used while you were infected. These include clothes, beddings, sheets, nightclothes, combs, brushes and so on. You may also opt to apply over-the-counter antifungal products like lotions or creams. Drying powders may also work. Look for products that contain miconazole, clotrimazole, or similar ingredients.
If symptoms persist, call your doctor immediately. A doctor may prescribe antifungal pills or antibiotics. If not treated, ringworm can lead to serious complications such as bacterial skin infections, spread of ringworm to other parts of the body, dermatitis, and other skin disorders.