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Ringworm, or tinea, is a common fungal infection that can affect the upper layers of the skin (epidermis). It is highly contagious and can spread from one person to another via physical contact or sharing of personal items, such as sheets, combs, and towels. (1)
Ringworm causes circular, ring-shaped rashes on the body. The rash can be itchy and irritates the skin.
Contrary to its name, ringworm does not have anything to do with worms. It is caused by certain types of fungi. (2)
Causes of Body Ringworm
Ringworm can be caused by a number of fungi such as:
- Trichophyton rubrum
- Trichophyton tonsurans
- Microsporum canis
- Trichophyton equinum
Out of these, Trichophyton rubrum is the most common causative agent for tinea. The fungi spread from one person or animal to another by shedding fungal spores. (3)
Signs and Symptoms of Body Ringworm
Symptoms of ringworm typically appear 1–2 weeks after exposure to the pathogen. (4) Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Circular, ring-like rash
- Redness and irritation
- Cracked skin
Some of the most common types of ringworm and their associated symptoms are:
- Body ringworm (tinea corporis): This type of infection can appear on any part of the body: thighs, butt, back, etc. It is characterized by ring-shaped rash and redness. (5)
- Feet (tinea pedis or “athlete’s foot”): Tinea on the feet can cause redness, itching, and swelling. The skin folds between the toes are most affected. In severe cases, it may lead to lesions or blisters.
- Scalp (tinea capitis): Ringworm on the scalp causes scaly skin, redness, itching, and hair fall.
- Groin (tinea cruris or “jock itch”): Jock itch appears as a red, itchy rash on the inside of the thighs.
- Beard (tinea barbae): Ringworm on the beard area is similar to scalp ringworm. It may cause itching, redness, and hair fall.
- Hand: Ringworm on the hand appears as a red ring-like rash. It can also cause scaly and cracked skin on the hand.
- Nails: Ringworm on the nails can cause discoloration, loosening of the nails from the nail bed, and itching.
Treatment of Body Ringworm
Your doctor will usually prescribe one or more of the following medications to treat the rash: (6)
- Clotrimazole: Clotrimazole is usually used topically in the form of creams, powders, etc. (7)
- Ketoconazole: Ketoconazole is used in shampoos or creams.
- Miconazole: Miconazole is also used topically as a cream. (8)
- Fluconazole (Diflucan): Fluconazole is generally given orally to treat ringworm. (9)
- Itraconazole (Onmel, Sporanox): Itraconazole can be given intravenously (for severe infections) or orally.
- Terbinafine: Terbinafine is a common antifungal drug available in the form of gels, sprays, and tablets. (10)
Diagnosing Body Ringworm
Your doctor may be able to diagnose a ringworm infection simply by observing the rash.
In some cases, they may ask you to undergo diagnostic testing, such as:
- Potassium hydroxide preparation – Some skin scrapings are used in a KOH-containing solution to confirm the diagnosis of ringworm. (6)
- Fungal culture – A culture test is the most common method to diagnose a skin infection. Some skin swabs may be collected for this. (7)
- Histopathologic examination with a periodic acid-Schiff stain – The periodic acid-Schiff test (PAS) is usually used to diagnose nail infections. (8)
- Polymerase chain reaction – PCR tests can give quicker results than culture tests to confirm the presence of a suspected pathogen. (9)
- Ultraviolet light (Wood’s lamp) – UV light helps diagnose fungal infections caused by fungi belonging to the genus Microsporum. They tend to glow blue green under UV light.
Risks Factors for Body Ringworm
Some risk factors for ringworm are:
- A weakened immune system due to AIDS, immune disorders, cancer, etc.
- Sharing personal items with other people (towels, hair brushes, etc.)
- Sweating excessively
- Wearing skin-tight clothes too often
When to See a Doctor
Call your doctor if the rash does not seem to be healing even after a few weeks or you notice any pus discharge.
Tinea is a common infection and usually does not pose a serious health risk. However, it is best to seek medical treatment immediately to avoid escalating the condition – especially if you have a compromised immune system or diabetes.