You Wanted to Know: Ringworm

businessman with an itchy arm

Let’s get this straight: Despite its name, there are no worms involved with ringworm. Ringworm, also known as tinea corporis, is a common skin infection caused by a type of fungus called dermatophytes. It is a close cousin of athlete’s foot, jock itch and ringworm of the scalp, which are also caused by dermatophytes.

Ringworm usually shows up as a red, circular rash that often has a clear center, and it may or may not itch. It may gradually become larger or spread to other parts of the body, and may look scaly or raised. @FnFlabuless asked us about her troubles with this pesky skin problem on Twitter:

tineacorporis

The trouble with ringworm is that it is highly contagious. The fungus likes to live in the outer layer of the skin and is often spread from person to person (or pet to person) by direct contact or by contact with shared items, such as towels, clothing, bedding or brushes. Not only is it easy to pick up from other people or pets (puppies and kittens especially), it’s also easy to spread from one part of your body to another. So, as our viewer suggests, using a razor over one lesion and then using it somewhere else could possibly spread the fungus to another area or even re-infect you after you’ve been treated.

According to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors for getting ringworm include living in a damp, humid or crowded environment, having close contact or sharing objects with an infected person or animal, participating in sports that involve skin-to-skin contact and wearing tight or restrictive clothing. Menopause does not appear to put you at higher risk for the infection.

Fortunately, unless you have an impaired immune system, ringworm is unlikely to cause serious illness. Usually, doctors can diagnose it just by taking a look at it, but they may also take a few scrapings of the rash to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment for ringworm is fairly straightforward. While unfortunately there are not a lot of good home remedies to eliminate it, if the case is mild, an over the counter anti-fungal cream such as clotrimazole or terbinafine may take care of it – but be sure to check the label and talk to a pharmacist or doctor to make sure it’s right for you. Also, be sure to follow the instructions for how long to use the cream – even if the rash starts to go away after a few days of treatment, it could come back if you don’t treat it for long enough. If it’s a more stubborn infection, your doctor can prescribe a stronger topical medication or even anti-fungal pills.

Here are some tips to help you avoid this skin bug to begin with:

  • As much as possible, try to keep your skin cool and dry – the fungus thrives in warm, moist conditions.
  • Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after touching others or touching a rash on your own skin.
  • Shower after spending time in common areas such as pools and locker rooms, and wear slippers or flip flops to protect your feet.
  • Avoid petting dogs or cats with bald spots and wash your hands after cuddle time with furry friends. If you keep getting recurrent infections, consider getting your pet checked.
  • Don’t share or borrow your personal items such as brushes, towels, razors and clothing with others. Wash towels and bedding regularly.