What Is Ringworm (Dermatophytosis)?
more commonly known as as ringworm,
is a fungal infection of the skin. Ringworm is a misnomer. The infection isn’t
caused by a worm. It’s caused by a fungus.
Ringworm infection can affect both humans and animals. The
infection initially presents itself with red patches on affected areas of the
skin and later spreads to other parts of the body. The infection may affect the
skin of the scalp, feet, groin, beard, or other areas.
What Causes Ringworm (Dermatophytosis)?
Three different types of fungi can cause this infection. They are
called trichophyton, microsporum, and epidermophyton. It’s possible that these
fungi may live for an extended period as spores in soil. Humans and animals can
contract ringworm after direct contact with this soil. The infection can also
spread through contact with infected animals or humans. The infection is
commonly spread among children and by sharing items that may not be clean.
Who Is at Risk for Ringworm (Dermatophytosis)?
Anyone can develop ringworm. However, the infection is very
common among children and people who own pet cats.
You may be more likely to develop dermatophytosis if you come
into contact with the fungi while you’re wet or if you have minor skin injuries
or abrasions. Using a public shower or public pool areas may also expose you to
the infective fungi.
If you’re often barefoot, you may develop ringworm of the feet.
Those who often share items such as hairbrushes or unwashed clothing also have
an increased risk of developing the infection.
Recognizing Ringworm (Dermatophytosis)
Symptoms vary depending on where you’re infected. With a skin
infection, you may experience the following:
- red, itchy, scaly, or raised patches
- patches that develop blisters or begin to ooze
- patches that may be redder on the outside edges
or resemble a ring
- patches with edges that are defined and raised
If you’re experiencing dermatophytosis in your nails, they may
become thicker, discolored, or begin to crack. If the scalp is affected, bald
patches may develop.
Diagnosing Ringworm (Dermatophytosis)
Your doctor will diagnose ringworm by examining your skin and
possibly using a black light to view your skin in the affected area. The fungus
will fluoresce (glow) under black light. If you’re infected, the areas of the
skin where fungus is located will glow.
Your doctor may confirm a suspected diagnosis of ringworm by
requesting certain tests:
you’re getting a skin biopsy, your doctor will take a sample of your
skin or discharge from a blister and will send it to a lab to test it for the
presence of fungus.
you’re getting a KOH exam, your doctor will scrape off a small area of
infected skin and place it in potassium hydroxide (KOH). The KOH destroys
normal cells and leaves the fungal cells untouched, so they are easy to see
under a microscope.
Treating Ringworm (Dermatophytosis)
Your doctor may recommend both medications and some
lifestyle adjustments to treat ringworm.
Your doctor may prescribe various medications, depending on
the severity of your ringworm infection. Ketoconazole is a prescription
strength cream that is often used to treat fungal infections. Over-the-counter
medications and skin creams may be recommended for use as well.
Over-the-counter products may contain clotrimazole, miconazole, or other
In addition to prescription and over-the-counter medication,
your doctor may recommend that you care for your infection at home by
practicing some of the following behaviors, including:
- avoiding clothing that irritates the infected
- washing bedding and clothes daily during an infection
- cleaning and drying your skin regularly
If you have been scratching your skin frequently due to the
infection, you may also develop a staph or strep infection of the skin. Your
doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat this bacterial infection as you
continue your treatment for the ringworm.
How Long Does Ringworm Last?
Skin medications may clear ringworm in two to four weeks. If you’re
experiencing severe dermatophytosis that isn’t responding to over-the-counter
treatments or treatment at home, your doctor may prescribe antifungal pills to
clear up the infection. Most people respond positively to treatment.
Preventing Ringworm (Dermatophytosis)
You can prevent ringworm by practicing healthy and hygienic
behaviors. Many infections come from contact with animals and lack of proper
hygiene. Remember to wash your hands after interacting with an animal. If you
have a pet, keep its living areas clean and disinfected. If you have a weak immune
system, avoid any animal or individuals who are suspected of having
In terms of personal care, you should shower and shampoo
your hair regularly. Wear shoes if you shower in community areas. Avoid sharing
personal items such as clothing or hairbrushes, as these can carry infective
spores. Be sure to keep your feet and skin clean and dry.