Ringworm causes itchy red, scaly, patches that may appear like a series of rings on the skin. Originally, it was thought the infection was caused by a worm, thus the name but it is actually caused by a fungus. Ringworm is the common name for fungal infections named tinea.
Depending upon where in the body the rash appears, the name after the tinea denotes its location. Ringworm in the areas listed below are called:
Beard – tinea barbae
Body -- tinea corporis
Feet -- tinea pedis (also called athlete's foot)
Groin area -- tinea cruris (also called jock itch)
Scalp -- tinea capitis
Nails-- tinea unguium or Onychomycosis
Ringworm is an infection caused from dermatophytes, which are a type of fungus that live on the dead layer of keratin on the surface of the skin. Ringworm thrives in warm moist places and can live on unwashed clothing, combs and surfaces near pools or showers. Ringworm is also highly contagious and can be spread person to person.
In addition to being red or scaly, the rash can cause blisters to develop that ooze or the skin to become thickened. In areas such as the beard or scalp, hair loss may occur.
Luckily, ringworm is fairly easy for a doctor to identify by sight though a small skin scraping can be sent to a lab to be sure. Treatment with antifungal ointment or cream typically will clear the outbreak. On the body or groin it may take about two weeks while in other places such as the feet, it may take longer. Fungal creams or ointments can be purchased over the counter that contain medications such as clotrimazole, miconazole, ketoconazole or terbinafine.
However, for more stubborn cases such as ringworm of the nail, oral antifungals may be used. The doctor will order one of these medications such as itraconazole or fluconazole. These medications are usually taken for three months. Oral anti-fungals can have a number of side effects, which need to watched for and reported to your doctor.
The fungus that causes ringworm is very common and lives on many surfaces so it is difficult to avoid contacting it.