Ridding Yourself of Ringworm
Ringworm is very common in the United States, with more than 3 million cases diagnosed every year. Even so, most people don’t know that much about it—for example, did you know that ringworm has nothing to do with a worm at all?
What is ringworm?
Despite its name, ringworm is not a worm, nor does it come from a worm. Ringworm is a highly contagious fungal infection that gets its name from the round, scaly patches it leaves on the top layer of the skin or on the scalp (which look like rings). It’s actually the same fungus that causes infections known by different names, like athlete’s foot and jock itch.
What are the symptoms of ringworm?
The rash usually begins as a flat, scaly patch (called a “lesion”) on the skin, which may be itchy. Over time, the lesion will develop a raised border, which grows outward in a circle and may be visibly red. Sometimes these lesions will also develop blisters that are filled with fluid. When ringworm is present on the scalp, bald patches are quite common.
How do you get ringworm?
The short answer is that you get it from skin-to-skin contact with someone else, either another person or an animal, or from touching something that they touched. The longer answer is that there are about 40 different types of fungus that can cause ringworm. These fungi live on keratin, which is the protein that is found on the outer layer of skin, as well as in the hair, fingernails and toenails. It can also be found in the soil.
How is ringworm diagnosed and treated?
The diagnosis is fairly obvious just based on the physical appearance of the rash, but when in doubt, a scraping can be taken from the affected skin and viewed under a microscope. Another way to confirm the diagnosis is by looking at the area under a special lamp; when illuminated, the hairs near the infection will shine a blue-green color.
Ringworm is treated by antifungal medications. Most cases can be cleared up with a cream or ointment applied directly to the affected skin (or a shampoo, in the case of a scalp infection), although more serious infections may require antifungal pills that treat from within the body. If you think you may have ringworm, consult with your primary care physician or dermatologist. Special care may help keep the infection from spreading to other parts of your body, or to other people. Hands should be washed often, especially after touching the affected area. Items like sheets, towels and clothing should not be shared, and should be washed after use.