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What Causes Ringworm?

What Causes Ringworm?

Ringworm is not a worm, but a fungal infection that causes round, ring-like patches of inflamed skin. This HealthHearty write-up provides information on this infection.
Bidisha Mukherjee
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
Medically referred to as Tinea, ringworm is an infection that is caused by dermatophytes. These are fungi that can metabolize keratin, a scleroprotein that is found in our skin, nails, and hair. The dermatophytes colonize the epidermis, which is the outer layer of the skin. Ringworm, which is the fungal infection of the skin, could affect various parts of the body such as the hands, feet, face, scalp, groin, etc. These infections are known by different names, depending on the part of the body that is affected. For instance, ringworm of the body and scalp are referred to as Tinea corporis and Tinea capitis, respectively. Ringworm of the hands and feet are called Tinea manuum and Tinea pedis, respectively. Ringworm of groin is medically referred to as Tinea cruris. It must be noted that this infection is contagious, and can spread through person-to-person contact, or by sharing personal items with an infected person.
Contributing Factors

Some of the different types of dermatophytes that are responsible for causing this infection include:
➻ Trichophyton rubrum
➻ Trichophyton tonsurans
➻ Trichophyton interdigitale
➻ Trichophyton mentagrophytes
➻ Microsporum canis
➻ Epidermophyton floccosum
The dermatophytes thrive in warm and moist areas. These can be found in soil, and on animals and pets. In humans, these can flourish in warm or moist skin folds, or on those parts of human body where sweat might accumulate.
Since this infection is contagious, it can spread from an infected person to another through direct contact of the affected skin. It can also spread from the skin or fur of various animals like cats, dogs, goats, pigs, etc., to humans when one touches these animals for petting or grooming.
Ringworm can get transmitted by touching objects or surfaces that have been touched by the infected individual. Touching or sharing personal items such as clothing, bedding, combs, razors, toys, weight equipment, etc., could also cause the causal organism to spread to others. In some rare cases, prolonged exposure to infected soil could be the contributing factor.

There are different types of ringworm that give rise to an infection in different parts of the body. The main symptoms of this fungal infection are:
➻ Itchy, red, raised, scaly patches that may blister and ooze
➻ Patches with sharply-defined edges
➻ Ring-like patches that have a red, raised border and normal skin in the center
The symptoms could also vary, depending on the area of the skin that is affected. For instance, ringworm of the hands can cause the palm and the skin between fingers to become hard. Similarly, ringworm of the feet, which is also called athlete's foot, causes the soles and heels to harden. When this infection affects the groin, it causes itching and scaling of the skin. If the scalp is affected, one could develop bald patches on the scalp.
Tinea barbae is also a fungal infection that affects the bearded part of the face and neck, especially in case of men with coarse hair on the face. One of the causes of ringworm on the face is using a razor that has been contaminated by an infected individual. It results in swelling, itching, and breakage of facial hair. On the other hand, Tinea faciei affects the facial skin, but not the part where facial hair grows. It gives rise to red, scaly, and irregular rash on the face.

In most cases, the infection can be cured by the topical application of antifungal creams and lotions. Though OTC antifungal creams are available, it is advisable to consult a doctor. Usually, the skin rashes disappear within two weeks. However, your doctor may ask you to apply the medicines for a longer duration to prevent the infection from recurring. If the symptoms don't resolve within the first two weeks, then doctors might prescribe oral antifungal medicines to destroy the fungus. These medicines should be continued for the duration recommended by the healthcare provider.
The best way to prevent this infection to avoid close contact with the infected person, and refrain from sharing clothing, towels, brushes, etc., with other people in public places such as the gym, swimming pool, locker rooms, etc. If your pet shows signs of this infection, consult a veterinarian at the earliest.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.