Ringworm (Tinea)

By Medically reviewed by Panel Perubatan Hello Doktor

In this article:

  • Definition
  • Signs & symptoms
  • Causes
  • Risk factors
  • Treatment
  • Lifestyle changes & home remedies

Ringworm infections or tinea is a common disease that occurs in tropical countries with hot and humid climate, or poor sanitation conditions. The most common symptom of the disease is round, discolored, and very itchy spots. If the disease is not properly treated, it could lead to superinfection, which would be more difficult to treat. It also greatly affects a person’s aesthetics and self-esteem.

Definition

What is ringworm (tinea)?

Ringworm is a condition caused by various fungi. Different infectious fungi target varying body parts. Each fungal infection is named after the affected area, such as tinea corporis (ringworm of the body), tinea capitis (ringworm of the scalp), tinea pedis (ringworm of the foot), tinea cruris (ringworm of the groin), and tinea unguium (ringworm of the nails).

Who can contract ringworm (tinea)?

People who are at risk of ringworm infections are:

  • Those who are regulars at hot and humid places such as public pools and communal changing rooms.
  • Those who often share personal belongings such as towels, clothes or sporting equipment.
  • Those who come in contact with fungal-infected pet animals.

Symptoms and signs

What are the signs and symptoms of ringworm (tinea)?

The most common symptom of ringworm infections is itching. Sometimes it can cause skin peeling.

On the body, ringworm first occurs in the form of round or oval red patches and slightly embossed rings that appear on the skin and cause itching. The affected skin surface may have blisters or scabs with sharp edges.

Ringworm can be contagious. Scratching can cause swelling, fluid discharge, and facilitate infection.

Ringworm infections usually develops on the legs or torso. There are many types of ringworms, and they include:

  • Tinea cruris usually appears on the inner thigh and often causes severe pain and itching, accompanied by a red rash, ring-shaped patches that can spread to body folds. It usually causes discolouration of swollen patches on the skin.
  • Tinea pedis usually occurs between the toes and on the instep, which causes itching, rashes, flaking, chaps, dead skin, burning, slight blisters, moldy or unpleasant smell. Itching is most severe in the gaps between the toes.
  • Tinea capitis has initial symptoms of a rash and swelling in the scalp, followed by hair loss since the infected hair become weaker and fall out easily. Pustules may appear in the shape of a honeycomb. The affected area that is blistered may contain pus. Some people may experience swelling or necrosis of the skin, accompanied by fluid discharge. Severe tinea can cause fever and lymphadenitis.
  • Tinea versicolor often occurs without symptoms, but some may experience itchyness and begin to sweat a lot. The affected area may appear in a variety of colors and can be accompanied by small, pinkish-white or dark brown spots with scales and clear edges. The disease usually occurs in the upper arms, chest, back, neck, and sometimes on the face. The spots do not normally tan.

There may be other symptoms that could show when you have ringworm. Please consult a doctor if you experience any abnormalities. 

When do you need to see a doctor?

Visit a doctor if you have itchy, red patches with scales and blisters, which do not improve after 2 weeks of treatment.

In case of a ringworm infection, you should also seek medical help. Signs of superinfection include:

  • Increased soreness, swelling, redness, skin necrosis or burning
  • Red spots that spread from the infected area
  • Purulent drainage
  • Fever of 38°C or higher with unknown cause
  • Widespread rash that develops after treatment

Causes

What causes ringworm (tinea)?

The cause of ringworm infections does not involve any worm infection but a fungal infection, which is caused by mold-like parasites that can only be seen under a microscope – collectively known as dermatophytes. Common fungi are malassezia furfur, trichophyton, microsporum, and epidermophyton. Considering they prefer warm and moist environments, people with oily skin or have weakened immune system from hormonal changes are more likely to experience ringworm.

You may contract ringworm if you have physical contact with a person who carries the disease. The disease would be transmitted through:

  • Sharing objects with the infected person
  • Coming in contact with fungal infection

Risk factors

What factors increase the risk of ringworm (tinea)?

You are at higher risk of ringworm of the body if you:

  • Are under 15 years old of age
  • Live in humid climate or crowded places
  • Have close contact with an infected person or animal
  • Share clothes, bedding or towels with someone who has a fungal infection
  • Participate in sports that require direct skin contact
  • Wear tight or restrictive clothing
  • Have a weak immune system

Treatment

The information provided herein is not a substitute for any medical advice. Therefore, ALWAYS consult a doctor for more information.

How is ringworm (tinea) treated?

If over-the-counter treatments do not work, you may need prescription-strength antifungal medications such as a lotion, cream or ointment. 

Doctors may also prescribe griseofulvin or terbinafine for severe or prolonged infections. During treatment, patients need to take the medication as prescribed. Otherwise, the disease will recur.

In rare cases, these medications may cause changes in liver function so certain tests are required to ensure the liver is functioning properly. At that time, the doctor would monitor the dosage of medication.

Depending on the location of ringworm, treatment time may vary. Tinea corporis usually improves within 4 weeks of treatment, tinea cruris usually takes 2 to 8 weeks of treatment, and tinea pedis may take longer time to be cured. In the case of tinea versicolor, treatment time spans from 1 to 2 weeks, but it may last up to a month.

How is ringworm (tinea) diagnosed?

The doctor would begin diagnosis by examining the skin. If the doctor cannot determine the condition, they would likely take a small sample of fungal infection to analyse under a microscope. Analysis results are usually available after a few days.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What living habits help to slow the progression of ringworm (tinea)?

Ringworm infections is quite easy to treat and prevent. The following lifestyle changes and living habits will help you with ringworm:

  • Apply the medications as directed.
  • Maintain good personal hygiene.
  • Keep the infected skin clean and dry.
  • Do not scratch or rub the infected areas.
  • Do not share personal belongings with infected people.
  • Avoid using public bathrooms.
  • Wear comfortable underwear (to prevent tinea cruris).
  • Wear cotton socks and soft-soled shoes with ventilation holes to keep your feet dry (to prevent tinea pedis).
  • Wear clean and dry clothes. Avoid wearing clothes that are made of nylon. Choose cotton-made clothing or other materials that reduce sweating.

If you are concerned about any red flags with your health, please consult a doctor for advice on the best treatment.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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