Though its name suggests otherwise, ringworm has nothing to do with actual physical worms. In fact, the condition known as ringworm is caused by a type of fungi. While worms (thankfully) have nothing to do with this ailment, having a ringworm-causing fungus on your skin can’t be a pleasant experience. Though avoiding ringworm can be fairly difficult, adhering to some simple and common-sense guidelines can allow your skin to remain unblemished.
How it Spreads
The microscopic culprits behind ringworm are known as dermatophytes, a type of fungi which can live on the skin’s keratin protein. Ringworm can strike all over the body, including the face, feet, scalp, inner thighs and buttocks. Ringworm fungi prefer to make their home in swimming pools, locker rooms and other locations with warm and moist atmospheres. These microbes are contagious, and can be spread by both skin-to-skin contact and by touching contaminated surfaces. Sharing towels, clothing and sports gear also causes many people to develop ringworm infection.
The exact nature of ringworm symptoms depends largely on where dermatophytes settle:
Ringworm on the Body – This condition causes the patient to develop a rash, which may afflict the legs, arms, chest, stomach or back. The edges of the rash might have a red tinge and scaly texture, or may instead be both moist and crusted. Furthermore, the skin may also be stricken with blister-like bumps. Some rashes look like groups of red blisters, whereas others might resemble rings, with a clear center surrounded by an O-shaped blemish.
Ringworm of the Face – When ringworm fungi get onto the face, they can also affect the ears. Conversely, a person might get a rash on the ears only. The affected skin might become worse after exposure to sunlight.
Ringworm of the Groin – Ringworm can also strike the groin area, along with the buttocks, inner thighs and skin folds. The center of these rashes might exhibit a red-brown color, and they often have scaly edges. Bumps that look similar to blisters might also form on the skin.
Ringworm of the Hand – Dermatophytes can also cause ringworm to form on the palms, where it could be mistaken for eczema. Alternatively, the palms’ skin can become abnormally thick, dry and scaly. Open sores may also pop up in the areas between the fingers.
Getting rid of such an infection often requires using a non-prescription antifungal cream for about two to four weeks. For more persistent ringworm infections, a patient may need to be prescribed antifungal pills. Regardless of what medicine is used to treat ringworm, patients are urged to take such medications for the duration recommended by their doctor. Failing to do so can allow symptoms to return, even if they have subsided due to treatment.
Ringworm and Children
According to the Mayo Clinic, age is a risk factor for ringworm, as children under the age of 15 are more likely to develop this infection than their older counterparts. Moreover, a 2010 study found that treatment-resistant ringworm is relatively widespread in urban elementary schools.
The authors of this report were all based in Kansas City, MO. Not surprisingly, the 10,514 children analyzed in the study attended school in the very same city. Trichophyton tonsurans (T. tonsurans), a type of fungus that can cause ringworm to form on the scalp, had infected 6.6 percent of these children. The report also noted that race and age both affected the children’s rate of infection. Nearly 18% of black students in kindergarten and first grade had T. tonsurans on their scalps. In comparison, the same could only be said for 1.6% of Hispanic subjects and 1.1% of Caucasian subjects. Even by fifth grade, this fungus was present on 7 percent of black students. The authors could not find a definitive explanation for the higher infection rates among black children.
Making matters worse is that the oral medications used for this type of fungus often fail to eliminate it completely. As a result, children may unwittingly spread ringworm to fellow students, even though they have begun receiving treatment for their symptoms. Likewise, the staying power of this fungus means that some children might develop ringworm more than once.
The study’s lead author, Susan Abdel-Rahman, offered some suggestions for preventing ringworm infection. For starters, parents should limit how often their children share hats, combs, pillows and other items that have direct physical contact with the scalp. Parents should not hesitate to schedule a doctor’s appointment if they believe their child has contracted ringworm. Certain symptoms may indicate that a child has this condition, such as hair loss, hair thinning, dandruff-like flaking, itchy scalp and tiny bumps filled with pus. Finally, Abdel-Rahman also recommends closely adhering to directions when taking prescribed medicines, and to shower with a medicated shampoo two or three times weekly.