Expert Advice on How to Get Rid of Ringworm

I’ve Got an Itchy, Red Rash! Is It Ringworm?

Your skin is your body’s largest organ, and while its primary function is to protect your body from infection, it can sometimes become infected itself. Knowing the difference between various skin infections can help you determine your best course of treatment and whether medical attention is necessary.

If you or a family member develops an itchy, red rash, it could be a sign of dermatophytosis — more commonly known as ringworm.

Ringworm is a fungal skin infection that can infect up to 20% of the U.S. population at any given time. It’s also usually localized to a particular area of the body, and depending on where it originates, determines what it’s called.

Curious about the different types of ringworm? Here’s a complete list, including what you should look for and how to get rid of an infection.

1. Tinea Corporis

Body Part Affected: Torso, arms or legs

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Classic round spots typical of ringworm that can have a more pronounced outer border
  • Starts with a red, itchy and scaly area of skin that is slightly raised
  • A kerion or blister-like lesion can appear

Generally treated with nonprescription antifungal cream, lotion or powder for two to four weeks.

2. Tinea Pedis, or Athlete’s Foot

Body Part Affected: Feet

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Round, dry patches on the top of the foot
  • Clusters of blisters on the side of the foot
  • Moist, peeling and irritable skin between the toes
  • Entire sole, heel and sides of the foot may become dry but not inflamed

Generally treated with nonprescription antifungal cream, lotion or powder for two to four weeks.

3. Tinea Unguium, or Onychomycosis

Body Part Affected: Fingernails or toenails

Signs and Symptoms:

  • White or yellow streaks on the fingernails or toenails
  • Crumbly nail that may lift up easily
  • Flaky white patches on the top of the nail plate

Generally treated with prescription antifungal medication taken by mouth for several months; a topical  medical nail lacquer might also be suggested. 

4. Tinea Cruris, or Jock Itch

Body Part Affected: Groin

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Reddish-brown rash that starts in the folds of the groin and can spread to one or both thighs or the buttocks

Generally treated with nonprescription antifungal cream, lotion or powder for two to four weeks.

5. Tinea Barbae

Body Part Affected: Facial hair areas

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Red, lumpy blisters
  • Crusting around the beard or moustache area that can be itchy
  • Facial hair is easily pulled out

Generally treated with prescription antifungal medication taken by mouth for one to three months.

6. Tinea Capitis

Body Part Affected: Scalp

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Round, itchy and scaly spots
  • Dry, scaly skin; similar to dandruff
  • Bald spots from hair loss
  • A kerion or blister-like lesion can appear

Generally treated with prescription antifungal medication taken by mouth for one to three months; topical antifungal shampoo might also be suggested to prevent spreading of scalp ringworm.

7. Tinea Faciei

Body Part Affected: Face (excluding the facial hair and scalp areas)

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Round or oval itchy spots on the cheeks
  • Edges of the spots may be raised
  • Spots may include bumps, blisters or scabs

Generally treated with nonprescription antifungal cream, lotion or powder for two to four weeks.

What Causes Ringworm?

Despite what the name may suggest, ringworm isn’t actually caused by parasitic worms. It’s the result of an infection from one of about 40 kinds of dermatophytes — or groups of fungi.

The 3 most typical are:

  1. Trichophyton
  2. Microsporum
  3. Epidermophyton

Ringworm fungi are believed to live as spores in soil for extended periods. When these mold-like parasites come in contact with a human (or animal) body, they choose to inhabit the cells on the outer layer of the skin.

So, how do you become infected? Here are the 4 methods for contracting ringworm:

  • Person-to-person contact – The most common way to contract ringworm is through contact with another person who is infected. Because symptoms don’t develop until four to fourteen days after initial exposure, you or a family member could be in contact with someone who doesn’t know they’re infected.
  • – Ringworm can also spread by touching an animal with ringworm. Household pets like cats and dogs can contract ringworm and so can farm animals.
  • – You can also get ringworm by coming in contact with items or surfaces an infected person or animal has also had contact with. Such objects include clothes, towels, bedding or brushes.
  • It is rare, but sometimes ringworm can spread through contact with infected soil. This would most likely happen only from extended contact with soil that’s highly infected.

There are also some conditions that put you at higher risk for getting ringworm. Since fungi thrive in warm, moist environments, you’re more likely to contract an infection if you live in a warm climate, or frequent locker rooms or swimming pools.

You can also get ringworm through contact sports that involve skin-to-skin contact and through wearing tight or restrictive clothing.

While ringworm doesn’t usually spread below the surface of the skin, people who are immunocompromised — carriers of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, for example — may find it more difficult to get rid of an infection.

How Do I Get Rid of Ringworm?

Oral and topical medications are your best bet for clearing ringworm fast. However, fungal diseases are highly contagious, so early intervention is critical to preventing it from spreading to other areas of your body or infecting others.

When to Seek Medical Advice

Typically, it takes two to four weeks for a skin infection to clear up. Infections of the scalp, facial hair area and nails, however, tend to last for a few months. If you’ve begun an antifungal treatment and it’s not better within two weeks, or your infection has spread to other body parts, visit your doctor or an urgent care center.

Healthcare professionals, like those at GoHealth Urgent Care, can examine your infected area(s). Before giving you a diagnosis, the doctor may send a skin sample to the lab to confirm it’s a fungus that causes ringworm of the body.

If deemed necessary, your provider might give you a prescription for a stronger medication.

Want to find a GoHealth Urgent Care location in your neighborhood? Search our handy location widget below.

Can I Prevent Ringworm from Spreading?

Besides taking fungal medicine for as long as recommended, or trying some home remedies for ringworm, there are other tips that can help you receive the best results from treatment and spare others for getting your infection.

  • Wash your hands after touching any part of your body with ringworm. This can prevent the spread of infection to other areas.
  • Keep all infected areas clean and dry. When showering, wash affected areas and dry them with a clean towel. Use a different towel for other areas of your body. Since fungi love moist environments, this is particularly important after a workout.
  • Treat all areas infected. If your ringworm has spread to other areas, it’s important to use cream, lotion, powder and/or oral medicine as directed on all infected body parts. For example, if you’re suffering from both jock itch and athlete’s foot, use antifungal lotions and powders for both infections.
  • Ringworm can survive for a long time, so to avoid reinfecting yourself or someone else, wash your clothes, shoes (with athlete’s foot), towels, bedding, etc. Wear clothes, such as socks or shirts, only once if you wore them the day before.
  • Use flip flops or waterproof shoes in public showers, pool areas and locker rooms. Don’t go barefoot if you have athlete’s foot because you could easily spread the infection to others.

Other Skin Conditions

Just because you have an itchy, red rash doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ringworm. There are several reasons for skin irritation besides a fungal infection, such as allergens, chemicals, drugs, viruses and temperature.

Many skin conditions may present like ringworm but are in fact “ringworm look-alike.” Nummular eczema, for example, forms as a coin-shaped patch of scaly, dry skin on your torso, arms, legs or hands. While the cause of this form of eczema is unknown, it can result from dry skin in the winter, poor blood flow, inflammation, metal materials and medications like topical antibiotic creams.

Psoriasis can also look-alike ringworm, with dry, cracked skin that may bleed. It ranges from a few spots to major eruptions of red patches of skin that cover large areas, from your feet and nails to your torso and scalp.

The cause for psoriasis is also not fully understood, but it’s thought to be related to an immune system deficiency. Certain triggers – strep throat, smoking or heavy alcohol consumption, vitamin D deficiency, stress and medications like lithium – can start or worsen the symptoms.

Psoriasis can also put you at higher risk for developing other diseases like psoriatic arthritis, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Actinic keratosis or solar keratosis, are scaly patches of skin caused by high-exposure to the sun. They can be an early warning sign of skin cancer and doctors recommend early treatment to prevent the development of squamous cell skin cancer.

Other skin conditions that are similar to ringworm include granuloma, pityriasis rosea, impetigo, cellulitis and seborrhea.

Ringworm Essentials 

The unfortunate thing about ringworm is that it’s very contagious. The good thing is that it’s treatable. Regardless of what type of ringworm infection you or your family member has, by taking the appropriate antifungal medication, you can get rid of it quickly.

In addition, there are several home remedies and lifestyle choices you can make to prevent fungi from spreading to your other body parts or other people and pets you come in contact with. Know that what you might think are unsightly spots or temporary hair loss from ringworm will resolve.

If you’re treating what you think is ringworm and it doesn’t seem to get any better, the doctors at any of our urgent care centers can perform an easy lab test to ensure your condition is in fact ringworm. With time, you’ll be fungus free! 

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