Ringworm is less well known than it should be, as it is a serious and very significant condition. Simply put, ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin, but if left untreated it spreads and has the potential to cause significant problems for any sufferer. In addition, it is highly contagious, so it is vital that if you are suffering from it, or fear you have it, you take immediate action.
Ringworm can appear almost anywhere on the body. Usually, it looks like a slightly scaly, red, circular rash. In some people, it leads to an itching and even a burning sensation, given how sensitive it can make the skin.
Ringworm is a common skin infection caused by a fungus. Most often, it is caused by a variety of species of fungi, and these can be found in a wide number of possible environments. You may catch it from soil, or you may have it transferred from skin or from nails. It may also be passed on from animals, and in some cases warm environments with wet floors and high moisture levels may also cause the fungi to breed and then be passed on.
Human to human or human to animal contact can, unfortunately, also spread it.
It is therefore highly important to take precautions when around animals or infected people. Washing your hands and avoiding contact with any known infected areas or people is essential. Additionally, maintaining outstanding levels of hygiene can help reduce the risk of it spreading.
Symptoms of ringworm can vary, so it’s important to be on the lookout for any possible signs and, without panicking, keep an open mind and be sensibly self-aware.
The primary ones are skin-related. If you have a red or silver ring-shaped rash, that is likely ringworm. If your skin is scaly, itchy, or inflamed, then that too may be ringworm.
In addition, though there are other causes of such things, if you have blisters, small red bumps, or some discoloration in the skin, these too are all possible signs of ringworm and you should seek medical advice.
Unfortunately, the diagnosis requires medical intervention and is not easily done at home or by oneself.
Skin scraping is one of the most well known ways to diagnose ringworm and it involves a doctor or medical professional taking a scalpel and lightly scraping the top layer of affected skin. It is then examined for any fungal infection. Though it sounds grim, skin scraping is generally done in a relatively simple and non-invasive manner, so you should not be unduly concerned about the process itself. More important is the diagnosis.
As with other diseases, blood tests are also used to assess the infectiousness or otherwise of your condition and to determine whether it is indeed ringworm.
These are only very rarely required, as the above two methods are almost always accurate in determining if someone has ringworm. To reassure you, it is only in very rare cases that imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI scan are required.
You will likely, though not always, need prescription medication. If so, antifungal medicine is generally considered to be the most effective way to treat ringworm. It both kills the fungus and also reduces the itching and redness symptoms associated with the ringworm
There are certainly things you can try at home, though it will depend on the seriousness of the case of ringworm you have.
A medicated moisturizing OTC cream may work, and these are widely available. In addition, making a paste from crushed garlic and applying it to the skin may also be efficacious. Garlic has anti-inflammatory properties that can calm skin rashes down and reduce redness. It also has anti-fungal properties, so it is genuinely worth trying this.
Yogurt on the skin can also be a calming substance and it can cool inflamed or red skin too. And tea tree oil, which is antiseptic and also anti-inflammatory, might also help. That said, it can sometimes sting a little, so use only a very mild dose if the skin is broken. See below for further advice on tea-tree oil.
It is always handy keeping a medicated shampoo at home. These are incredibly helpful for many skin complaints, including ringworm. This is because they contain strong antifungal ingredients such as selenium sulfide and these chemicals are invariably very effective in helping to kill off the fungi that cause ringworm.
They work by reducing the amount of fungus on the skin, and this in turn reduces the inflammation and irritation caused by ringworm. Pleasingly, these shampoos can be used for both adults and children.
The most well known and effective OTC (Over The Counter) remedies are antifungal creams containing clotrimazole. These are specifically designed to tackle fungal infections like ringworm. Generally, the advice is to apply the creams two or three times a day, which means they are not unduly intrusive into your daily routines.
Oral OTC options are also available, and the most widely used of these is terbinafine. Talk to your pharmacist for bespoke advice suitable to your personal situation.
Though they may not work for the more serious cases of ringworm, many people have some success in treating lighter cases with home treatments such as ginger, garlic, tea tree oil, and aloe vera. Lightly and gently applied in cream or paste form, these can support the reduction of the inflammation and redness ringworm brings.
For more serious cases, you must take medical advice. Prescription medications will very likely be required to get the infection under control. Oral antifungal medications are commonly prescribed. Given the infectious nature of ringworm and the distress it can cause, do talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you are affected by a bad dose. Prescribed treatments are likely to be required to ensure the ringworm disappears if you have a serious case of the disease.
As with so many areas of our health, proper hygiene makes a difference. If in contact with ringworm, you must wash your hands thoroughly. It is also important, given that ringworm is a fungus, to disinfect areas and surfaces that have come into contact with infected skin.
Using separate towels if you live in a shared environment is also important, and this is a factor too many people overlook. A damp towel is a breeding ground for any fungal infection, so it is essential to take care with shared bathroom and kitchen spaces.
Essential oils are plant extracts that contain a complex mix of compounds known to possess medicinal properties. When it comes to treating ringworm, they can be highly effective in palliating the symptoms and in alleviating the condition.
Many essential oils have antifungal properties, including some of the most popular oils on the market. Tea tree oil, lavender oil, and oregano oil are all worth looking out for. If you use them, however, try them on a small isolated patch of skin initially, before applying them more widely, to check you have no adverse reactions.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is worth a note by itself. It has a highly effective active compound called terpinen-4-ol. This compound is noted for having powerful anti-fungal properties that can make a difference to fungal infections like ringworm. In addition, tea tree oil has beneficial antimicrobial properties that can help to reduce inflammation and soothe any itching caused by ringworm. It is a highly useful oil to keep at home.
Apple cider vinegar
This product has become much more widely available in recent years. To use it, dilute the apple cider vinegar with equal parts water before applying it to affected areas. It is essential that you ensure the product is diluted sufficiently, as vinegar has astringent properties that can sting and may lead to a temporary inflammation of the skin if you apply it in too concentrated a form.
You are best to leave it on for a few hours or overnight and gently wash it off in the morning. The process is a gradual one, but you will notice a difference over time and you can be reassured that the antiseptic qualities of the vinegar are working to heal throughout, as a cream might.
Practicing proper hygiene
When you are sharing a living space with someone with ringworm, or if you are suffering from it yourself, there are things to be aware of to ensure that your household and workspace hygiene is less likely to spread the fungal infection.
- Keep your body clean and regularly washed, making sure that if you have a bath you wash the bath down afterwards
- Avoid sharing towels or cutlery
- Depending on where on your body you have ringworm, take care if sharing a toilet
- Make sure not to share any personal items like combs, hairbrushes, moisturizing creams, or undergarments, such as pants or socks.
- Ensure to wash your clothes in separate laundry loads
- Do not share linen
- If your partner has ringworm, you are better to sleep apart while the condition is treated
- Disinfect door handles and kitchen and bathroom surfaces
Much of this is common sense for any contagious or infectious skin complaint, but it can require a change to habits, so take care to be aware of these minor adaptations to any routines.
Cleaning and washing surfaces and fabrics
Fabrics, too, can be a hazard for contagion. If you are in a shared space, rinse and clean any potentially infected surfaces and fabrics with warm water and soap. Afterwards, wash them thoroughly with an antifungal or antibacterial detergent. In addition, to develop the point we made earlier, make sure to use separate sponges, towels, and washcloths for each load of laundry, since ringworm can easily spread this way.
Wearing protective clothing
This may sound extreme, but one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and others is to cover any infected areas of skin so that there is less chance of any spread. Wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and a garment that covers any affected areas is wise.
Avoiding close contact
It can be difficult, but you have to try to modify your behavior if you either have ringworm or are near someone who does. That does not mean you should always stay away from someone who has the infection, but it does mean that you must exercise caution and take the necessary precautionary steps. Wash your hands and clothing often, and avoid touching any affected areas. And if you have come in contact with someone who has ringworm, be certain to wash your hands immediately afterwards.
Keeping the skin dry
Like most fungal infections, ringworm likes damper conditions. One way to help control the infection is therefore by keeping your skin dry. One key way to do so is to avoid activities that make you sweat, such as exercising or spending time in a hot environment.
Additionally, make a concerted effort to keep the skin clean and dry with non-oily moisturizers and soaps. And always make sure you change out of any damp clothing promptly, as fungi thrive in damp conditions.
Skin conditions like ringworm are problematic and they can be genuinely painful and disruptive to the order of your daily life. They are, however, treatable, and if you follow the advice here, and take care to exercise some caution in your routines, you will ensure that you shorten the period of the infection and make the ringworm a less painful or intrusive interruption to your health.