Different types of ringworm affect different parts of the body.
- Scalp ringworm (tinea capitis): This is most common in younger children, and occasionally it affects adults. It is more common in urban environments where people live closer together, giving the fungus more opportunities to spread.
- Body (skin) ringworm (tinea corporis): This can affect infants, children, and adults.
- Groin infections (tinea cruris): Also known as jock itch, this is more common among young men.
- Tinea pedis: Athlete’s foot is a common foot infection.
- Tinea unguium: Also known as onychomycosis, it is an infection of the nail bed.
- Ringworm in the beard area: This affects males who can grow facial hair, and it often results from contact with an animal that has ringworm.
Different types have different symptoms.
- small patches of scaly skin appear on the scalp.
- patches may feel tender or painful and be inflamed.
- hair breaks away on or near the patches
- kerion, or large inflamed sores, form on the scalp, and they may ooze pus
The person may have a temperature and swollen glands or lymph nodes, but this is uncommon.
Body or skin ringworm
- a rash with a ring-like appearance
- the skin may be red and inflamed around the outside of the ring, but look fine in the middle
- merging rings
- rings feel slightly raised
- itchiness, especially under the rash.
There may be:
- itchiness, especially in and around the groin
- redness and a burning sensation in the affected area
- flaky and scaly skin on the inner thighs
- symptoms worsen when walking, running, or exercising
- tight clothing makes symptoms worse
This can involve:
- redness, swelling, and pus-filled bumps
- hair loss, which usually resolves after treatment
- swollen glands
- raw, open skin and raised, soft, spongy patches that weep
Fungal infections rarely spread below the surface of the skin. The risk of any serious illness is very small. However, without treatment, ringworm can spread from one part of the body to another.
If the skin is broken, bacteria may enter and cause an infection.
People with HIV and other conditions that weaken the immune system are more likely to experience a spreading of ringworm. It is more difficult to get rid of the infection if the immune system is weak.
Ringworm is caused by a type of fungus that eats keratin. These are called dermatophytes.
Dermatophytes attack the skin, scalp, hair, and nails because those are the only parts of the body with enough keratin to attract them.
Dermatophytes are microscopic spores that can survive on the surface of the skin for months. They can also survive in towels, combs, the soil, and other household objects. They are very resilient.
Dermatophyte spores spread in the following ways:
If a person or animal has the infection, they may deposit fungal spores on objects and surfaces when they touch them; anyone who touches those objects may become infected.
Children usually show symptoms when they become infected, but many adults do not. The older an individual is, the more likely their immune system will protect them. However, they may still be a carrier.
The following risk factors either increase the chances of developing ringworm or make the symptoms worse:
- being aged under 15 years
- having a weakened immune system
- using medications that lower the immune system
- living in a warm, humid climate
- being close to people or animals that are infected
- sharing clothing or towels with someone who has the infection
- having hyperhidrosis, a condition where the individual sweats more than usual
- playing contact sports, for instance, wrestling
- wearing tight clothing
Caring for the skin during infection
It is important to wash the area gently.
Care for the skin properly can help speed recovery.
- Wash the skin gently
- Dry the skin thoroughly but gently.
- Pat the skin with a towel in tender areas, but do not rub.
- Make sure any folds and areas between the toes are dried thoroughly.
- Change sock or underwear more often than usual if they cover an infected area.
- Always treat the feet and groin at the same time, as infection often spreads from one area to another.
- Where possible, wear loose-fitting clothing and undergarments, such as boxers.