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Tinea capitis is a fungal infection of the scalp caused by two main species called Trichophyton and Microsporum. It is common in children. Systemic therapy is generally required to cure the problem, and several systemic anti‐fungal agents are available. The best evidence suggests that newer treatments such as terbinafine, itraconazole and fluconazole are probably as good as griseofulvin in childre... more

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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Ringworm

Dermatophytid; Tinea

Last reviewed: May 28, 2011.

Ringworm is a skin infection due to a fungus. Often, there are several patches of ringworm on your skin at once.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Ringworm is common, especially among children. However, it may affect people of all ages. It is caused by a fungus, not a worm like the name suggests.

Many bacteria and fungi live on your body. Some of these are useful, while others can cause infections. Ringworm occurs when a type of fungus called tinea grows and multiplies on your skin.

Ringwork can affect the skin on your:

Ringworm can spread easily from one person to another. You can catch ringworm if you touch someone who has the infection, or if you come into contact with items contaminated by the fungus, such as combs, unwashed clothing, and shower or pool surfaces. You can also catch ringworm from pets that carry the fungus. Cats are common carriers.

The fungus that causes ringworm thrive in warm, moist areas. Ringworm is more likely when you are often wet (such as from sweating) and from minor injuries to your skin, scalp, or nails.

Symptoms

Symptoms of ringworm include:

  • Itchy, red, raised, scaly patches that may blister and ooze.
  • The patches tend to have sharply-defined edges.
  • Red patches are often redder around the outside with normal skin tone in the center. This may look like a ring.

If ringworm affects your hair, you will have bald patches.

If ringworm affects your nails, they will become discolored, thick, and even crumble.

Signs and tests

Most of the time, your health care provider can diagnose ringworm by looking at your skin. The fungus may glow when your skin is examined with a blue light (called a Wood's lamp) in a dark room.

Tests to confirm the diagnosis may include:

Treatment

To care for ringworm:

  • Keep your skin clean and dry.
  • Apply over-the-counter antifungal or drying powders, lotions, or creams that contain miconazole, clotrimazole, or similar ingredients.
  • Don't wear clothing that rubs against and irritates the area.
  • Wash sheets and nightclothes every day while you are infected.

Your health care provider may prescribe pills to treat the fungus if you have:

  • A severe case of ringworm
  • Ringworm that keeps coming back or that lasts for a long time
  • Ringworm in your hair

You may need medicines such as ketoconazole, which are stronger than over-the-counter products. You may also need antibiotics to treat skin infections from strep or staph that are caused by scratching the area.

Infected pets also should be treated.

Expectations (prognosis)

Skin medicine usually treats ringworm within 4 weeks. If your ringworm infection is severe or it does not respond well to self-care, it will usually respond quickly to antifungal pills.

Calling your health care provider

Call your doctor right away if you have any signs of a bacterial infection, which can result from scratching. These signs include swelling, warm skin, sudden worsening in redness of the patches, red streaking, pus, drainage, and fever.

Call your doctor if:

  • You have ringworm on your scalp or beard
  • Your skin does not improve after 4 weeks of self-care
  • The rash spreads and you have diabetes or a weakened immune system due to disease or certain medications

Prevention

To prevent ringworm:

  • Keep your skin and feet clean and dry.
  • Shampoo regularly, especially after haircuts.
  • Do not share clothing, towels, hairbrushes, combs, headgear, or other personal care items. Such items should be thoroughly cleaned and dried after use.
  • Wear sandals or shoes at gyms, lockers, and pools.
  • Avoid touching pets with bald spots.

References

  1. Superficial fungal infections. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 13.

Review Date: 5/28/2011.

Reviewed by: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Oral antifungal drugs for treating athlete's foot (tinea pedis)
    Athlete's foot (tinea pedis) is a fungal infection of the feet that is easily spread and difficult to get rid of. This review compared different oral antifungal drugs (i.e. drugs taken by mouth), and it included 15 trials, involving 1438 participants. There are several different kinds of oral treatments, and the trials we found considered all the oral drugs used to treat athlete's foot. We found terbinafine and itraconazole to be more effective than placebo. And we found terbinafine to be more effective than griseofulvin. Griseofulvin is a treatment that was developed much earlier than the new treatments, such as terbinafine and itraconazole; these newer treatments tend to be most evaluated. Trials of other drugs were not large enough to show differences between them. All drugs had side‐effects; gastrointestinal effects were the most common.
See all (3) ...

Figures

  • Dermatitis, reaction to tinea.
    Ringworm, tinea corporis on an infant's leg.
    Ringworm, tinea capitis - close-up.
    Ringworm, tinea on the hand and leg.
    Ringworm, tinea manuum on the finger.
    Ringworm, tinea corporis on the leg.
    Tinea (ringworm).

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