Ringworm: Types, Symptoms and Causes

Ringworm, also known as dermatophytosis or tinea, is a fungal infection of the skin. Several types of contagious fungal infections occurs on the top layer of the skin, scalp, and nails.

Updated: January 2, 2018

Ringworm, also known as dermatophytosis or tinea, is a fungal infection of the skin. Several types of contagious fungal infections occurs on the top layer of the skin, scalp, and nails.
The infection is caused by a fungus and not a worm. It is called ringworm because the itchy, red rash has a ring-like appearance. Ringworm is caused by a fungus that eats keratin, a protein found in skin, hair, and nails.
Ringworm infection can affect both humans and animals. The infection initially presents with red patches on affected areas of the skin and later spreads to other parts of the body.

Types of Ringworm:

Depending on which part of the body is affected, ringworm is classified as:

Tinea capitis or Scalp ringworm:

This is most common in younger children. Adults can also be affected, but that is rare. Scalp ringworm is more common in urban environments because people are closer together, giving the fungus more opportunities to spread.
It often starts as small sores that develop into itchy, scaly bald patches.

Tinea corporis or Ringworm of the body:

This can affect babies, children, and adults. It often appears as patches with the characteristic round ring shape.

Tinea cruris or Jock itch :

It refers to ringworm infection of the skin around the groin, inner thighs, and buttocks. It is most common in men and adolescent boys.

Tinea pedis or Athlete's foot:

It refers to ringworm infection of the foot. It is frequently seen in people who go barefoot in public places where the infection can spread, such as locker rooms, showers, and swimming pools.

Tinea unguium :

It is also known as onychomycosis or infections of the nail bed.

Symptoms of Ringworm:

Symptoms of ringworm vary depending on the type of ringworm.

Symptoms of scalp ringworm include:

  • Small patches of scaly skin appear on the scalp.
  • Hair on or near the patches breaks away or fall off.
  • Patches may feel tender or painful and can be inflamed.
  • Kerion or large inflamed sores form on the scalp, which may ooze pus.
  • Lymph nodes and temperature are rare.

Symptoms of body (skin) ringworm:

  • red, itchy, scaly, or raised patches
  • patches that develop blisters or begin to ooze. When there are enough of them, they will merge together.
  • patches that may be redder on the outside edges or resemble a ring
  • patches with edges that are defined and raised

Symptoms of a groin infection:

  • Itchiness especially in and around the groin.
  • Redness. The affected area becomes red and may feel like burning.
  • Skin may become flaky and scaly.
  • Walking, running, or exercising worsens symptoms.
  • Tight clothing makes symptoms worse.

If you are experiencing dermatophytosis in your nails, they may become thicker or discolored, or they may begin to crack.

Causes of Ringworm:

Ringworm is caused by a type of fungi that eat keratin, called dermatophytes.
Dermatophytes can 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 which can survive on the surface of the skin for months. They can survive equally well in household objects such as towels, combs and the soil.
It can be spread in the following ways:

Human to human:

Ringworm often spreads by direct, skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.

Animal to human:

You can contract ringworm by touching an animal with ringworm. Ringworm can spread while petting or grooming dogs or cats. It is also found in cows.

Object to human:

Ringworm can spread when you come in contact with objects or surfaces that an infected person or animal has recently touched or rubbed against household things, such as clothing, towels, bedding and linens, combs, and brushes.

Soil to human:

It is possible that these fungi may live for an extended period as spores in soil. Ringworm can be spread to humans by contact with infected soil. Infection would most likely occur only from prolonged contact with highly infected soil.


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