Ringworm is quite a common fungal infection of the skin but contrary to popular belief, it is not caused by an actual worm. The infection causes a scaly, crusty rash that can look like a round and red patch on the skin. It is a contagious condition which can be passed from person to person by contact or sharing personal items such as brushes, combs, or clothing. Also, ringworm thrives in warm and moist conditions so it is not unusual to catch it in locker rooms and communal showers and pools.
Ringworm is normally not a dangerous infection and is easily treated at home. However, if left untreated, it can spread and cause a myriad of potential health issues. It is very important to stress that ringworm is not dangerous and that there are no cases of serious ringworm. Nevertheless, there are some cases of untreated ringworm that lead to some of the other issues, so if you want to know more, read on.
If untreated, the fungus that causes ringworm can spread onto the scalp and then becomes known as tinea capitis. This fungus causes a rash on the scalp that expands over time and is usually gray or reddish in color. It can also look quite scaly and unsightly. When tinea capitis spreads a lot, the hair within the patch becomes brittle and breaks off easily near the scalp or simply falls off, causing hair loss.
The fungus can infect nail beds and nails if there are microscopic tears of the skin around the nail, under the nail, or in the cuticle. This type of ringworm is called tinea unguium or onychomycosis, and approximately ten percent of people suffer from this condition. Mild cases of tinea unguium can cause the discoloration of the nail, but in severe situations the nail becomes deformed and it can often crumble or scale quite badly.
Untreated ringworm can also cause secondary bacterial infections because the rash breaks the skin and makes it prone to bacterial infestation. The most common side-conditions of ringworm are strep and staph skin infections, also known as cellulitis. In milder cases, tenderness of the skin, pain, fatigue, and fever may occur, but in more severe cases bone infection, gangrene, or even meningitis may result from some bacterial infection.
What to Do to Prevent Ringworm?
Luckily, ringworm is easily treatable, however, there are a few precautions you can take to prevent the ringworm altogether. Even though it has been established that ringworm is not dangerous for humans, it is also quite unpleasant and not that pretty to look at, so instead of exposing yourself to common triggers, why not try to avoid them completely?
Always make sure to keep your skin dry and clean. Not only will you feel better about yourself, you will also prevent the fungus from latching onto your skin. If you have to use public showers and locker rooms, make sure you wear flip flops or slippers to avoid the contact with the floor that could be swarming with fungi. Change your underwear and socks daily and do not share towels or clothing items with someone who has ringworm as it is highly contagious.
Keep your sports gear clean and dry and do not share it with your teammates or other players. Also, always make sure to wash your hands with water and soap after playing with pets. If your pet has ringworm, wear long sleeves and gloves when handling it and vacuum the home frequently.
Minimize the sweat and moisture around you. If you are a man, it is recommended that you wear boxer shorts, and women should avoid pantyhose and underwear made of certain materials.
How to Treat Ringworm?
If you are unlucky and still manage to catch ringworm, have no fear, it is not a serious condition and it is easily treatable. It can be dealt with by using simple over-the-counter anti-fungal creams such as clotrimazole (brand name: Mycelex, Tinactin, Micasil, Lamisil, or Lotrimin). Apply the cream twice a day to the patches and the surrounding skin.
Wash the rash with water and soap and make sure you dry it completely. You can also use compressed which can be bought without a prescription that will soothe and dry the blisters out.
In the case of scalp infections, doctors usually prescribe antifungal tablets (terbinafine or griseofulvin) and an antifungal shampoo. Terbinafine tablets, however, do have some short-term side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, and indigestion, and griseofulvin’s side effects include vomiting, headache, indigestion, mild diarrhea, and nausea, and it should not be taken during pregnancy as it can cause birth defects.
Finally, if your ringworm is very persistent and won’t go away, or gets worse after some of these treatments, see your doctor and consult about other, more aggressive treatments for this type of a rash.