When you hear that you have contracted ringworm, the image that comes into your mind will likely be that of a parasite, like tapeworms or roundworms. This common misconception about this equally common skin infection is owed to its name, given to the condition because of the shape of the rash that it causes.
Ringworm is not actually a worm at all; the condition is caused by a fungus known as tinea. Sometimes called tinea corporis or dermatophytid, ringworm is contagious and contracted when you come in contact with the fungus. Often, ringworm is spread from person to person, but you can also contract ringworm from a pet, from infected soil or by touching an object that someone with ringworm has already touched.
The fungus that causes ringworm can develop in people of any age. Moist and dark places are ideal for tinea, and if you are frequently in these types of locations or you live in a humid climate, you are more likely to develop ringworm. Because sweating creates moisture on the surface of your skin, those who sweat profusely due to exercise or other physical activity are also slightly more at risk as well as those with compromised immune systems that cannot fight off tinea if they come in contact with it.
The rash caused by ringworm is usually very easy to diagnose due to its unique shape. Ringworm forms a circular rash that consists of red, scaly concentric rings. Typically, the skin in the center of the ring looks normal and is not irritated or inflamed. Often, ringworm has an unpleasant itch.
For most people, ringworm can be treated with over-the-counter products; however, if the condition remains for more than four weeks or if your immune system is compromised due to diabetes, prescription medications or other causes, you should see your doctor at the first signs of ringworm.
Depending on the severity of the infection and how widespread it is, your doctor will prescribe you either a topical antifungal cream or an oral antifungal drug. In rare cases, you may be given both. Antifungal medications include butenafine, ciclopriox, terbinafine and fluconazole. These drugs work by killing the fungus and clearing up the infection. Typically, topical prescription antifungal drugs are well tolerated, but may cause redness and irritation in a small amount of users. Side effects are more common with oral drugs and can range from minor gastrointestinal distress to severe complications like abnormal liver functioning.
Home Remedies and Herbal Remedies
Garlic is a commonly recommended home treatment for ringworm due to its antifungal properties. Some clinical studies have supported the benefits of garlic for treating tinea infections, but many people find using garlic for the condition unpleasant due to the pungent aroma of the herb.
To apply garlic topically, peel 5 to 10 cloves and cut them in half. Wipe each clove across the affected area one time and then discard the clove, continuing until you have covered the entire rash. Immediately after applying the garlic, place an adhesive bandage over the area. Repeat the treatment once per day.
Tea tree oil is a commonly used topical natural treatment for ringworm. The oil comes from the leaves of a plant native to Australia and has been clinically proven to fight tinea. You can purchase tea tree essential oil from many health food stores. Simply mix 1.5 tablespoons of the oil with 1 cup of water and mix well to make a solution for application. Then, using a clean paintbrush or makeup brush, spread the solution over the ringworm rash. If the oil does not cause an unpleasant stinging sensation, you can increase the concentration of the tea tree oil for quicker results.
A variety of oral herbal natural products are advertised for treating ringworm. Because oral herbal preparations are not evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it can be difficult to know precisely what ingredients are contained in these products. In addition, they are not tested for safety or efficacy. Before using an oral herbal remedy to treat ringworm, consult your doctor for advice.
Over-the-Counter Topical Remedies
All over-the-counter medicinal treatments for ringworm contain an antifungal medication in a lesser strength than the potent antifungals found in prescription drugs. They usually pose less of a risk for side effects due to their reduced strengths, but are often as effective as their prescription counterparts for minor infections. Before applying any over-the-counter topical medicinal treatments for ringworm, wash the affected skin thoroughly with a mild soap and water and pat it dry.