Is there a worm under your skin?
You wake up one morning and notice a small area of skin on your arm that is a little red and slightly itchy. You don’t think much of it and get ready for your day. Later in the afternoon, you notice that the area has become even more red and the area is raised in the shape of ring. You go to your doctor and are diagnosed with having ringworm. What is that? Does it actually involve a worm? How is it treated?
Ringworm is a fungal infection that occurs in the top layer of your skin, so there is no actual worm involved. The ring is a red circle that is usually raised and can be irregularly shaped. This is what makes many people think that it looks like a worm underneath the skin. The middle of the ring is usually clear, but it can have a scaly appearance or small red bumps in it. It is possible to develop several overlapping rings at the same time. Ringworm can occur at any location on your body. If is on your head, it is caused by tinea capitis and if it is anywhere else on your body, it is caused by tinea corporis. Ringworm of the scalp usually presents as one or more round patches of scaly skin where the hair breaks off at or just above the scalp. The patches can slowly enlarge and will often look like scaly gray/reddened areas that have small black dots where the hair has broken off. This type of ringworm is more common in toddlers and school-age children.
Ringworm is closely related to two other common fungal infections, athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) and jock itch (tinea cruris). All of them are highly contagious and can be spread prior to symptoms appearing. They are spread by direct skin contact with an infected person, animal or object (something that has come into contact with an infected person’s or animal’s skin, like clothing, linen, towels or brushes). Some other factors that can increase your risk of contracting ringworm are living in a warm climate, wearing tight/restrictive clothing or having a weakened immune system.
For ringworm of the body, there are several over-the-counter antifungal lotions or creams, like Lotrimin AF or Lamisil AT, that are good for treating mild infections. If these don’t work, your doctor may prescribe prescription-strength lotions or creams. If you still aren’t seeing an improvement in your condition, your doctor will prescribe antifungal pills, like Gris-Peg or Lamisil. For ringworm of the scalp, your doctor will prescribe the antifungal pills and prescription-strength medicated shampoo. The shampoo helps to remove fungal spores preventing the spreading of the infection. In severe cases, it is common to have to take the medication for at least six weeks to ensure the infection clears up. The best form of treatment is prevention.
Since ringworm is so contagious, it can be challenging to prevent. The best way to do this is to be aware of the risk and know what signs of infection look like on animals and other people. The next most important step is to wash your hands to avoid contracting or spreading the infection. It is essential to keep common areas, such as locker rooms, day cares, schools and gyms, clean in order to prevent the transmission of the infection from an object to a person. Don’t share or borrow personal items, like clothing, towels or hairbrushes. If the weather is warm and humid, don’t wear thick or restrictive clothing and avoid excessive sweating.
Ringworm is unpleasant to have, but by using the prevention techniques, you’ll greatly reduce the chance of contracting it. If you have any questions or concerns about it, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the American Academy of Dermatology’s ringworm page at https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/ringworm