Up to 20% of people will have ringworm at some stage of their lives. Children tend to be more susceptible to ringworm, but adults can get it as well.
Ringworm is a skin condition that mostly occurs on the arms and legs, but can appear anywhere, even on the scalp. The medical term for ringworm on the body is tinea corporis and on the scalp it is called tinea capitis. Other examples of tinea infections are jock itch and athlete’s foot. It can even affect the nails, turning them thick, yellow and brittle.
Read: Athlete's foot - treatment and prevention
Ringworm on the skin usually takes the form of itchy, scaly red patches that are often most visible around the edges with more normal skin tone in the middle. The fungus spreads out in rings once it has gained a foothold, thence the name. Ringworm on the scalp can cause bald patches and is often mistaken for dandruff.
Despite the name, ringworm has nothing to do with worms, but is caused by types of fungi called dermatophytes that live on dead cells on the skin, nails and hair.
Ringworm is contagious and can spread when people, especially children, share clothing and towels or brushes, combs and headgear – it can even linger on floors. Good personal hygiene can help prevent the spread of ringworm. Pets also get ringworm, and people can pick it up when they stoke or play with their pets.
Because ringworm is caused by a fungus, it needs to be treated with antifungal medicine, which is either applied to the skin or taken orally. Antibiotics do not work. There are special antifungal shampoos to treat ringworm of the scalp, but medicine taken by mouth also works. Treatment may need to be continued for a number of weeks and care must be taken not to become re-infected.
In most cases ringworm can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams and ointments. The active ingredient is usually either miconazole or clotrimazole.
When using an ointment or cream, wash the area with soap and water and dry it carefully. Make sure you spread the antifungal cream over and a little beyond the entire affected area. Carry on using the ointment as prescribed even after the rash has disappeared. If the situation doesn’t improve after about two weeks, you need to seek medical attention.
There are also a number of home remedies for ringworm. A few examples are: tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar, garlic, coconut oil and aloe vera.
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Reference: NHS choices
Reviewed by Prof Eugene Weinberg