Note: All links within content go to MayoClinic.com
Diseases and Conditions
Ringworm of the bodyFrom MayoClinic.com
Special to CNN.com
Ringworm of the body is one of several forms of ringworm, a fungal infection that develops on the top layer of your skin. It's characterized by an itchy, red circle of rash with healthy-looking skin in the middle.
Also called tinea corporis, ringworm of the body is closely related to other skin conditions with similar names. "Tinea" is a type of fungus, and "corporis" is the Latin word for "body." Other common tinea infections include:
Tinea corporis affects your arms, legs, trunk and face. Ringworm gets its name from the characteristic ring that can appear, but it has nothing to do with an actual worm under your skin.
Although unsightly, ringworm usually isn't serious, except potentially for people with weak immune systems. Treatment usually consists of antifungal medications that you apply to your skin.
Signs and symptoms
The signs and symptoms of ringworm include:
More than one patch of ringworm may appear on your skin, and patches or red rings of rash may overlap. You can have tinea infection without having the common red ring of ringworm.
Fungal infections, such as ringworm, are caused by microorganisms that become parasites on your body. These mold-like fungi (dermatophytes) live on the cells in the outer layer of your skin.
Ringworm is contagious and can be spread in the following ways:
The organisms that cause ringworm thrive in damp, close environments. Warm, humid settings that promote heavy sweating also favor its spread. Excessive perspiration washes away fungus-killing oils in your skin, making it more prone to infection. Athletes are at higher risk of ringworm.
Ringworm often occurs in young children. Outbreaks of ringworm are common in schools, child care centers and infant nurseries. Children with pets are at increased risk of ringworm.
Others at increased risk of ringworm include people with weakened immune systems, such as people with diabetes or HIV/AIDS. If you have atopic dermatitis — a chronic, skin disease characterized by itchy, inflamed skin — you may be more susceptible to ringworm. The barrier in your skin that normally protects you from viral, bacterial and fungal infections is often weakened or compromised. Some people may be genetically prone to this type of infection.
When to seek medical advice
See your doctor if you have a rash on your skin that doesn't improve within two weeks. You may need prescription medication. If excessive redness, swelling, drainage or fever occurs, see your doctor immediately.
Screening and diagnosis
Your doctor will determine if you have ringworm or another skin disorder, such as psoriasis or atopic dermatitis. He or she will ask you about possible exposure to contaminated areas or contact with people or animals with ringworm.
Your doctor may take skin scrapings or samples from the infected area and look at them under a microscope. If a sample shows fungus, treatment may include an antifungal medication. If the test is negative but your doctor still suspects that you have ringworm, a sample may be sent to the laboratory for testing. This test is known as a culture. Your doctor may also order a culture if your condition doesn't respond to treatment.
A fungal infection rarely spreads below the surface of the skin to cause serious illness. However, people with weak immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, may find it difficult to get rid of the infection.
If ringworm of the body covers a large area, is severe or doesn't respond to over-the-counter medicine, you may need a prescription-strength topical or oral medication. These include:
Side effects from oral medications include gastrointestinal upset, rash and abnormal liver functioning. Taking other medications, such as antacid therapies for ulcer disease or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), may interfere with the absorption of these drugs. Oral medications for ringworm may alter the effectiveness of warfarin, an anticoagulant drug that decreases the clotting ability of your blood.
Ringworm is difficult to prevent. The fungus that causes ringworm is common and contagious even before symptoms appear. However, you can help reduce your risk of ringworm by taking these steps:
For a mild case of ringworm, you can apply an over-the-counter antifungal lotion, cream or ointment. Most fungal infections respond well to these topical agents, which include:
Wash and dry the affected area. Then, apply a thin layer of the topical agent once or twice a day for at least two weeks, or according to package directions. If you don't see an improvement after four weeks, see your doctor.
October 20, 2006