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Ringworm

Ringworm is a shallow skin infection caused by a fungus. A circular ring-shaped rash is developed during this infection, hence the name “ringworm.” Don’t’ worry–no worms are involved. It can affect individuals in all age groups. Reddish, itchy, scaly, circular patches of ringworm can show up anywhere on the body. Common areas for this infection to appear include the feet (athlete’s foot) and the groin (jock itch). Ringworm is more common in warmer climates.

What does ringworm look like?

Ringworm infection appears as reddish, ring-like patches on the skin. Typically, these patches have a raised, wavy border. The middle of the patch is flat and may become less red as it grows in size. The patches may or may not be itchy. Ringworm of the scalp usually starts as a small bump or a tiny sore which may feel tender to the touch. It can grow in size and spread to make patches that are a few inches in diameter. In severe cases, hair will fall out of these patches leaving bald spots in the affected area.

Ringworm infection can occur in any part of the body including the hands (tinea manuum), scalp (tinea capitis), bearded areas (tinea barbae), face (tinea faciei), groin (tinea cruris/jock itch), feet (tinea pedis/athlete’s foot), and nails (onychomycosis/ tinea unguium). While it could occur in people of all ages, ringworm of the scalp is most prevalent in children. Depending on the area of the body affected, ringworm rash can look different. Ringworm on the scalp, arms, legs, face, and trunk is characterized by ring-shaped, red, scaly patches with clearing centers. Meanwhile, ringworm infection of the feet, nails, and genital areas do not appear as typical ring shape.
About 40 different types of fungi can cause ringworm. Most common fungal types causing ringworm are Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epidermophyton. They are known as dermatophytes that colonize the upper layers of dead skin and cause superficial infections of the skin, hair, and nails.
Yes, but most ringworm infection is not highly contagious. If areas of ringworm are inflamed, it may be more infectious. Skin-to-skin contact or sharing personal items such as towels, combs, or clothing (e.g., socks, shoes) with an infected person are main ways of getting infected with ringworm. It can also spread from one area of the body to another on the same person.

What are common causes of ringworm infection?

There is an increased risk of getting ringworm infection if a person:

  • Comes in contact with an infected pet or animal (new kitten, new guinea pig)
  • Has contact with an infected person, as ringworm often spreads through skin-to-skin contact.
  • Is immunocompromised due to other disease conditions or from medical treatment
  • Plays contact sports where there is skin-to skin contact, such as wrestling
  • Shares clothing, towels, combs, and sports gear (e.g., helmets) with an infected person
  • Uses communal showers and locker rooms

How do I know if I have ringworm?

If you are not sure the rash you have is a ringworm infection, consult a dermatologist. There are many other skin conditions that look like ringworm, so it is better to have a board-certified dermatologist give you a proper diagnosis.

Sometimes, a diagnosis can be made by a board-certified dermatologist by clinical exam alone. Otherwise, a skin scraping can be examined under the microscope or a skin biopsy can be cut out and sent to a microscope doctor for examination. Sometimes, a sample is sent to a microbiology lab to do genetic testing or even testing to see what treatments are the best options for your specific infection. As a board-certified dermatologist which of these tests are right for you.

Multiple measures can be taken to avoid getting the ringworm infection and prevent them from spreading from one part of your body to another.

  • Wash your hands – After touching a ringworm rash, make sure to wash your hands with soap before you touch another part of your body or someone else. Also, it is good practice to wash your hands with soap after playing with pets.
  • Keep your skin clean and dry – Fungus thrive in moist environments. Make sure to dry your skin properly after a shower, taking extra time to dry between toes and skin folds.
  • Get your pet checked for any fungal infections – If your dog has an itchy rash, it could be ringworm. Visit a veterinarian to check your dog for fungal infections as pets can spread ringworm infection to humans.
  • Shower after working out – Fungus may linger for a few hours on surfaces such as gym equipment. You could get infected with ringworm when you use gym equipment after an infected person. Shower after working out to get rid of any possible fungal contaminations on the skin. If you are a wrestler or participate in other close-contact sports, make sure to shower after every practice or competition.
  • Do not share personal items with infected individuals – Ringworm can spread through contact with contaminated personal items. Do not share your clothing, towels, hairbrushes, or sports gear with someone who has ringworm.
  • Cover your feet – Wear shower shoes or flip flops in public showers and locker rooms to protect your feet from getting infected with ringworm (athlete’s foot).

Types of Ringworm Treatments

Ringworm treatments depend on where the infection is and the severity of the infection. Treatment options mainly address two aspects: clearing the infection and stopping the infection from returning. Your dermatologist may recommend over-the-counter creams such as tolnaftate (Tinactin®), clotrimazole (Lotramin®) or miconazole to treat your ringworm infection. These products are often found in the foot care aisle as they are typically used to treat athlete’s foot. In most cases continuous use of these medicine for 2-4 weeks is necessary to remove the fungus and to reduce the chances of the infection from returning.

Typically, over-the-counter treatments are not strong enough to treat ringworm of the scalp. In most cases it must be treated with systemic antifungal medicine (tablets), as topical agents do not penetrate the hair shafts to clear the infection. In addition, 1% or 2.5% selenium sulfide shampoo or 2% ketoconazole shampoo are sometimes used for the first two weeks to reduce further spreading (1).

Treatments for Ringworm in Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona

Although ringworm is contagious, it can be treated with proper antifungal treatments. The staff at Saguaro Dermatology are dedicated to providing you with the highest quality of care, innovative practices, helpful resources, and the state-of-the-art technology to prevent and treat a multitude of skin disorders for patients in the Phoenix and Mesa area. Our dermatologists are experienced in treating skin infections including ringworm infection and are ready to help you.

Fungal infections take longer to clear up. You may have to use anti-fungal medicine for 2-4 weeks to clear the rash and to make sure the infection does not come back.

Typically, ringworm infection does not go away on its own, but it depends. You can try over-the-counter antifungal creams for mild cases. If the ringworm infection does not go away with over-the-counter topical treatment, you may need a prescription anti-fungal treatment from a healthcare provider such as a certified dermatologist. Untreated, ringworm can cause significant morbidity and predispose to complications, including cellulitis and ulcers on the feet and hair loss on the scalp (2).

It is not recommended to apply any home remedies on the rash as it can irritate the patch and make it an open sore. If you are not sure how to proceed with treating the ringworm infection, consult an experienced dermatologist.

Final Word on Ringworm

Ringworm is a fungal infection that can affect any part of the body. It can spread through skin-to-skin contact from one infected person to another person or from one part of the body to another. Over-the-counter antifungal creams should be able to treat most of the ringworm infections. Severe or untreated ringworm infection can affect the way you feel about your appearance. If you are not sure if you have ringworm infection or do not know how to choose the right treatment, contact an experienced dermatologist. The team at Saguaro Dermatology has successfully treated individuals with different skin conditions, including ringworm. Our board-certified dermatologist along with our caring and experienced staff are always ready to help you at Saguaro Dermatology, conveniently located at two campuses in Phoenix and Mesa, AZ.

Saguaro Dermatology Reviews

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“I totally recommend this place to anyone who’s looking for a dermatologist who’s professional, informative, respectful and very helpful. They are quick to solve your problems and get you home.”

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I had an awesome experience with Dr Hamann and staff. I was very comfortable and i was able to have all my questions answered without feeling rushed. The staff was courteous and welcoming.

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“Dr Dathan and the team were very helpful, kind and knowledgeable. Plus, there was no wait time so I was able to get back to work faster than expected. I would highly recommend.”

Robert P.

Staff was friendly, & on time. office is super clean!! Doctor was awesome, felt like a family member taking care of me.

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“Very friendly and professional. I had a great experience, Dr. Hamann was very good at answering my questions and concerns. I will certainly come back for another visit.”

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Great doctor and friendly, professional staff. The doctor spends time listening and answering questions, something rare to find anymore. The office is beautiful and very clean. I love all the artwork with saguaros.

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“The office was recently renovated–it is a beautiful, clean, and calm environment. I would highly recommend this practice for anyone who is looking for a general dermatologist.”

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Dr. Hamann is very knowledgeable, nice, and professional. You can tell that he truly cares about his patients by the way he operates. He took the time to listen to all of my concerns then address them with good, well-informed answers.

Saguaro Dermatology | Phoenix Dermatology

About Saguaro Dermatology

Our comprehensive dermatology clinic is dedicated to providing you with the highest quality of care, innovative practices, helpful resources and state-of-the-art technology to prevent and treat a multitude of skin disorders. Led by Carsten R. Hamann, MD, PhD, Dathan Hamann, MD, FAAD, and Millard Thaler, MD, Mohs Surgeon, our passionate team looks forward to serving you with respect and compassion.

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