Ringworm is a fungal infection that affects the skin’s topmost layers. It can occur throughout the body, but is most prevalent on the face, feet, hands, scalp, and groin. The infection is very contagions; it can easily spread via direct contact with infected humans and pets; infected objects like towels, brushes, clothing, linens, bedding, and combs, etc.; and in rare cases via prolonged exposure to highly infected soil.
Ringworm skin infection is easily identified via the occurrence of an abnormal circular silvery-white or reddish patch on the skin. The abnormal blotch may later elicit elevated bumps which eventually turn into a scaly, extremely itchy blister.
Most cases of ringworm infection tend to clear out on their own over a course of many months without any medical treatment. The condition can however become chronic. Treatment allows faster recovery from the skin infection; but medical treatment has to be continued for 2 to 4 weeks before all fungal infection is completely eliminated.
Symptoms of ringworm
The signs and symptoms of ringworm infection are dependent on the body area that it affects. For example, ringworm of the scalp will elicit symptoms that are different from those observed with ringworm of the body.
The strains of fungus that infect different body areas are also varied. The fungus ‘tinea unguium’ affects the finger or toe nails; tinea capitis affects the scalp or hair; tinea pedis affects the moist region between the toes and occasionally the entire foot; tinea corposis affects the legs, hands, torso, and face; and tinea cruris affects the genitals, buttocks, and upper inner thighs.
- Ringworm of the body: It is the most common type of ringworm infection. The condition typically starts off as a scaly flattened section on the skin; it may cause itchiness and redness. The abnormal skin patch may feature a somewhat elevated border which extends outwards, thereby creating a rounded structure with a wavy or irregular outline.The center of the circular patch may have clear and healthy skin that does not itch, or it may be scaly or feature clusters of reddish bumps. Some patients may suffer from simultaneous formation of several such anomalous skin patches which may also overlap.
- Ringworm of the scalp:It is one of the major causes of premature loss of hair. Individuals with prior scalp injuries or a compromised immune system as well as children are at greater risk to developing scalp ringworm. The infection affects the hair follicles and hair shaft and promotes hair fall. Lack of treatment can soon lead to formation of one or many bald patches on the scalp; they may differ in size as per the severity of scalp ringworm.
- The most common symptom of this fungal infection is itchy scalp.Other symptoms include erosion of healthy tufts of hair and their eventual replacement by irregular, circular, or oval-shaped bald areas. These areas may slowly enlarge and expand. The affected areas may be grey, scaly, or reddened; they may be painful or tender. The abnormal patches may feature tiny black spots on the scalp from where the hair has fallen off. The hair may become fragile and brittle and hence easy to pull out.
- Nail ringworm infection: As per research, nearly half the number of nail abnormality cases arise due to nail ringworm infection. The fungal infection causes the texture of the nail to completely change; the nail may lose its smoothness, attain a grey or greenish hue, and become hard, thick, and brittle. It may even get dislodged from the nail bed. The worst part is that the infection can rapidly spread to other healthy nails. A weakened immune system, excessive contact of the legs and hands with water, and prior cases of damaged nails tend to increase the vulnerability towards developing nail ringworm infection.
Treatment of ringworm: How long does it take to get rid of ringworm?
Ringworm is a mild condition which disappears on its own. However, any delay in treatment or lack of treatment can cause the infection to become more severe, increase the recovery period, and cause permanent scarring post healing.
- Mild cases of ringworm infection of the body can be treated with topical OTC anti-fungal medications. Severe cases may require oral anti-fungal drugs. Anti-fungal creams may be used 2 times a day for about 2 weeks for complete recovery from the infection.
- Nail ringworm does not easily respond to medical treatment, and hence healing can get prolonged. Doctors may prescribe antifungal tablets, but its excessive use can cause health problems. Hence in some cases, doctors may cut the affected nail and then treat the nail bed with potent anti-fungal nail solutions.
- Ringworm of the scalp is treated with regular use of shampoos that contain anti-fungal medications. The treatment has to be continued for 8 to 10 weeks for full recovery.
Herbal remedies are useful in treating mild cases of ringworm infection. They also cause fewer or nil side effects as compared to commercial medications.
- Massage the infected area with 2 to 3 drops of oregano oil, 3 to 4 times a day, for about 7 days for curing ringworm of the body.
- Apply 3 to 4 drops of lavender essential oil (dilute with a carrier oil for sensitive skin) and let the skin absorb it fully for effective results.
- Coconut oil can be applied on the scalp after using an anti-fungal shampoo. It will alleviate scaling, itchiness, and dryness.
- Garlic has anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. Make a paste of garlic and apply on ringworm infection 4 times a day for speedy recovery.
- Tea tree oil dries the skin and prevents the development of blisters or pus on the ringworm skin rash. Use a few drops of tree tea oil mixed in coconut or olive oil, or use ointments with tree tea oil as an ingredient.
- Nail ringworm infection can be treated by soaking the affected nail in a few drops of grapefruit seed extract (GSE). You may add a few drops of tea tree oil to GSE after soaking the nail for a few minutes.
- Other topical herbal remedies include apple cider vinegar, mustard seed paste, green walnuts, honey and turmeric paste, fresh lime juice and grounded butea seeds paste, raw papaya, and juices of cassia leaves and holy basil.
Maintaining good personal hygiene, avoiding contact with infected animals, keeping the skin dry and cool, and not sharing personal items with others can help reduce the risk to developing ringworm.