The sound of ringworm is enough to make your skin crawl. Thankfully it’s not nearly as creepy (or as crawly) as it sounds. There aren’t even any worms involved. (Cue sigh of relief.)
“That’s a huge misconception. Ringworm, or tinea, is not a creature but an infection caused by fungus,” says dermatologist Alok Vij, MD. Here’s how to spot this common fungal infection — and how to wipe it out.
Recognizing ringworm symptoms
Ringworm causes red, ring-shaped patches on the skin. The red splotches typically have a wavy border that’s raised or scaly, Dr. Vij says. The rash is usually a little itchy but not always.
And those itchy red patches are all too common. The infection spreads through skin-to-skin contact, so it often affects kids (who are famously lax about keeping their hands to themselves) and athletes who engage in close contact, such as wrestlers. But it can strike anyone of any age.
It can also show up anywhere on the body. In kids, the scalp is a common spot. But tinea can also infiltrate the feet (where it’s known as athlete’s foot) or the groin (hello, jock itch).
If you have signs of ringworm, you probably want it gone yesterday. Good news, says Dr. Vij: “It’s generally easy to treat.”
Look for over-the-counter antifungal creams such as Tinactin® (tolnaftate topical) or Lotramin® (clotrimazole). These products are often found in the foot care aisle and marketed for athlete’s foot. These creams will:
- Clear it up: Use it twice a day, and the infection should start clearing within a few days, Dr. Vij says.
- Wipe it out: Keep using the cream morning and night for a month to fully wipe out the fungus and prevent it from making a repeat performance, he says. “Using the creams consistently is the key.”
Most often, an OTC treatment works well to clear up ringworm. If it doesn’t, see a doctor, because you might have a deeper infection that requires prescription treatment.
However, DO NOT treat ringworm with apple cider vinegar. Some people suggest applying this would-be home remedy and covering the spot with a bandage. But you may end up with open sores, Dr. Vij says. “I’ve seen people with scarring as a result of trying to treat ringworm with vinegar.”
Keep ringworm infections at bay
When you have ringworm, antifungal creams are your friends. Still, you’d surely rather avoid the infection in the first place.
These strategies can help you avoid those telltale red rings (or prevent them from spreading from one part of your body to another):
- Wash up: After touching the rash, wash your hands before you touch another part of your body. (Or somebody else’s body. Your friends will thank you.)
- Boil the bedding: Wash all linens, towels and clothing that comes into contact with an infected person. (Go ahead and crank up the water temp — you want to scorch those fungi.)
- Check Spot: Have a vet check your dog for fungal infections since they can spread tinea to people.
- Hit the showers: Shower right after working out — especially if you’re a wrestler or participate in other close-contact sports.
- Protect your feet: Wear shower shoes at the gym or pool to avoid catching athlete’s foot.