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Ringworm: Symptoms and Treatment

Updated on November 3, 2008

You probably already know that ringworm isn't actually a worm. Which means you probably also already know it's a fungus. And, even if you didn't already know this, the title probably gave you a clue. So why's it called ringworm? The terminology has existed for centuries, and it gets it name from the rings formed as the lesions heal. You start out with a solid red circle and end up with a red ring surrounding a clear or white patch of skin.

So don't worry, you don't have anything crawling around under your skin. What you have, is a fungus that's mooching off of you. It's surviving by chowing down on the keratin in your skin. And it's a rather obnoxious houseguest, lurking around in dark places and spreading itself far and wide. It loves dark, moist areas, as these contribute to it's comfort. So much so, he' s not often willing to leave when you open the door and try to kick him out. He'd rather mooch for the rest of whatever. Sounds like a few men I've had in my life, to be honest!

What kind of fungus are we talking about here?

This particular form of ringworm is transmitted by 3 types of fungus: Trichophyton rubrum (the most common), Microsporum canis (via Fido), Trichophyton mentagrophytes (zoophilic).

Where do you pick these dermatophytes up?

By sharing towels, bedding or clothing with infected persons. By touching an active infection directly. By touching an inanimate surface infected with the fungus. By coming into contact with a pet carrying it (yes, really). And sometimes from contact with infected soil.

What does it look like?

It starts out as a flat, red-colored patch. It's often circular but the shapes can vary (within moderation). Often, it will be quite itchy as well. The borders of the circle are often raised, sometimes containing tiny red bumps. As it heals the overall appearance tends to get a bit flakey looking, because the area is drying out.

How do I know if I have it?

You visit your doctor and ask. They can take a skin scraping and examine it under the microscope. It's important to INSIST on this, as several non-fungal skin conditions can mimic ringworm in appearance - which means an anti-fungal crème isn't going to improve your symptoms or discomfort.

How do I treat it?

They key to resolving a ringworm infection is drying the sucker out. Early treatment is very helpful, obviously, and you should not be waiting until you are covered in spots to seek medical treatment! Topical crèmes are the most common choice of physicians and you would be using something like Lamisil, Mycelex or Monistat to treat it. Yes, I did say Monistat. Most likely, you have one of these meds in your medicine cabinet. If you do, clean the affected areas and apply the crème 2 times a day until you are able to see your doctor. Unless you have an allergy or specific medical condition, it will not harm you, and might help you get a head start if it does turn out to be a fungus. Some people insist that Tea Tree Oil can cure this - I dunno if I believe that, but if you want to try, it can't hurt.

How can I keep myself from getting it?

Wash your hands - tons of medical nasties can be held off by this simple task. Don't go overboard on spandex and other forms of tight clothing, your skin needs to be able to breathe. Don't go jumping into bed with someone covered in spots. Having ringworm doesn't make you a dirty person - it just makes you an infected person. And anyone can get infected. This is a very common occurrence in small children, too, so if you're a parent and discover you have this, check the kids. And if they have it, check with their school, because if they picked it up from a classmate, that child needs to be treated or it will just keep going round and round and round.

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