Tinea, commonly known as ringworm, is a fungal infection which affects the skin. Despite the name of the infection ringworm does not originate from worms.

Ringworm is a very common contagious skin infection and can be passed from person to person via physical contact or contact with items such as towels or hairbrushes, which have been contaminated. Ringworm is spread very easily because the infection is often present before the symptoms are evident. Ringworm is especially common in children and people who regularly participate in sports or activities that involve skin to skin touching, such as wrestling.

Ringworm is also common in animals and it is possible for humans to catch ringworm from animals and is most commonly spread from cats and cattle.

Types of Tinea

There are different types of species that cause ringworm, and the most common types of fungi that are associated with ringworm include dermatophytes of the species Microsporum and Trichophyton. The fungi attack different areas of the body and contribute to conditions including:

  • Tinea corporis: has an effect on the trunk, arms and legs
  • Tinea cruris: has an effect on the groin (jock itch)
  • Tinea capitis: has an effect on the scalp
  • Tinea barbae: has an effect on the hair on the face
  • Tinea unguium: has an effect on the finger and toe nails
  • Tinea faciei: has an effect on the face
  • Tinea pedis: has an effect on the feet (athlete's foot)
  • Tinea manuum: has an effect on the hands

Symptoms and diagnosis

The most common symptom of ringworm is a series of raised itchy patches which resemble a ring. The patches are usually pink or red and they tend to be lighter in colour in the centre, which gives the form of a ring. If Tinea affects areas where hair is present ringworm can cause patches of baldness and the area may be very itchy. If Tinea affects the nails they can become substantial and yellow in colour and eventually they can start to crumble and may come loose.

In many cases, it is possible for doctors to diagnose ringworm purely by seeing the affected area of skin. However, it may be necessary to examine skin scrapings or hairs under a microscope to check for fungal infection, because some species of fungi become illuminated under a black light. In animals symptoms of ringworm may include areas of hair loss and scaling of the skin.


Topical anti-fungal treatments are usually effective in relieving the symptoms of ringworm. Medications are available over-the-counter or on prescription and include Miconazole and Clotrimazole. Fungal infections may take weeks or even months to clear.

If an individual has Tinea corporis a form of medication called Terbinafine may be recommended as this eases burning, cracking and itchiness and treats most forms of ringworm very effectively. Tinea that affects the nails or scalp is more difficult to treat.

Another medication in the treatment of ringworm is Griseofulvin and it is usually very effective but can cause unpleasant side-effects.

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