An introduction to ringworm
Ringworm, also known as tinea corporis, is not considered to be a serious or severe skin condition; however 10-20% of the population are likely to contract ringworm within their lifetime.1
Ringworm, as the word corporis suggests, usually affects areas of your body such as the chest, back and shoulders.
It can also be found in animals, making them another point of contagion to consider when you are trying to prevent the spread of the infection. Ringworm is caused by the same strain of fungi that is responsible for other skin condition such as athlete’s foot or jock itch, Candida albicans.
This infection can be considered highly contagious and, when given the right environment, can thrive and multiply at a considerable rate, feeding off the keratins normally found in the tissues of our skin cells.
When this happens, the condition of your skin starts to deteriorate allowing for bacteria to permeate your bodies and cause inflammation, irritation and considerable discomfort. It is important that you consult your doctor as soon as possible as this condition can lead to complications if it is left untreated.
The causes of ringworm
Ringworm, surprisingly, is not caused by worms. In fact just forget about worms altogether because they have absolutely nothing to do with this skin infection.
The misleading name of this infection usually arises from the red circular rashes that characterise the infection, resembling angry pink worms curled over your skin.
Ringworm is normally caused by a strain of the Candida albicans fungi, which is usually harmless, but can turn malevolent when provided with adequate conditions to reproduce. Almost anyone can contract the condition but there are some who are more vulnerable to the infection than others.
- Weak immune system: Your immune system is vital when it comes to fighting off infections and diseases. If your immune system is underdeveloped or under stress, then it becomes difficult for your body to protect itself against potential threats, making it easier for infections such as ringworm to go unchecked and to thrive. This is why ringworm is more commonly found in the very young and the very old, as both demographics have immature or vulnerable immune systems. Another factor that can weaken your immune system even further is an overgrowth of candida yeast in your gut. This is because the yeast can secrete a harmful toxin that promotes the activity of free-radicals, placing more pressure on your immune system. If your immune system is already exhausted, then it will be easily overwhelmed and unable to protect your cells against further damage
- Poor nutrition: Since your immune system is so important when it comes to fighting off fungal infections, your diet can also play a role in increasing your susceptibility to ringworm. The candida strain of fungal yeast inhabits your gut and works absorb nutrients from your food. However, this yeast also feeds off sugar, which is why a diet high in refined sugars can increase the population of this yeast in your gut, sometimes causing a systemic overgrowth. Your diet can also cripple your immune system, especially if your diet is high in inflammatory foods such as caffeine and alcohol, and low in essential nutrients, like vitamin C. Eventually your immune system will struggle to cope with the demands of your diet and will end up sluggish and fatigued, unable to defend your body against bacterial or fungal infections
- Stress: Stress, similar to your diet, is never the primary cause of ringworm, but it can sometimes affect your susceptibility to the infection. Stress can have a negative impact on your immune and digestive systems, as it can fool your body into believing that you are in the midst of a life or death situation. This then causes your immune system to raise your blood sugar levels, which essentially provides more food for the Candida yeast, and can inspire a number of digestive issues, such as diarrhoeaand constipation, which can increase the population of unfriendly bacteria in your gut. Essential nutrients like vitamin A or vitamin E will be redirected to major organs like your heart or lungs, as your body will prioritise these organs over your skin, which can weaken your skin cells and make your epidermis easier for bacterial and fungal infections to penetrate
- Direct and indirect contact: Ringworm is highly contagious. You can pick up the skin infection simply from sharing a towel with another sufferer, or skin on skin contact. It is important to be aware of this when interacting with other people, especially in public places such as your local gym or swimming pool. Children in particular are very susceptible to the infection, so it may be an idea to limit their contact with potential carriers, or, if they are already infected, to keep them off school for a couple of days until the affliction starts to clear up
- Your pets: As much as we love them, our pets are hosts to all sorts of parasites and potential contagions. Ringworm is a condition that can present itself in both animals and humans alike, so if your cat or dog has shown symptoms of having the infection, then it is important that you take them to the vets as soon as possible. Not only will this relieve any discomfort that your pet is experiencing, but it may also prevent the infection from being spread to other members of your household
- Soil: No, it still has nothing to do with worms! Soil has been known to play host to the candida strain of fungi and in rare cases the spores can be contracted via contact with the soil. If you enjoy gardening then this might be bad news. However, if you take protective measures such as wearing gloves, then your chances of catching the condition should be minimal.
The symptoms of ringworm
Ringworm, like other skin infections, can be highly visible. The symptoms of ringworm directly affect the external layers of our skin, making them difficult to dismiss or ignore.
- Red rings: Fine, we admit it; this is perhaps where worms come into the picture. Ringworm can trigger a reaction in your skin that causes irritated and inflamed circles manifest. Often these lesions resemble red worms folding into a ring, inspiring the name of the infection
- Dry, scaly skin: Ringworm can cause your skin to become dry, cracked and almost scaly in appearance. This is because the Candida yeast is feeding on the healthy keratins in your skin. Keratin is a structural protein and an essential component of your skin – when your skin lacks keratin, it can become more brittle and more prone to damage, triggering many of the major symptoms associated with ringworm
- Itchiness: When your skin becomes dry, inflamed or irritated, it can cause some itchiness to develop. This symptom is very common but it can be infuriating and put you at risk of developing a secondary bacterial infection. Try to avoid scratching your skin if possible, as it can damage your healthy skin cells and weaken your epidermis
- Blistering: Blistering can appear in severe episodes of ringworm but you must resist the urge to squeeze or scratch these fluid-filled pustules as it can cause further damage to your skin and make you more susceptible to a secondary bacterial infection
- Stress: Stress can be a common psychological symptom of ringworm, either inspired by the visibility of your infection or the itchiness that is often associated with it. You should always try to find ways of lowering your stress levels during this time as stress can have unfortunate repercussions for your physical symptoms and your immune system.
It is vital, especially with contagious conditions such as ringworm, to take preventative measures against the spread of the infection and to try home remedies that might be able to ease and reduce itchy and uncomfortable symptoms.
- Relax: Stress can be very detrimental for your immune system so it is important that you make an effort to lower your stress levels during this time. You don’t have to take drastic action – sometimes small, simple steps can be very effective. For example, try to allocate some time for yourself during the day or in the early evening. Make this your ‘me-time’ and pamper yourself – participate in activities that you enjoy and find ways of comforting yourself. You could even try taking up yoga or meditation as both practices are excellent at teaching you proper breathing techniques and can even enable you to conquer your anxieties by gaining control over your mind and body
- Good nutrition: Good nutrition is essential when it comes to supporting your immune system, so try and eliminate potential food groups that may weaken your immune function or increase the population of Candida yeast in your gut. There are plenty of ways of getting nutrients into your body without sacrificing flavour or taste. For example, you can replace sugary snacks with fruit alternatives – especially fruits such as apricots or peppers. These are rich in vitamin A, which can work to repair skin tissues and fight the effects of the Candida infection.2 Smoothies are also a great way of getting vital vitamins and minerals into your diet, so you could try blitzing up one of our recipes in the kitchen to give your immune system an extra boost! While caffeinated drinks should be avoided, you could try our Bambu coffee substitute, which tastes delicious but does not pack the caffeine that is found in conventional brands
- Personal hygiene: Personal hygiene, as we’re sure you’re already aware, is very important, particularly when it comes to preventing the spread of skin conditions such as ringworm. If you wash yourself regularly, it should discourage the reproduction of fungal spores and prevent the infection from spreading through skin to skin contact, especially if you take care to dry yourself thoroughly afterwards. It is also essential that you wash all your clothing, bed linen, and towels regularly as well as spores can linger on these articles and be spread to your skin through touch
- Wash and treat your pets: Trying to tempt your pets into a bathtub is often an exhausting trial that produces short-lived results. Dogs and cats seem to magnetically drawn to dirt, soil and other substances that appear specifically designed to stain your home. However, as pets are a number one culprit for spreading ringworm, it is imperative that you wash them regularly and, if they are displaying signs of ringworm, take them to the vets to get suitable treatments. This should prevent your furry friend from potentially infecting the rest of the household and will make them feel better as well
- Garden responsibly: It is rare, but not unheard of, for ringworm to be contracted through contact with soil. If you are fond or gardening or are in persistent contact with soil, then you might have to consider wearing protective clothing, such as gloves. This should minimise the risk of spores permeating your skin, although it is worth noting that these articles of clothing should be washed directly after use
- Garlic: Garlic has natural anti-fungal properties. Research conducted by the Department of Botany and Microbiology at the Kuwait university discovered that garlic extracts inhibited the growth of the fungal strain responsible for fungal infections such as ringworm or athlete’s foot.3 Garlic can either be taken orally as supplement or applied to the wound directly in the form of oil. If you are interested in this option, it might be worth your while trying Allicin max, a powerful supplement that contains extracts of allicin, a key compound that gives garlic its anti-bacterial qualities
- Lavender oil: Lavender oil is a gentle way of treating ringworm, making it a brilliant solution to use for children who are suffering from the infection. This is because lavender oil contains natural ant-fungal properties and it has even been suggested that the oil can kill the fungal infection outright, rather than simply reduce your symptoms.4 You can apply this oil topically, however make sure you receive permission from your doctor first if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
There are a range of herbal remedies available to treat fungal infections such as ringworm. These treatments are plant based and try to work with the body by increasing our levels of friendly bacteria. However, if your symptoms still linger beyond a couple of weeks then you should still consult your GP.
- Neem cream: Neem has been used for centuries in herbal medicine as is particularly renowned for its soothing effect on dry or damaged skin. Neem Cream will not work as a direct solution for the Candida infection, but it can ease any itchiness or irritation that the infection is causing you, hydrating your skin and nourishing your weakened skin cells
- Echinaforce®: Echinaforce® will not work to tackle the candida outbreak on your skin but it is wonderful at supporting your immune system. You can try taking this remedy if you want to give your immune system and extra boost – just be aware that you may have to consult your doctor before taking this remedy if you are pregnant or breast feeding
- Molkosan®: The presence of good bacteria in our gut can limit the reproduction of fungi; however when we have lowered levels of friendly bacteria it can lead to the increase of yeast levels in our digestive tract. Molkosan® is a natural anti-fungal and works to balance the levels of friendly bacteria in our gut, preventing the rapid reproduction of fungal based yeasts.
- Spilanthes: This tincture has anti-fungal properties and works to soothe any external itching or irritation. Spilanthes can also have a positive effect on the yeast production in our guts and can be taken alongside Molkosan.
Conventional medicines can consist of over the counter creams and gels purchased from pharmacies or medications prescribed by your doctor. These medicines sometimes come with side-effects, so it is important to be aware of any negative reactions you could have and to talk to your doctor about what treatments are right for you.
- Anti-fungal creams/gels: Anti-fungal creams or gels are usually the first thing recommended to you when you are suffering from ringworm. They can be bought over the counter at any local pharmacy and are usually applied topically to the affected area. However, if your infection does not clear up after two weeks, you should speak to your doctor who may be able to prescribe a stronger medicine to ease your ringworm symptoms
- Steroid creams: In the event that over the counter creams and gels do not work adequately, you may be prescribed a steroid cream by your doctor. These creams are stronger than conventional anti-fungal creams; however they should not be taken regularly for more than a couple of weeks, otherwise you might start to experience negative side-effects
- Anti-fungal tablets: If counter bought creams and steroid creams do not work, your doctor might prescribe you a course of anti-fungal tablets. These will be taken orally over a recommended period, however some variants of these tablets do come with unfortunate side-effects so it is vital that you have a thorough conversation with your doctor about the medication that you have been advised to take.