Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Athlete's Foot, Jock Itch and Ringworm
What is tinea?
Tinea is a fungus that can grow on your skin,
hair or nails. As it grows, it spreads out in a circle, leaving normal-looking
skin in the middle. This makes it look like a ring. At the edge of the ring, the
skin is lifted up by the irritation and looks red and scaly. To some people, the
infection looks like a worm is under the skin. Because of the way it looks,
tinea infection is often called "ringworm." However, there really
isn't a worm under the skin.
How did I get a fungal infection?
You can get a fungal infection by touching a
person who has one. Some kinds of fungi live on damp surfaces, like the floors
in public showers or locker rooms. You can easily pick up a fungus there. You
can even catch a fungal infection from your pets. Dogs and cats, as well as
farm animals, can be infected with a fungus. Often this infection looks like a
patch of skin where fur is missing.
What areas of the body are affected
by tinea infections?
Fungal infections are named for the part of the
body they infect. Tinea corporis is a fungal infection of the skin on the body.
("Corporis" is the Latin word for body.) If you have this infection, you may see
small, red spots that grow into large rings almost anywhere on your arms, legs
Tinea pedis is usually called "athlete's foot."
("Pedis" is the Latin word for foot.) The moist skin between your toes is a
perfect place for a fungus to grow. The skin may become itchy and red, with a
white, wet surface. The infection may spread to the toenails. (This is called
tinea unguium — "unguium" comes from the Latin word for nail.) Here it
causes the toenails to become thick and crumbly. It can also spread to your
hands and fingernails.
When a fungus grows in the moist, warm area of
the groin, the rash is called tinea cruris. ("Cruris" comes from the Latin for
leg.) The common name for this infection is "jock itch." Tinea cruris generally
occurs in men, especially if they often wear athletic equipment.
Tinea capitis, which is called "ringworm,"
causes itchy, red areas, usually on the head. ("Capitis" comes from the Latin
for head.) The hair is destroyed, leaving bald patches. This tinea infection is
most common in children.
How do I know if I have a fungal
The best way to know for sure is to ask your
doctor. Other skin problems can look just like a fungal infection but
have very different treatments. To find out what is causing your rash, your
doctor may scrape a small amount of the irritated skin onto a glass slide (or
clip off a piece of nail or hair). Then he or she will look at the skin, nail or
hair under a microscope. After doing this, your doctor will usually be able to
tell if your skin problem is caused by a fungus.
Sometimes a piece of your skin, hair or nail
will be sent to a lab to grow the fungus in a test tube. This is another way the
lab can tell if your skin problem is caused by a fungus. They can also find out
the exact type of fungus. This process takes a while because a fungus grows
How do I get rid of a tinea
Once your doctor decides that you have a tinea
infection, medicine can be used to get rid of it. You may only need to put a
special cream on the rash for a few weeks. This is especially true for jock
It can be harder to get rid of fungal infections
on other parts of the body. Sometimes you have to take medicine by mouth. This
medicine usually has to be taken for a long time, maybe even for months.
Irritated skin takes time to heal. New hair or nails will have to grow back.
Some medicines can have unpleasant effects on
the rest of your body, especially if you're also taking other medicines. There
are some newer medicines that seem to work better with fewer side effects. You
may need to have blood tests to make sure that your body is not having a bad
reaction to the medicine.
What can I do to prevent tinea
Skin that is kept clean and dry is your best
defense. However, you're also less likely to get a tinea infection if you do the
- When you're at home, take your shoes off and
expose your feet to the air.
- Change your socks and underwear every day,
especially in warm weather.
- Dry your feet carefully (especially between the
toes) after using a locker room or public shower.
- Avoid walking barefoot in public areas. Instead,
wear "flip-flops," sandals or water shoes.
- Don't wear thick clothing for long periods of
time in warm weather. It will make you sweat more.
- Throw away worn-out exercise shoes. Never borrow
other people's shoes.
- Check your pets for areas of hair loss. Ask your
veterinarian to check them too. It's important to check pets carefully, because
if you don't find out whether they're causing your fungal infection, you may get
it again from them, even after treatment.
Can tinea cause
A fungus rarely spreads below the surface of the
body to cause serious illness. Your body usually prevents this. However, people
with weak immune systems, such as people with AIDS, may have a hard
time getting well from a fungal infection.
Tinea infections usually don't leave scars after
the fungus is gone. Sometimes, people don't even know they have a fungal
infection and get better without any treatment.