Tinea is a type of fungal infection commonly known as ringworm. There are several classifications, characterized by the specific fungus involved and the part of the body affected. A person can experience a general case of ringworm on the body or an isolated infection of the scalp, feet, nails, or groin region. Most cases cause itching, mild swelling, redness, and burning sensations. The condition is usually treatable with over-the-counter medications, though ringworm that persists for several weeks or causes significant pain may need to be treated with prescription antifungal drugs.
Outbreaks are caused by fungi of the Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epidermophyton genera, which are found worldwide. An individual usually acquires ringworm from direct contact with an infected person or animal. Athlete's foot and jock itch, two common forms of tinea, can develop after coming into contact with a contaminated shower room floor, towel, or piece of clothing.
Symptoms of tinea may include skin redness, itching, and dryness. Infections on the arms, legs and torso often create ring-like lesions that are dark red and raised along the outer edges. Some cases lead to the appearance of red and white pus-filled blisters and areas of dry, scaly, flaky skin. Ringworm on the scalp is likely to cause hair loss at the site of infection.
Most mild cases, including athlete's foot and jock itch, can be treated at home with over-the-counter topical solutions available at most pharmacies and supermarkets. Topical sprays, creams, and lotions can soothe itching and burning sensations and resolve tinea in less than one month. In addition to applying medicine, a person can shorten healing time by frequently washing the skin with mild soap and water. Doctors strongly suggest that people avoid scratching the affected area, as doing so could further irritate the skin and create the opportunity for further bacterial or fungal infection. An infection that does not go away after about four weeks should be brought to the attention of a primary care doctor.
A physician can usually diagnose tinea by examining the site of infection and asking about symptoms. He or she may decide to collect a small skin sample for laboratory analysis of the specific fungus involved. After making an accurate diagnosis, the doctor can prescribe oral or topical antifungal drugs and explain ways to avoid future infections. Most cases of ringworm can be prevented by maintaining good personal hygiene and wearing sandals in locker rooms and showers.