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Overview of Dermatophytoses (Ringworm, Tinea)

By

Denise M. Aaron

, MD, Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine

Last full review/revision Sep 2021| Content last modified Sep 2021
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Dermatophytoses are fungal infections of the skin and nails caused by several different fungi and classified by the location on the body. Dermatophyte infections are also called ringworm or tinea.

  • Symptoms of dermatophytoses include rashes, scaling, and itching.

  • Doctors usually examine the affected area and view a skin or nail sample under a microscope or sometimes do a culture.

  • Antifungal drugs applied directly to the affected areas or taken by mouth usually cure the infection.

Dermatophyte infections are sometimes called ringworm or tinea. Despite the name, a ringworm infection does not involve worms. The name arose because of the ring-shaped skin patches created by the infection.

Did You Know...

  • A ringworm (dermatophyte) infection is caused by a fungus, not by a worm.

Dermatophytes are molds (a type of fungi) that need the protein keratin for nutrition. Keratin is the structural material that makes up the outer layer of human skin. It is also the main structural material of hair and nails. To survive, dermatophytes must live on skin, hair, or nails (a nail infection is called tinea unguium or onychomycosis Onychomycosis Onychomycosis is a fungal infection of the nails. (See also Overview of Nail Disorders.) About 10% of people have onychomycosis, which most often affects the toenails rather than the fingernails... read more Onychomycosis ).

Infection may occur almost anywhere on the skin, including the

Symptoms of Dermatophytoses

Symptoms of a dermatophyte infection vary depending on the location of the infection. Most often, there is little or no inflammation and the infected areas are mildly itchy with a scaling, slightly raised border. These patches can come and go intermittently. Occasionally, inflammation is more severe and suddenly causes large and small fluid-filled spots to appear (usually on the foot) or an inflamed, swollen patch on the scalp that sometimes oozes pus (kerion Kerion Scalp ringworm is a dermatophyte (fungal) infection of the scalp. Symptoms of tinea capitis include a dry patch of scale, a patch of hair loss, or both on the scalp. Doctors base the diagnosis... read more Kerion ).

Diagnosis of Dermatophytoses

  • A doctor's examination of the skin

  • Examination of scrapings

  • Sometimes culture of scrapings

Doctors can frequently identify a tinea infection by its appearance.

To confirm the diagnosis of tinea, doctors take skin scrapings Scrapings Doctors can identify many skin disorders simply by looking at the skin. A full skin examination includes examination of the scalp, nails, and mucous membranes. Sometimes the doctor uses a hand-held... read more Scrapings and view them under a microscope. Doctors do a culture Culture Doctors can identify many skin disorders simply by looking at the skin. A full skin examination includes examination of the scalp, nails, and mucous membranes. Sometimes the doctor uses a hand-held... read more Culture of the scrapings (the process of growing an organism in a laboratory for identification) only if the person has a scalp or nail infection. Identifying the type of fungus helps doctors choose the best treatment.

Treatment of Dermatophytoses

  • Antifungal drugs applied to the skin or taken by mouth

  • Sometimes corticosteroids

Corticosteroids may be given to relieve itching and inflammation.

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