What is tinea?
Tinea is a fungal skin condition that commonly affects the feet, groin, scalp and beneath the breasts. It is contagious and can either be spread directly via skin to skin contact, or indirectly through clothes, floors and towels. It is also known as ringworm, although it doesn’t involve a worm of any sort.1 The infection is usually not serious, but it can be uncomfortable. There are several different types of tinea:
Athlete’s foot (Tinea pedis)2
Athlete’s foot is a common infection of the skin on the feet, especially between the toes. Symptoms include itching, burning and cracked, scaly skin between the toes. The infection usually spreads from damp places such as swimming pools, showers and locker rooms. Treatment usually consists of antifungal creams that are available over‐the‐counter, or prescription medications if the infection is more serious or persistent. Treatments are usually effective, although the infection can come back again. To minimise your risk of getting athlete’s foot, always try and:
- Avoid walking barefoot in public places
- Keep your feet clean, dry and cool
- Wear clean socks
- Maintain good grooming by keeping toenails clean and trimmed
- Wear thongs when using gym or other public showers
Jock itch (Tinea cruris)3
Jock itch is a fungal infection commonly occurring in men and adolescent boys that affects the groin area. It can be caused by friction from clothes and prolonged dampness in the area, for example due to sweating. Symptoms include itching, and red, raised scaly patches that may blister and ooze. The affected skin may also be abnormally light or dark in colour. Fortunately, you can usually treat the condition within a couple of weeks with self‐care steps including:
- Avoiding clothing that rubs the skin and exacerbates the condition
- Keeping the skin clean and dry
- Using topical drying or antifungal powders
Ringworm of the scalp (Tinea capitis)4
Tinea capitis is a fungal infection of the scalp that most often affects young children. A tinea infection is more likely to occur if you have small scalp or skin injuries, if you don’t wash your hair often and if you have wet or damp skin for a long time such as from sweating. It can spread very easily through combs, hats or clothing that has been worn by someone with ringworm.
Ringworm of the scalp causes bald patches, round, scaly areas of skin that are red or swollen, and itching. You may also experience a low fever and swollen lymph glands in your neck. Unfortunately, it is a difficult condition to treat on your own and you should see your doctor who will prescribe an antifungal medicine for you to take. You should also keep the area clean and wash with a medicated shampoo, which may slow the spread of infection but will not be enough to treat it completely. Although tinea capitis may be hard to get rid of, fortunately it usually resolves after puberty.
Ringworm of the body (Tinea corporis)5
Ringworm can also affect the skin of the body such as the arms, legs, face or other exposed areas. The rash starts as a small area of red, raised spots and slowly becomes ring shaped, with a red border and clearer middle. It may look scaly and it usually itches. It is spread in the same way as other forms of tinea, from direct contact with an infected area of another person’s body or from touching items such as unwashed clothing, combs, and shower walls and floors. Ringworm can also be spread by animals, especially cats.
You will need to treat the area with an antifungal cream or liquid such as Betadine, which effectively and rapidly kills common bacteria and fungi6 and is available from most supermarkets and pharmacies. You may also need to take oral medication if you have a particularly bad infection, but most cases resolve within four weeks of using an antifungal cream. Please speak with your healthcare professional if you have any concerns.