tinea; fungus; skin; hygiene; infection; athlete; foot; jock; itch; ring; worm;
- Tinea is a skin infection of the skin or scalp which is caused by one of several different types of fungus (not the mushroom type of fungus, these are different kinds).
- Tinea likes warm moist conditions, so it often grows in between the toes, where it may be called 'athletes foot.'
- Another of its favourite places is the groin, where it may be called 'jock itch'.
- It can also cause a rash on other parts of the body, which is often called 'ringworm', although it has nothing whatsoever to do with worms!
- The infection stays on the outside of the skin, unless the person has serious problems with their immune system.
- Sometimes it can infect the the toenails and fingernails. It can be fairly hard to get rid of and can return again even after treatment.
What tinea looks like
- On the feet, tinea between the toes looks like soggy white skin, which peels off, and it is really itchy.
- It can also be on the sole of the foot, or the top of it. It can start out looking like a blistery red dot, which quickly becomes a peeling area of skin.
- On the arms, legs and face, it starts as an itchy, red, scaly patch which gets bigger and bigger. The outer edge is scaly and red, but the inner area gets paler again, and looks healthy. It tends to look like an irregular circle, which is why it is called ‘ringworm'.
- Another type of tinea on the body looks like pale patches on the skin, often on the face. The skin looks healthy, with no scales, just lighter colour than the skin around it. This is called tinea versicolour.
- On the scalp there may be a flaky red, itchy patch, and infected hairs get brittle and break off easily, so that it looks like a bald patch with black dots. These are the ends of the hairs, not something burrowing into the brain!
- The toenails and fingernails can look thick and white or yellowish. They may break or peel off in layers.
- On animals, such as dogs, cats, cattle, goats, pigs and horses, tinea looks like a bald patch or a thinner patch of hair.
How to avoid tinea
- Keep the feet as dry as possible.
- Always dry carefully between the toes.
- Change socks every day.
- Clean and air shoes, especially in hot weather, or wash them if you can.
- Don't borrow someone else's shoes.
- Wear thongs on the feet around changing rooms and pools, as there is a risk of getting tinea from warm wet floors that others have walked on.
- Avoid skin contact with someone who has tinea.
- Be careful about borrowing combs or hats, as flakes of infected skin could be passed on to you.
- Some tinea can be caught from pets, so check whether your pet has got any areas of hair loss. If it has then you need to visit the vet and have it treated. Then you should check out your skin to see if you have been infected. Did you know that pets can get tinea from their owners?!
Getting rid of tinea
- If you think you may have tinea, then visit your doctor.
- If it is hard to tell what the rash is, then she may use an ultraviolet light to help decide. Some forms of tinea glow under such a light.
- Or she may have to scrape a bit of infected skin off and look at it under a microscope.
- Tinea can be treated using ointment, creams, shampoos or tablets. Your doctor will know which is best. Treatment will be needed for at least a few weeks and possibly longer, especially if nails are infected.
- Have animals checked out by your vet, in case they are the source of the infection.
- Wash clothes, towels and sheets in hot water.
- If someone has tinea, make sure that the floors in your home are vacuumed or washed often, as flakes of infected skin can fall off onto the floor.
- Be careful about hygiene and hand washing, and use your own towels, face washers, etc. Tinea can be spread around the whole family or group of friends. This is something that you don't want to share between you!
- Check that any little kids in your family dry themselves properly. It may be an idea for them to use a special face washer to dry between toes if they are infected, but make sure that is all it gets used for!
- Stay alert for signs of tinea elsewhere on your body. Even if it has been treated, it may return for an 'encore'.
References and further reading
South Australian Department of Health 'You've got what? - Fungal infections of the hair, skin and nails'
MedlinePlus - National Library of Medicine (USA) Tinea infections
Royal Children's Hospital (Victoria) 'Ringworm'
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).