Tinea is a common contagious skin infection caused by a type of fungus called a dermatophyte (1). Tinea is also called “ringworm” because it can produce a rash which is in the shape of a ring, but note that it is not caused by a worm.
Doctors use specific names for tinea infections depending on what part of the body is affected by tinea (2):
- Tinea cruris (“jock itch”) – Tinea affecting the groin
- Tinea pedis (“athlete’s foot”) – Tinea affecting the feet
- Tinea capitis – Tinea affecting the head or scalp
- Tinea corporis – Tinea affecting any other body surface
- Tinea unguium (onychomycosis) – Tinea affecting the nails
Symptoms of tinea
Tinea can cause a variety of symptoms (1):
- A red rash, sometimes in the shape of a ring
- Itchy and scaly skin
- Cracking/splitting of the skin between the toes
- Yellow/brown discolouration and thickening of the nail
- Areas of hair loss when it affects the scalp (rare in adults)
Who is at risk?
Tinea is very common and anybody can contract it. People with impaired immune systems are at greater risk of contracting tinea.
How it happens
- Tinea is contagious and is spread when your skin comes into direct contact with the fungus.
- This can occur by touching infected skin, or a contaminated surface (e.g. walking barefoot in communal showers) (3).
- Tinea can spread from one body part to another by touch or by contaminated clothing (e.g. from the toenails to the groin). Infected toenails are a common source of recurrent tinea infection of the skin.
- Pets, including dogs, cats and guinea pigs can also harbour tinea and spread it to people (4). If you suspect your pet may have tinea you should take it to a veterinarian (vet) for a check-up.
How is it diagnosed?
- The rash caused by tinea is often distinctive enough that your doctor may be able to diagnose it without any tests.
- Sometimes if the rash does not look typical for tinea, or if treatment with antifungal tablets is being considered, then scrapings of the skin or a nail clipping can be sent for testing (1).
- In the lab it is possible to see the fungus under a microscope which confirms the diagnosis. The lab will also attempt to grow the fungus in culture to identify the species.
- Dermatophytes are slow-growing and the final result may not be through for 4-6 weeks.
Treatment of tinea
- Tinea affecting the body, groin and feet (except the nails) is usually easily treated with an antifungal cream and clears up in 1 – 2 weeks (1).
- When tinea affects large areas of skin, treatment with antifungal tablets is used instead.
- Tinea affecting the head, scalp, or nails usually requires treatment with anti-fungal tablets for a longer period of time (1).
Preventing the spread of tinea
- Avoid touching the infected area and wash your hands after doing so
- Do not share clothing, towels or sports equipment
- Avoid walking barefoot on the floor of communal areas, particularly if wet (wear thongs)
- Treat tinea infection promptly with antifungal cream or tablets as directed by your doctor
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TINEA PATIENT INFORMATION
Mumford B, Li J, Chong A.
1. Kovitwanichkanont T, Chong A. Superficial fungal infections. Aust J Gen Pract. 2019 Oct 1;48(10):706–11. doi: 10.31128/AJGP-05-19-4930
2. Moriarty B, Hay R, Morris-Jones R. The diagnosis and management of tinea. BMJ. 2012;344(7865):1–10. doi: 10.1136/bmj.e4380
3. Gentles JC, Evans EGV. Foot Infections in Swimming Baths. Br Med J. 1973;3(5874):260–2. doi: 10.1136/bmj.3.5874.260
4. McLeer R. Zoophilic dermatophytes and their natural hosts in Western Australia. Med J Aust. 1980;2(9):506–8. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.1980.tb100714.x