Tinea manuum is a contagious fungal infection on the hands caused by a type of fungi called dermatophytes. But what does it look like and how can it be treated?

Tinea is the technical term for ringworm, which is a fungal infection. It is referred to as ringworm as it is characterized by a round or oval rash. Manuum refers to the hands. When ringworm affects the feet, it is called tinea pedis, commonly known as athlete's foot.

This article explores the appearance, symptoms, causes, and treatments for tinea manuum.

Fast facts on tinea manuum:

  • Tinea manuum is often mistaken for other skin conditions that affect the hands.
  • It typically starts as a small patch and gradually becomes larger.
  • Anyone may be affected by tinea manuum.
  • A doctor will usually recommend over-the-counter topical antifungals, or prescribe a stronger version if needed.

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A red, raised ring on the skin may be a symptom of tinea manuum.

Tinea manuum is an itchy rash that may affect one or both hands. It often starts on the palm and may spread to the fingers or back of the hand. Things to look for include:

  • A ring: A red raised border with a patch of skin that looks like it has healed in the center, giving the appearance of a ring, which is what gives ringworm its name. This symptom is most likely to appear when the rash is caused by animal or soil fungi.
  • Dry, peeling, or scaly skin: A patch of skin that is dry, peeling, or scaly with a mild itch may appear and gradually spread. This symptom is most common when the tinea is caused by a human fungus.
  • Tiny blisters: A cluster of tiny blisters may appear on the sides of fingers or on the palm that may ooze a sticky, clear fluid.
  • Itching or burning: The rash may be mild to moderately itchy, causing some discomfort.
  • Skin discoloration: If the rash is there for a long time the skin may become discolored. This change in color can also occur as the tinea heals.

Tinea manuum vs. other skin conditions

Tinea manuum is often mistaken for other skin conditions that affect the hands. It is important to be able to tell these conditions apart so that people receive the correct treatment.

It is always best to speak to a doctor to get a diagnosis. However, looking for some distinguishing features may help people tell tinea manuum apart from other conditions.

Other conditions include:

  • Hand dermatitis: This commonly affects both hands, whereas tinea manuum may only affect one hand. Hand dermatitis does not have the ring (raised border around a healed patch) that is characteristic of tinea manuum. Hand dermatitis is often itchier than tinea manuum.
  • Psoriasis: Although characterized by raised red patches, psoriasis differs from tinea manuum in that the patches may be silvery and will not have a ring appearance. As tinea manuum is a fungal infection, it will spread if left untreated. In contrast, psoriasis is less likely to spread.
  • Exfoliative keratolysis: This is a skin condition that affects the palms of the hands. It is characterized by blisters that peel. The skin under the blisters can become red, but the condition does not feature a ring-like rash.

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The fungus may spread when an area of the body that is infected is either scratched or touched.

The ring-like rash that is characteristic of tinea manuum happens when the skin on a person's hand becomes infected by dermatophytes, which are a type of fungi.

Infections caused by dermatophytes are not uncommon. Every person has an estimated risk of 10 to 20 percent of being affected by one during their lifetime.

A common way for a person's hands to be infected with fungus is by scratching or touching another area of the body that has a fungal infection. For example, the feet or the groin.

According to the American Family Physician, a dermatophyte fungal infection can spread from:

  • person to person
  • animals to humans
  • soil to humans

How the skin becomes infected

A person's skin is made up of skin cells, and a protein called keratin. Healthy skin is tough and waterproof and can withstand fungi and microbes and usually heals quickly after injury.

However, sometimes a person's skin can become unhealthy or broken. This means that when it comes into contact with fungi, it can become infected.

Dermatophytes are a type of fungi that can infect the outer layers of the skin. They produce a special enzyme called keratinases. This enzyme digests the keratin protein that makes the skin strong. This allows the fungi to grow on the skin and spread, causing a rash to appear.

Risk factors

Some situations increase the risk of a person's hands becoming infected by fungus. These include:

  • already having a fungal infection somewhere else on the body
  • touching the skin of someone else who has a fungal infection, for example, while playing sports or having sex
  • using a well-used public shower, such as in a gym
  • sweating excessively or having another skin condition
  • regularly touching pets with the hands
  • handling livestock or soil
  • working as a gardener, handling soil or tools that have been covered in soil

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Tinea manuum may be diagnosed by a doctor using a swab to collect a sample of the fungus.

A doctor can diagnose tinea manuum using one of the following methods:

  • Wood's lamp: This lamp lights up skin infected by fungi in a different color to the healthy skin.
  • Microscope: A doctor may also use a microscope to examine the infected skin and look for characteristic signs of tinea manuum.
  • Skin scraping, or swab: A doctor may take a scraping of the skin or swab it to get a sample of the fungal culture. The sample will be sent to the lab for testing.

The fungal infection that causes tinea manuum can be treated in the following ways:

  • Topical antifungals: Applying these ointments and gels to the affected skin may help to kill the fungi. Some are available over the counter while doctors can prescribe stronger one. A 2014 study showed that terbinafine and naftifine were particularly effective at treating tinea infections.
  • Oral antifungals: These are tablets and capsules that can be taken to heal the skin from within. Examples include fluconazole and itraconazole.

If the infected skin does not heal within a month, the doctor may prescribe oral antifungals.

Antifungal treatments are available for purchase over-the-counter or online.

There are some precautions people can take to try to avoid their hands becoming infected with fungus. These include:

  • keeping their hands dry and clean
  • avoiding touching or scratching any other area of the body where they have a fungal infection
  • wearing disposable gloves when treating any infected skin
  • avoid skin-to-skin contact with anyone else with a fungal infection

The outlook for tinea manuum is good as fungal infections are usually easy to treat. In most cases, infected skin will heal within a month of treatment.