Ringworm

Last Updated March 2021 | This article was created by familydoctor.org editorial staff and reviewed by Robert "Chuck" Rich, Jr., MD, FAAFP

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What is ringworm?

Ringworm (tinea) is a skin infection. Anyone can get it, but it is most common in children. The rash is shaped like a ring. The infection doesn’t involve a worm. It can occur on different parts of your body. It may be called something else if you get it in a certain area. For instance, ringworm on your feet is known as athlete’s foot (tinea pedis). On your inner thighs, groin, or buttocks, it is known as jock itch (tinea cruris).

Symptoms of ringworm

Ringworm can affect one or more parts of your skin. It can even occur on your fingernails and toenails. Symptoms may vary based on the infection’s location. Common symptoms include:

  • Rash shaped like a ring
  • Clear skin within the ring
  • Itchy skin
  • Red, dry, or flaking skin
  • Swollen, raised, or blistered skin
  • Loss of hair at the site of the rash

What causes ringworm?

Fungus is the cause of ringworm. There are about 40 different types of fungi that can produce it. They can live on skin or other surfaces. They like warm, damp areas. You can get the infection from other people. Animals, such as pet cats and dogs, can carry and spread the fungus.

How is ringworm diagnosed?

See your doctor if you have symptoms of ringworm. They will look at your skin and ask you questions about your symptoms. They may scrape off a small piece of skin to check for fungus.

Can ringworm be prevented or avoided?

There are certain things that can increase your risk of getting ringworm. You can help prevent ringworm by doing the following:

  • Keep your skin as clean and dry as possible, including washing your hands with soap and water after coming in contact with an animal.
  • Keep your fingernails and toenails short and clean.
  • Do not go barefoot in public areas, such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers.
  • Wear shoes that provide airflow.
  • Wash your clothes regularly; don’t wear the same underwear or socks for more than one day.
  • Shower right after playing a contact sport or swimming in a public pool.
  • Clean household surfaces with antibacterial cleaners.
  • Avoid touching people or pets that have ringworm. Also avoid touching the things they touch.
  • Do not share items with people who have ringworm.

Ringworm treatment

There are two main types of ringworm treatment. If you have ringworm on your skin, you can use an over-the-counter medicine. This includes antifungal lotion, cream, or powder. Your doctor will want you to apply it for 2 to 4 weeks. This may vary based on how bad your symptoms are or if the ringworm has spread. If you have ringworm on your head, you will need to use an antifungal prescription medicine. Your doctor will want you to use it for 1 to 3 months.

Living with ringworm

If ringworm does not go away with medicine or gets worse, contact your doctor.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How contagious is ringworm?
  • How long does it take for ringworm to go away?
  • Are there any lasting side effects of ringworm?