Sydney is a contributing health writer and editor who enjoys shedding light on health topics, making information available to anyone who wants it, and ending stigmas or lack of access to care and treatment.
Dr. Aaron Wiegmann
Dr. Wiegmann earned his medical degree (M.D.) from Rush Medical College and completed his General Surgery residency at Rush University Medical Center and Cook County Hospital. He has a Master's Degree (M.S.) in clinical research and has published numerous peer-reviewed articles.
April 19, 2021
Ringworm is the common name for a fungal infection of the skin. There are approximately forty families of fungus that can cause ringworm. It can be present in both humans and animals, and can be spread freely between them.
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Depending on the location and severity, ringworm can be stubborn to treat in some cases, but is ultimately curable. Under the fungal disease group name of “tinea,” ringworm can be found on any part of the body under a slightly different form of the medical name.
Ringworm symptoms can vary between cases, and again between locations present on the body.
Classic ringworm typically begins as a small, itchy red bump on the skin. As time passes, it enlarges to a rough, red, round patch up to 2 inches in diameter. This red patch will usually take on a ring shape, with a clear space in the center. Often it will form two rings. This ring patch may or may not itch.
Scalp ringworm presents a bit differently. At the onset, it is a red, sore patch on the scalp, which then grows larger. This can cause itching or pain in the scalp. Scalp ringworm will often cause the hair to fall out, and is in fact a common cause of hair loss in humans.
Athlete’s foot is most recognizable by a burning and itching sensation between the skin of the toes. This area becomes red, and if untreated will begin to crack and blister. Cracking and blistering can also be present in the heels or even on the soles of the feet.
Jock itch is a red, itchy rash in the groin area. The skin may become scaly and flake off.
Nail fungus can be recognized easily by a thickening of the nail. It will often become white or yellow, and then detach from the nail bed. Nail trauma may also cause these symptoms (wearing too small shoes, or trauma during sports for example), and the two can often be mistaken.
The CDC states that “Approximately 40 different species of fungi can cause ringworm; the scientific names for the types of fungi that cause ringworm are Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epidermophyton.”
Ringworm can be caused by different circumstances:
Ringworm is a fungal infection, and will subsequently thrive under conditions that are beneficial to fungi. Living in warmer climates will put you at higher risk for contracting ringworm. Wearing breathable material like cotton can help, and avoiding long periods of time wearing damp or sweaty clothing. People with compromised immune systems due to chronic illness are also more prone to ringworm infections.
Ringworm is unpleasant, but it is fortunately easily treatable. If you are certain that your rash is ringworm, the first line of treatment is an over-the-counter antifungal ointment or cream. You can purchase one at your local pharmacy or grocery store. Follow the directions for application on the package, and be sure that during the entire treatment period you or the infected person is considered contagious.
Ringworm can be spread even during treatment, and it is best practice to not allow close contact with the infected area until the skin has been clear for at least a week. Remember too, that bedding and clothes can transmit the ringworm infection. Clothing should be changed and washed every day, and bedding changed frequently to avoid re-infection.
If you are unsure whether the rash is ringworm, see a medical professional for a diagnosis. Ringworm can look similar to other skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. A doctor will take a medical and lifestyle history, examine the area, and may even take a scraping of skin for testing.
Also, visit your doctor if the ringworm infection does not clear up significantly after two weeks of self-treatment. Some more severe cases may require a prescription-strength antifungal cream or spray, or even an oral antifungal to clear all the spores. Most cases of ringworm clear up on their own after several months, but in some rare cases may become chronic or recurring. Prompt treatment will cure the rash quickly, and ensure that it doesn’t spread to others.
You can use our partner, PlushCare, to book an online appointment with a board-certified physician who can identify, treat, and prescribe medications for ringworm or any other skin condition. PlushCare is a trusted telehealth site that works with high-quality doctors to bring health care to anyone from their home, whether they have insurance or not.
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