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.
Leann Poston, M.D.
Leann Poston, M.D. earned her medical degree from the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. She completed an MBA from Raj Soin College of Business, focusing on healthcare. She is a full-time medical communication writer and educator.
April 25, 2021
Eczema is a general term that refers to an itchy, red skin condition, while ringworm is caused by a fungus. Ringworm will usually start as a single distinct spot, while eczema tends to be more widespread.
If you’re unsure whether it is ringworm vs. eczema, seek out advice from a doctor. We partner with PlushCare, a telehealth startup that offers access to top online doctors who can diagnose, treat, and prescribe oral medication or topical treatments when necessary. Make an appointment here to get help deciding if your rash is ringworm vs. eczema.
At first glance, these two skin disorders can look very similar. But while the presentation is similar, the underlying causes and treatment of eczema and ringworm couldn’t be more different. Their origins are the key to understanding their widely divergent treatment plans.
Some triggers for different types of eczema include:
Ringworm, on the other hand, is a skin infection caused by a fungus. Ringworm is a contagious condition that can occur in anyone. It can show up in its classic “ring” form, as scaly patches on the scalp, more reddish patches commonly known as jock itch, or scaling and blisters on the feet with whitening and peeling between the toes known as athlete’s foot.
Ringworm can be picked up in any of the following ways:
Nummular eczema and ringworm can be even harder to tell apart than other forms of eczema. Overall, eczema rashes often look slightly different from ringworm rashes, whereas nummular eczema is circular in shape, making it almost identical in appearance to ringworm.
Nummular eczema gets its name from the Latin word for “coin” (nummus) because the rash appears on the skin as large, round red patches. These areas may be dry or wet, and they may or may not itch.
Further, symptoms vary from person to person and may include the following:
Ringworm can present in a very similar way. At the onset, it begins as a small and itchy red spot. It then grows into a round red patch that is often scaly. Eventually, it will generally (not always) form a scaly red ring shape around a patch of clear skin. It also will itch at the start of infection, but may not itch as the infection progresses.
It’s important to know whether you have nummular eczema or ringworm, because the treatments are very different.
The main differences are:
If you know what your triggers for eczema are, and you were recently exposed to any of them, there’s a good chance your eczema is flaring up, rather than a case of ringworm.
Although both of these skin conditions have a tell-tale round shape, ringworm sometimes forms a scaly red ring around normal-looking skin, whereas nummular eczema patches are simply round coin-like areas of irritated skin.
The location of a case of nummular eczema can point to potential causes as well. “When it appears on the legs,” notes The National Eczema Association, “it can be linked to poor blood flow in the lower body and the stasis dermatitis those circulation problems can cause.”
The best way to prevent ringworm is to practice good hygiene:
Even with the best prevention tactics, sometimes a ringworm infection happens. Fortunately, ringworm is curable with topical medications such as:
In more serious cases or when ringworm involves the scalp or nails, prescription medication may be needed, such as:
If you think you might require a prescription from a doctor, you can make an online appointment through our sister site PlushCare, and get convenient treatment from your own home.
Preventing eczema is mostly about avoiding your triggers and irritants. While eczema is not curable, flare-ups can be avoided. Some examples of practices that might help reduce eczema flares:
If you do develop an eczema rash, there are many treatment options. Some over-the-counter solutions to eczema include:
In addition to those products available at most stores, you can keep your skin away from sweat and lingering water, avoid stress-itching, and avoid typical irritants.
Nummular eczema may require a mid or high-potency steroid cream to effectively treat it. These creams do require a prescription. Scratching a rash can also lead to secondary infection which may require an antibiotic.
As mentioned above, there are multiple simple solutions to treating either of these skin conditions. The thing to keep in mind about ringworm vs. eczema treatment is that ringworm can be cured because the fungus can be killed, eczema cannot because it is triggered by your immune system.
Treating ringworm is all about identifying tinea as a cause of the rash, then getting the right medication to clear your body of the infection. Some people might only require over-the-counter antifungal creams, and in more serious cases, doctors might need to prescribe stronger antifungal medications.
Eczema is all about prevention. If you have eczema, you mostly have it for life (besides some instances of babies who grow out of eczema). With this skin condition, it’s important to avoid triggers and irritants and respond quickly with effective treatments when a rash flares up.
Regardless of what condition you’re suffering from, doctors who work with our partner site, PlushCare, are available for online appointments and well-versed in a variety of skin conditions.
To get a professional opinion, contact PlushCare to make an appointment to speak with board-certified physicians from the comfort of your own home. PlushCare’s online doctors will be able to diagnose your condition and determine ringworm vs. eczema, and create a treatment plan for long-term care. If you believe your case of eczema or ringworm might require prescription-level medication, make an appointment with a PlushCare doctor here.
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