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Ringworm: Images, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

I am a consulting doctor and a health writer who has been writing online for 8 years.



Ringworm is a skin condition that is caused due to a fungal infection. It affects the topmost layer of the skin. Ringworm infection features an itchy, reddish, and round rash with clear, healthy skin in the middle. The name of this condition is derived from the appearance of the ring-like rash on the skin. It has no connections with the real worm that lives beneath the skin.

The medical term for ringworm is tinea corporis. The skin condition can be grouped together with other kinds of fungal infections that have analogous nomenclatures such as tinea pedis or athlete's foot, tinea cruris or jock itch, and tinea capitis or ringworm of the scalp.

Symptoms of Ringworm

The signs and symptoms of ringworm are listed below:

  • Development of a circular rash on the skin. The rash is inflamed, swollen, and has reddish edges. The middle section of this rash remains unaffected and consists of healthy, normal skin.
  • A flattened, circular patch may develop on the skin. It is usually itchy.
  • The rash may consist of expanding rings that are reddish and scaly. These rings may be slightly elevated and occur on the trunk or face.
  • The skin may develop multiple abnormal patches of ringworm. The patches and ring-like reddish rashes may also overlap each other. It is important to note that patients may become infected by tinea without developing the distinctive red rings associated with the skin disease.

Ringworm does not result in any major health complications. The fungal infection does not migrate to the deeper layers of the skin. It has a tendency to stay put on the uppermost surface of the skin.

People with compromised immune systems, such as those affected by conditions like HIV/AIDS and different types of cancers, may experience difficulties in eliminating of this skin problem. Very rarely, they may also experience a widespread fungal infection.

Causes of Ringworm

Ringworm is a skin disease caused by a fungal infection. It is similar to infections by other pathogens that become parasitic on a human or animal body. The dermatophytes are mold-like fungi that generally live in the cells occurring in the top layer of the skin.

Ringworm is a contagious condition. The infection can spread in the below-listed ways:

  • It can transfer from an infected human to a healthy person when the latter comes into direct contact with the skin of the infected individual.
  • It can migrate through direct contact with an animal infected by the fungi. Healthy people can contract ringworm when petting or grooming a dog or cat infected by the pathogen. The infection may also spread via contact with other animals like pigs, rabbits, horses, ferrets, and goats.
  • Ringworm can transfer from inanimate items to human beings. It can occur when a healthy person touches or comes into contact with objects such as brushes, towels, apparel, combs, bedding, and linens that have recently been used or touched by a patient.
  • In rare cases, the infection may spread to healthy humans through infected soil. It may be noted that the transfer of ringworm from severely infected soil to humans can only occur after protracted and prolonged contact with such soil.

A few risk factors which can increase the susceptibility to developing the skin infection are given below:

  • Humid, damp, and crowded living conditions. The fungi tend to flourish in moist and warm areas. Hence, places such as locker rooms and communal showers also pose an increased risk to ringworm.
  • Close contact with infected humans or animals
  • Sharing of personal items like towels, bedding, and apparel with a person who has a ringworm infection
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Taking part in various kinds of contact sports like wrestling, rugby, or American football.
  • Use of non-porous, limiting, or very tight clothing
  • A weakened immune system

Diagnosis of Ringworm

  • Ringworm is generally diagnosed by the distinct appearance of the rash and its location.
  • Doctors may also go for skin scrapings that are investigated under a microscope. The culture of the infected skin can confirm the diagnosis.
  • If the diagnosis is not certain, then a skin scraping sample prepared with potassium hydroxide can be re-examined under the microscope to verify the presence of a dermatophyte fungal infection.

Treatment of Ringworm

Ringworm infection of the skin usually resolves after treatment for 2 to 3 weeks. Ringworm that affects the nails or scalp may need treatment for some months.

  • Minor ringworm infections can be cured with over-the-counter antifungal lotions, creams, and ointments. A few anti-fungal medications for ringworm include topical drugs such as Terbinafine, Miconazole, Clotrimazole, and Tolnaftate.
  • Before applying for the topical medicine, clean the infected area with soap and water, and then pat it dry.
  • Apply the cream as a thin layer two times a day for about two weeks. Follow the guidelines on the package.
  • Ensure that the topical medication is applied in such a manner that it not only covers the infected area but is also spread out at least one inch across the surrounding healthy skin.
  • Any secondary bacterial infections of ringworm can be treated with antibiotics.

If the ringworm infection is serious; is spread across large sections of the body; and/or does not respond to the use of non-prescription topical drugs, then patients have to consult a doctor.

  • The physician will prescribe topical and oral medications for treating the skin condition. The oral drugs result in some side effects. Hence, they must be taken only after consulting a doctor.

The ringworm fungus is very common. Also, the disease becomes contagious even before the symptoms appear. Hence, the prevention of ringworm is quite difficult. You may follow the below-listed steps to avoid the infection:

  • Learn about ringworm, its symptoms, and its causes. Also, educate your children about the infection.
  • Wear loose and cotton clothing during warm weather conditions. Take other necessary steps to avoid excessive sweating
  • Do not borrow or share combs, towels, or other personal items with others.
  • Take care of your personal hygiene. Ensure that you wash your feet, hands, face, etc. after being outdoors.
  • Regularly verify the occurrence of ringworm in pets. Avoid contact with them if they carry the infection.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Livhuwani on April 27, 2017:

I m 47yrs old, my problem is that I develop a ringworm on my buttons which always come and go after a week or so and leave a black scar. Please advice.

Evie Dawson on August 06, 2014:

Thanks for sharing.... While the ringworm is healing, it's important to avoid spreading the infection to other parts of the body or to other people

lucy on January 29, 2014:

My baby have ringworms at her head and when ever the hair grows it starts itching,so at the chemist they gave me tropical cream by the name of biocort do you really think it will help,plz m in need of help,help me