Ringworm: an overview and more

Ringworm is a skin infection caused by a fungus. It is highly contagious and is easily spread through skin-to-skin contact , which means you can get ringworm from touching someone with an infection. Ringworm can also be transmitted through animals and pets, especially puppies and kittens. You can even get ringworm from inanimate objects, like sharing hats.

Get Medication Information / Laura Porter

Studies show that fungal infections of the skin and / or nails affect 20 to 25 percent of the world's population and can affect anyone at any age. Children are especially susceptible to ringworm. Although so common, ringworm is easy to recognize, treat, and prevent, and it rarely causes serious complications.

Types of ringworm

The clinical names for ringworm include dermatophytosis and dermatophytosis. The infection has nothing to do with worms. It is classified as a dermatophyte infection. The name comes from the round shape of ringworm.

Ringworm is also known by other names depending on where it appears on the body.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the following areas of the body that can be affected by ringworm:

  • Torso, legs, or arms (tinea corporis)
  • Feet (tinea pedis, commonly known as "athlete's foot ")
  • Groin, inner thighs, or buttocks (tinea cruris, commonly called athlete's itch ).
  • Scalp (dermatomycosis of the head)
  • Beard (tinea barbae)
  • Hands (tinea manuum)
  • Toenails or toenails (tinea unguium, also called onychomycosis)
Herpes zoster infection (ringworm). OGphoto / Getty Images
Ringworm on the arm. alejandrophotography / Getty Images
Ringworm on the leg. phanasitti / Getty Images
Tinea cruris.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Hair loss due to dermatomycosis on the head.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Ringworm symptoms

Ringworm is easy to recognize, although it can be confused with other skin rashes . Over most of the body, ringworm begins as a flat, scaly lesion that gradually forms a rim and then spreads outward to form a circular ring .

The edge is usually raised and scaly , while the central region is usually flat with fine scales. Some ringworm infections form blisters (fluid-filled blisters) caused by an overreaction of the immune system to the infection .

Ringworm can look different on certain parts of the body. Athlete's foot usually causes an itchy, patchy rash with cracks and peeling, such as between the toes.

The most common sign of ringworm on the scalp is hair loss. There is also a rash that can look different depending on whether the fungus enters the hair shaft or remains on the outside.

Ringworm on the scalp can also cause what is sometimes called a blackhead: a patch of hair loss with blackheads on the scalp caused by debris just below the skin's surface; gray spot, bald patches with dry, scaly patches on the scalp; and kerion, bald patches with thickened and boggy scalp and blisters .


According to the CDC, about 40 different types of fungi can cause ringworm . The scientific names for these fungi are Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epidermophyton .

These dermatophytes survive on dead keratin, a protein in the upper layer of the epidermis . Keratin is also found in hair and nails, which is why the toes, feet, and scalp are prone to fungal infections.


Ringworm infection is quite obvious given its unmistakable appearance. However, ringworm can sometimes mimic other skin conditions, such as granuloma ring , eczema, and ringworm . The same can be said for scalp infections, which are often difficult to distinguish from psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis.

Granuloma annulare on the foot.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Doctor's Ringworm Discussion Guide

Get our printed guide to your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

A primary care physician or dermatologist can probably diagnose ringworm just by looking at it. But when it's not clear whether a yeast infection is causing the rash, a skin culture known as a KOH test can provide evidence. This test involves scraping the infected skin and examining it under a microscope using potassium hydroxide (KOH) stain to identify the hyphae or branches of the fungus.

Sometimes a healthcare provider uses a special light called a Wood's lamp to diagnose a yeast infection. When light-colored hair is highlighted, the affected hair turns blue-green.

Watch out

Ringworm can lead to a number of complications if not treated properly (including the spread of the infection to other parts of the body, bacterial skin infections, and skin conditions like contact dermatitis).

There are many approaches to treating ringworm infections, largely dependent on the area of the body affected. Treatment includes:

  • Over-the-counter and prescription topical antifungal creams or ointments that are applied directly to fungal lesions
  • Antifungal shampoos used to treat scalp infections.
  • Oral medications for yeast infections that are resistant to topical treatments .

There are also several natural approaches to treating ringworm that have shown promise in research, including tea tree oil for athlete's foot and garlic extract.

Get the word of drug information

Fungal skin lesions are never pleasant. They can cause itchiness, discomfort, and even ugly and conspicuous damage. Shingles on the scalp can cause receding of the hairline. And when the fungus affects fingernails or toenails, even the most experienced manicure or pedicure cannot mask the problem.

On the other hand, yeast infections are almost always easy to treat, and there are many effective steps you can take to prevent them based on common sense and good hygiene. If you, your child, or a loved one brings home a yeast infection, getting a timely diagnosis, following your healthcare provider's treatment instructions, and taking steps to protect the rest of the family from the infection is all that you need to get rid of shingles. Your family.

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