Ringworm: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment


Ringworm is a common skin infection caused by fungi. It’s not caused by worms, despite the name! It can form anywhere on your body, including the scalp, beard, groin, hands, and feet.

But it’s most common between the finger digits and toes where the skin becomes white with sore red skin underneath, also known as athlete’s foot.  Ringworm appearing on the groin is often called a jock itch. Treatment of ringworm infection with an antifungal cream usually works well.

Types of ringworm

Ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis) typically affects the scalp. Hair-bearing regions of the head may suffer severe hair loss. Ringworm of beard (tinea barbae) includes the chin and beard of adult males. It contracts mainly with the animals. Ringworm of the body (tinea corporis) develops as inflamed and red ring lesions anywhere on smooth skin.

Ringworm of the groin (tinea cruris) “jock itch” occurs in the groin and scrotal regions. Foot and hand ringworm (tinea pedis and tinea manuum) occurs between digits and on soles. Ringworm of nails (tinea unguium) causes persistent colonization of the nails of the hands and feet. It also distorts the nail bed.

Who is at risk for ringworm infection?

You are more at risk for ringworm infection if you:

  • Come in contact with people or pets that have ringworm
  • Share brushes, towels, clothing, and combs
  • Don’t eat good nutritional food
  • Use public baths or locker rooms
  • Don’t follow good hygiene
  • Have a compromised immune system because of disease or medicine
  • Play contact sports, like wrestling
  • Live in a warm or humid climate

What are the symptoms of ringworm infection?

Symptoms may vary from person to person. Signs and symptoms of athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) are:

  • Blisters and scaling on the feet
  • Itchiness and burning rashes on the feet
  • Whitening and the skin breakdown between the toes of the feet

Jock itch (tinea cruris) symptoms are :

  • Pain in the groin part
  • Flaky skin on the inner thighs
  • Burning sensation in the affected area
  • Redness, ring-like scraps in the groin area, and inner thighs
  • Itchiness in the groin area

Symptoms of scalp ringworm (tinea capitis) may include:

  • Hair loss on the scalp
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Itching of the scalp
  • Red and scaly rash on the scalp

Ringworm in the beard area may involve:

  • swollen glands
  • redness, inflammation, and pus-filled bumps
  • hair loss
  • raw, soft, and spongy patches that weep

Nail infection (tinea unguium, onychomycosis) symptoms may include:

  • The yellow color of nails or nail bed
  • Thickening of the ends of the nails

Symptoms of body ringworm (tinea corporis) are:

  • Ring-shaped patches with raised and the scaly edges
  • Merging rings
  • Slightly raised rings
  • Itchiness and redness with a ring-like appearance

The symptoms of ringworm can be related to other health conditions. Atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and pityriasis rosea all look similar. Consult your healthcare provider for proper diagnosis whenever you notice the above symptoms.

Causes of ringworm

Fungi cause ringworm infections. It can be the fungus that normally lives on your skin, hair, and nails called dermatophytes. When the environment of fungus is warm and moist, it grows out of control and starts to cause symptoms. It can transmit through close contact with an infected person or animal.

If you touch infected objects like bed sheets, combs, or towels, you are more likely to get infected. Infected soil – although this is less common can also cause ringworm.

When should you call a doctor?

Call your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever of 38ºC or higher
  • The rash on the skin does not improve after 10 days of treatment
  • The rashes start spreading to other parts of the body
  • The itchiness and redness around the rash get worse
  • Fluid discharges from the rash

How ringworm is Diagnosed?

A doctor typically diagnoses ringworm infection after examining the affected area. He may ask you about your medical history and symptoms. A doctor may take a small scrap of your skin, which won’t hurt and check it out under a microscope to look for the morphology of fungi.

The doctor will also examine whether your skin problem is being caused by some other disorder, like psoriasis. There is usually no need for any further testing unless symptoms are particularly severe. If symptoms do not improve even after treatment, then a doctor can remove a small piece of your affected skin and send it to a laboratory for analysis.

Related: What Are The Causes Of Skin Discoloration In Legs?

Treatments for Ringworm

Visit a pharmacist first. Show him your rash. Pharmacists may recommend you the best antifungal medicine.

1. Antifungal creams for ringworm

Buy an antifungal cream from a pharmacy over the counter (OTC), or you can also get one on prescription. There are various brands available like clotrimazole, terbinafine, ketoconazole, econazole, and miconazole. These medicines will clear your fungal skin infections such as ringworm. Currently, there is no evidence that any one medication is better than any of these creams.

Apply the cream to the ringworm areas for as long as advised by a pharmacist. The duration can vary between the different creams. Make sure to read the instructions carefully. Apply clotrimazole 2-3 times a day for four weeks. Miconazole must be used twice a day and continue for almost 10 days after your skin is back to normal. Apply ketoconazole and econazole twice a day and continue for a few days after the skin is back to normal. Terbinafine will give better results when you apply it once or twice a day for one to two weeks. Ask a doctor before using these creams for children.

If your ringworm skin is particularly inflamed, a doctor may suggest an antifungal cream combined with a mild steroid cream. He may recommend you not to use this for more than seven days. You can continue with your antifungal cream alone for a time afterward. The steroid lowers inflammation and may ease rashes and itchiness quickly. It does not kill the fungus, so you cannot use steroid cream alone: in fact, it can make the fungal infection worse.

2. Antifungal tablets for ringworm

Doctors sometimes suggest taking an antifungal medicine orally if the ringworm infection is widespread or severe. These tablets may include terbinafine, griseofulvin, or itraconazole tablets. Remember: not all ringworm treatments are good for everyone. You should not take antifungal tablets if you are:

  • At high risk of heart failure
  • A woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Suffering from a certain liver disease
  • Long-standing a lung disease
  • Taking other medication which may react with antifungal tablets
  • An elderly people
  • A Children

How you can stop ringworm from spreading?

  • Start your treatment as soon as possible.
  • Wash towels regularly.
  • Treat your feet and groin at the same time, as infection can spread from one area to another.
  • Wash off your hands after touching animals or soil. Dry skin and hands completely, particularly after swimming and sweaty activities.
  • Keep checking your skin after coming in contact with an infected person or animal.
  • Change your clothes daily.
  • Avoid wearing tight-fitted clothes.
  • Wash sports gear and uniforms and don’t share them.
  • Take your pets to the veterinary doctor if they might have developed ringworm.
  • Do not share combs and bed sheets with someone who is infected with ringworm.
  • Avoid scratching a ringworm rash so it may not spread to other parts of your body.
  • Also, treat any other fungal infections (if you have them), like athlete’s foot.

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