Because of its name, you might think ringworm has something to do with a worm. But ringworm is not a worm. It’s just a term used to describe a common type of skin infection that often looks like a red ring on the skin. The infection is caused by a fungus.

There are many fungi and bacteria on your body. Some are helpful. Others cause infections.


You can get ringworm anywhere on your body. If you get it on your scalp, arms, legs, face, or torso, you will see ring-shaped, red, scaly patches. Ringworm of the body is called tinea corporis. Symptoms may include a red, circular lesion with raised edges. The center of the lesion becomes less red as the lesion gets larger. The area may itch.

Ringworm of the scalp is called tinea capitis. It occurs mostly in children and is very contagious. Symptoms may include a red, scaly rash on the scalp, itching, and hair loss. There may be a rash elsewhere on the body.

Ringworm infections on your feet or nails don’t have the ring shape. Because of that, these infections are not called ringworm. But they’re still caused by the same fungus. A ringworm infection in the nails is called tinea unguium. It can happen on the fingernails or toenails, but it is more common on toenails. It occurs more in adolescents and adults. Symptoms include thickening at the ends of the nails and a yellow color to the nails.

Ringworm of the feet is called athlete’s foot, or tinea pedis. It affects mostly teen and adult males. Symptoms include whitening of the skin between the toes, an itchy rash, scales, and blisters on the feet.

Ringworm in the groin area is called jock itch, or tinea cruris. It is also more common in males. Symptoms include red, ring-like patches, and itching in the groin area.


Your health care provider can usually diagnose ringworm by looking at your skin. Your health care provider may scrape off a small piece of the rash to test. It will be checked in a lab under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis.


Ringworm may be difficult to cure. Home therapies are not effective for ringworm. Make sure to see your healthcare provider for treatment. He or she will consider several things when advising a treatment. These include the location of the infection, how severe it is, and your preferences. The length of treatment depends on where the ringworm is. Treatment may need to be repeated.

Treatment for ringworm of the body, groin, and foot is often treated with an antifungal agent that you put on your skin. Mild cases of ringworm may be treated with an antifungal cream you can buy over the counter.

Or it can be treated with a medication you take by mouth.

In some cases, a stronger prescription medication may be needed.

Treatment for scalp ringworm may include a medication you take by mouth for 4 to 8 weeks or longer. You may also need to use a special shampoo.

Depending on your symptoms, you may also need steroids to reduce swelling. Or you may need antibiotics for a skin infection caused by scratching.

During treatment, it’s important to bathe or shower daily. Dry your skin well and keep it clean and dry. Wear clean, dry clothing. Don’t scratch the affected area. This can spread the ringworm or cause infection.

Remember, ringworm is contagious. To avoid passing it to others, don’t share towels, clothing, bedding, hairbrushes, footwear, or other personal items. Wash your hands if you touch your rash. Have pets checked by a vet. They may carry the fungi responsible for ringworm without showing signs of infection.

Ask your healthcare provider for other tips on how to prevent passing on the fungus.

Things to Remember

  • Ringworm is caused by a fungus. It can occur anywhere on your body.
  • Ringworm is contagious. Take steps to avoid passing it to others.
  • See your health care provider for treatment recommendations.

What We Have Learned

  1. Ringworm is not contagious. True or false?
    The answer is False. Ringworm is contagious, so it’s important not to share towels, clothing, and personal objects.

  2. Athlete’s foot is a type of ringworm. True or false?
    The answer is True. Another name for athlete’s foot is tinea pedis.

  3. Ringworm goes away on its own. True or false?
    The answer is False. Ringworm needs to be treated. Home therapies are not effective for ringworm.