What is ringworm?

Ringworm is a rash caused by a fungus that has infected your skin. Despite its name, this rash is not caused by a worm.

When ringworm is on the feet, it is called athlete’s foot, and when it is on the inner thighs and groin, it is called jock itch. Ringworm can also be on your scalp or on skin in other parts of your body.

What is the cause?

Fungus grows best on warm, damp skin. Ringworm is very easily spread by contact with an infected person or infected surface, such as clothes, towels, and bedding. It is also spread by contact with an infected animal, objects or dirt. It is more common among people who play contact sports such as wrestling. Children going to day care and people living in crowded conditions are also more likely to get ringworm.

Fungal infections are more common and may be harder to treat in people who have diabetes or poor circulation, and in people whose immune systems are weakened by HIV, cancer, or other health problems.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Itchy, red, scaly patches
  • Round or oval patches with a pale or pink center, and raised red border that may look like a ring
  • Small, pus-filled bumps

Over time the rash may spread from one part of the body to other parts.

Ringworm on the scalp usually causes patches of hair loss. If ringworm affects your nails, they may get thick, white or yellowish, and brittle.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Often the diagnosis is clear from the way the rash looks. Your provider may scrape the skin and look at it under a microscope or use an ultraviolet (UV) light to look for ringworm on the scalp. He may also send a sample of the skin scraping to a lab. This can help find the best medicine to treat the infection.

How is it treated?

The treatment of ringworm depends on your health and how much the infection has spread on your skin or scalp. Most of the time putting an nonprescription antifungal cream on the area of the rash once or twice a day is all that is needed. Ringworm of the scalp may be treated with antifungal shampoo. It’s important to keep using the medicine as long as directed to make sure the fungus is completely gone.

In some cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe a medicine to take by mouth. You may be given this medicine, for example, if you have the rash on your scalp or in several different places or if your immune system is weak and you have trouble fighting infections.

Ringworm may take several weeks to clear up with a cream. If you take prescription medicine, it may clear up faster. It’s common to get ringworm again after you’ve had it once. Sometimes it becomes a long-term problem.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider.

  • Try to keep your skin dry, especially those areas where you tend to get ringworm.
  • Use the medicine as prescribed.
  • For scalp infections, follow the instructions your healthcare provider gives you about how often to shampoo and which shampoo to use. It may help to have your hair cut short to help the scalp stay dry, but you don’t need to shave your head.
  • If you have ringworm in your beard and decide to shave your beard instead of just cutting it short, use an electric razor instead of a blade.

Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent ringworm?

  • Wash all clothes, towels, and bedding (in as hot water as possible according to their label) that might have come into contact with the infected area on your skin. Dry them thoroughly.
  • If you do sports such as wrestling, gymnastics, or martial arts, make sure that the mats and any other equipment are cleaned regularly. Don’t share sports gear with others.
  • Shower and wash your hair well after all sports that include skin to skin contact. Dry your skin well after washing, especially on your belly and under your breasts.
  • Use a clean towel each time you bathe or shower, especially if you live in a humid area.
  • Don’t share personal-care products, towels, sheets or clothes with others if you or they have a rash.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after touching an infected area and dry your hands well.
  • Wear something on your feet, such as flip-flop sandals, when you take a shower in a locker room or other shared shower stall.
  • Wear socks that wick moisture away from your foot. Change your socks every day, or more often if the socks become damp.
  • If you have pets with areas of missing hair, get them checked by their vet.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-07-28
Last reviewed: 2014-07-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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