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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Ringworm of the Skin
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Ringworm is an infection caused by a fungus. It causes a rash that can appear on many different parts of the body. It is called ringworm because it sometimes looks like a ring.
Ringworm is caused by a fungus. It's not caused by a worm. The kinds of fungi that cause ringworm live and spread on the top layer of the skin and on the hair. They grow best in warm, moist areas, such as locker rooms and swimming pools, and in skin folds.
Ringworm is contagious. It spreads when you have skin-to-skin contact with a person or animal that has it. It can also spread when you share things like towels, clothing, or sports gear.
Ringworm usually causes an itchy rash. It often makes a pattern in the shape of a ring, but not always. The rash may be peeling, cracking, scaling, and red. It can affect the face, groin, hands, and other parts of the body.
Ringworm of the skin can start as a small patch of itchy, red, or scaling skin. The rash can spread and cover a large area.
Clothing that rubs the skin can irritate the rash. Sweat, heat, or moisture in the air (humidity) can make the itching and infection worse.
As the infection becomes worse, the ring-shaped pattern and red-brown color may become more visible. If not treated, the skin can become irritated and painful. Skin blisters and cracks can become infected with bacteria and require antibiotics.
Ringworm can also spread to other parts of the body, including the feet, nails, scalp, or beard.
After treatment, the rash will go away. But ringworm can return unless you follow steps to prevent it. The tendency to get fungal skin infections or to have them return after treatment seems to run in families.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine your skin and the rash. The doctor may diagnose ringworm based on this exam. He or she may look at a scraping from the rash under a microscope to check for the ringworm fungus.
In most cases, you can treat ringworm of the skin with antifungal creams or ointments. Many are available over-the-counter.
If your rash does not clear after you have tried different topical antifungals, or if the infection is widespread, you may need prescription antifungal pills.
To help prevent ringworm, keep your skin clean and dry, wear slippers or sandals in locker rooms and public bathing areas, and change your socks and underwear at least once a day. And don't share clothing, sports gear, towels, or sheets.
Current as of:
March 3, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Kathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: March 3, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
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