Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin. Despite its name, it has nothing at all to do with worms. The fungal infection may appear on the skin, nails, hands, feet, or scalp.
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Ringworm is caused by microscopic skin fungi that live on the outer layer of the skin. You can get ringworm from direct skin-to-skin contact with infected people or pets. It is also transmitted by sharing hats and personal hair grooming items, and through contact with locker room floors, shower stalls, seats, or clothing used by an infected person.
Ringworm is more common in children 12 years of age or younger.
Factors that may increase your chances of ringworm:
When ringworm appears on the skin, it makes circular, reddish patches with raised borders. Eventually, the patches grow larger, and the centers of the patches turn clear, giving a ring-like appearance.
Symptoms of ringworm on other parts of the body vary, for example:
Ringworm symptoms on the body usually appear 4-10 days after exposure. Scalp symptoms will appear in 10-14 days.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A skin examination will be done. Ringworm is often easily diagnosed by appearance. However, symptoms may be similar to other conditions. A sample of the affected area may be taken for testing.
Treatment can be taken by mouth or applied to the skin:
This type of treatment is used for ringworm of the skin or body. It includes antifungal creams and powders. It usually takes at least 2 weeks for the ringworm to clear. After ringworm clears, treatment is usually continued for at least 2 more weeks.
For ringworm involving the body, hands, or feet, nonprescription treatment is highly effective.
Some medications are more effective than others.
This type of treatment is used for ringworm of the nails and scalp. Early treatment for scalp ringworm is important to prevent permanent hair loss. A culture or other test may be given to get an accurate diagnosis before beginning this kind of treatment. Prescription pills are given for:
If you developed ringworm from your pet, your pet should be treated as well. Check with your pet's veterinarian for treatment procedures.
To help reduce your chances of ringworm:
American Academy of Dermatology
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Dermatology Association
Higgens EM, Fuller LC, Smith CH. Guidelines for the management of tinea capitis. Br J Dermatol. 2000;143(1):53-58.
Kakourou T, Uksal U, European Society for Pediatric Dermatology. Guidelines for the management of tinea capitis in children. Pediatr Dermatol. 2010;27(3):226-228.
Panackal AA, Halpern EF, Watson AJ. Cutaneous fungal infections in the United States: Analysis of the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) and National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS), 1995-2004. Int J Dermatol. 2009;48(7):704-712.
Ringworm. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/ringworm. Updated April 2017. Accessed February 15, 2018.
Tinea capitis. DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116543/Tinea-capitis. Updated August 26, 2016. Accessed February 15, 2018.
Last reviewed February 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP Last Updated: 1/13/2014