Does ringworm look like?

What Does Ringworm Look Like?

Ringworm is a common fungal infection that affects the skin, hair, and nails. Despite its name, it is not caused by a worm but a fungus called dermatophyte that feeds on keratin, a protein found in the skin, hair, and nails. This infection is highly contagious and can be picked from infected humans, animals, or even soil.

The appearance and symptoms of ringworm can vary depending on the type of dermatophyte causing the infection, the location of the infection, and the severity of the condition. In this article, we will explore the different ways ringworm can manifest and how to recognize it.

What Are the Symptoms of Ringworm?

The symptoms of ringworm can appear anywhere from 4 to 14 days after exposure to the fungus. The most common symptoms include:

  • A circular or ring-shaped rash with a raised edge and clear center: This is the classic presentation of ringworm, which gave the infection its name. The rash can be red, pink, or brown, and it usually grows outward while clearing in the center to form a ring or horseshoe shape. It can be itchy, scaly, or have blisters or pustules.
  • Flaky or scaly skin: The infected area can become dry, flaky, and scaly, resembling eczema or psoriasis. The scales can be white, gray, or silver and easily detach from the skin.
  • Bald patches: If ringworm affects the scalp, it can cause hair loss in circular or irregular patches. The skin may be itchy, red, or swollen, and there may be black dots or broken hairs where the hair has fallen out.
  • Jock itch: When ringworm affects the groin area, it is called jock itch. It can cause a red, itchy rash in the groin, thighs, or buttocks, which may spread to the genitals and the inner thighs. Jock itch is more common in men and athletes who sweat heavily.
  • Athlete’s foot: When ringworm affects the feet, it is called athlete’s foot. It can cause a red, scaly, and itchy rash between the toes, on the soles or heels of the feet, or on the toenails. Athlete’s foot is more common in people who wear tight, unventilated shoes or walk barefoot in public places like gyms or pools.
  • Nail fungus: When ringworm affects the nails, it is called onychomycosis or nail fungus. It can cause thick, discolored, or brittle nails that may be yellow, brown, or white. The nail may lift off the nail bed, crumble, or break easily.

How Is Ringworm Diagnosed?

Ringworm can usually be diagnosed based on its appearance and symptoms. However, some skin conditions can mimic the presentation of ringworm, such as psoriasis, eczema, contact dermatitis, or even skin cancer. Therefore, it is recommended to seek medical advice if you suspect you have ringworm or if your symptoms do not improve with home remedies or over-the-counter antifungal medication.

Your doctor may use several methods to diagnose ringworm, such as:

  • Visual examination: Your doctor may inspect the affected area under a special lamp called a Wood’s lamp that makes the fungus glow greenish-yellow. This test is more helpful in diagnosing some types of ringworm, such as tinea capitis or scalp ringworm, which are caused by a different dermatophyte than skin or nail ringworm.
  • Scrapings or cultures: Your doctor may take a sample of the affected skin, hair, or nails and send it to a lab for microscopic examination or culture. This test can help identify the type of fungus causing the infection and guide the treatment.

How Is Ringworm Treated?

Ringworm can usually be treated with antifungal medication, either topical or oral, depending on the severity and location of the infection. Topical creams, lotions, or ointments containing antifungal agents like azoles, allylamines or polyenes can be applied directly to the affected area for 2 to 4 weeks or as directed by your doctor. Oral medications like terbinafine, griseofulvin or itraconazole may be prescribed for more severe, widespread, or resistant infections, or if the nail is involved.

In addition to medication, it is important to practice good hygiene and avoid spreading the infection to others or other parts of your body. Some tips to prevent ringworm include:

  • Washing your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after touching an infected area.
  • Avoiding sharing personal items like towels, combs, or clothes with others.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that may harbor the fungus, such as gym equipment, shower floors or mats, or pet cages.
  • Drying your skin thoroughly after bathing or swimming, especially in wet or humid environments.
  • Wearing loose, breathable, and clean clothes made of natural fibers like cotton or silk, and avoiding tight or synthetic materials that trap moisture and heat.
  • Avoiding walking barefoot in public areas like pools or showers, and wearing sandals or flip-flops instead.

When to See a Doctor?

Most cases of ringworm can be treated at home with over-the-counter medication and proper hygiene. However, you should consider seeing a doctor if:

  • Your symptoms do not improve after 2 weeks of treatment or get worse.
  • You develop new symptoms or signs of infection, such as fever, chills, pus, or spreading redness.
  • Your infection involves the scalp, nails, face, or groin.
  • You have a weakened immune system, such as from HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, or taking immunosuppressive medication like steroids.
  • You are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant, as some antifungal medication can harm the baby.
  • You have a history of skin sensitivity or allergies to antifungal medication or ingredients.


Ringworm is a common and contagious fungal infection that can affect various parts of the body, including the skin, nails, and scalp. It is caused by dermatophyte, a type of fungus that feeds on the protein found in these tissues. Ringworm can present as a circular or ring-shaped rash with a raised edge and clear center or as flaky, scaly skin, bald patches, jock itch, athlete’s foot, or nail fungus. It can usually be treated with antifungal medication, either topical or oral, and good hygiene practices. If you suspect you have ringworm or your symptoms persist or worsen, seek medical advice from your doctor or dermatologist.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can ringworm go away on its own?

    Ringworm can resolve on its own, especially in mild cases or with a healthy immune system. However, it may take several weeks or months, and the infection can spread or worsen in the meantime. It is recommended to seek medical advice and start antifungal treatment as soon as possible to speed up the recovery and prevent complications.

  • Is ringworm contagious?

    Yes, ringworm is highly contagious and can be spread from person to person, animal to person, or by touching contaminated objects or surfaces. It is important to avoid close contact with infected individuals or animals, wash your hands frequently with soap and water, and disinfect surfaces and objects that may harbor the fungus.

  • How long does ringworm last?

    The duration of ringworm depends on the type of infection, the location and extent of the affected area, the immune system’s response, and the treatment provided. Mild cases of ringworm may resolve in 2 to 4 weeks with self-care and topical antifungal medication. More severe or widespread cases may require oral antifungal medication or prolonged treatment for several months. If left untreated or improperly treated, ringworm can lead to complications like secondary bacterial infections, scarring, or permanent nail damage.

  • Can ringworm recur?

    Yes, ringworm can recur, especially if the underlying cause is not fully addressed or if the hygiene practices are not maintained. The fungus can remain dormant in the skin or nails and reactivate under favorable conditions, such as weakened immune function, excessive sweating, or exposure to contaminated sources. To prevent ringworm from recurring, it is essential to complete the full course of antifungal treatment, practice good hygiene, and avoid sharing personal items or walking barefoot in public places.

  • Is ringworm the same as a yeast infection?

    No, ringworm and yeast infection are different types of fungal infections caused by different organisms. Ringworm is caused by dermatophyte, a fungus that feeds on keratin in the skin, hair, and nails, while yeast infection is caused by Candida, a type of yeast that grows in warm, moist areas of the body, such as the mouth, vagina, or armpits. The symptoms and treatment of ringworm and yeast infection may differ depending on the location and extent of the infection.


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  • Mayo Clinic. (2021). Ringworm. Retrieved from