What is Ringworm?

Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Ringworm is a common fungal infection affecting skin with an itchy rash. It often looks like a ring on your skin, but it has nothing to do with worms. Instead, it is caused by fungi spores on the skin and can usually be treated easily with anti-fungal medication. We can provide a diagnosis of ringworm and treatment if it’s suitable for you.

What is Ringworm?

Ringworm is a common fungal infection of the skin estimated to affect 10 to 20% of people in their lifetime. Despite its name, it has no connection to worms. Its medical name is tinea corporis.

The main symptom of ringworm is a ring-like rash which can be dry, scaly, itchy or swollen. The rash can be red, silver or darker than your usual skin colour. It can be found all over your body and often affects the arms and legs.

Ringworm is most commonly used to refer to the rash on the body. You can also get fungal infections in other places, such as:

  • scalp: tinea capitis
  • feet: tinea pedis or ‘athlete’s foot’
  • groin or inner thighs: tinea cruris or ‘jock itch’

What Are the Symptoms of Ringworm?

The main symptom of ringworm is an itchy and inflamed ring-like rash that can be red, silvery in colour or darker than your skin tone. The edge of the rash is usually darker and more scaly than the centre's healthy skin, making it look like a ring. The ring gets more prominent as the rash spreads.

What does ringworm look like?

Ringworm looks like a ring-like rash that can affect anywhere on the body and is commonly found on arms and legs. The skin inside the ring usually looks healthy, with the ring itself being inflamed, scaly and raised. Depending on your skin tone, the ring can be silvery, red or darker than your normal skin colour.

The ring will grow as the infection spreads. In more severe cases, several rings may merge, and blisters or sores can form around the rings.

Ringworm on the face and neck may not form a ring. The rash will still be swollen and itchy and become crusted.

What does ringworm feel like?

A ringworm rash is itchy and irritating.

How long does ringworm last?

Ringworm can clear up on its own, but doctors recommend anti-fungal treatment to ensure the infection stops spreading.

Ringworm that affects the body can be treated within 2 and 4 weeks. More severe cases or those affecting the scalp may require oral antifungals for 1 to 3 months.

There are no severe long-term complications associated with ringworm, but it can lead to scars and hair loss if it affects your scalp. As ringworm is a fungal infection, the more it grows, the greater the chance you will pass it on to others.

Getting rid of the infection can be more challenging if you have an autoimmune disease.

When should I talk to a doctor about my ringworm?

Talk to your doctor if:

  • your ringworm persists
  • ringworm is affecting your scalp
  • you suspect your child has ringworm
  • you or your child is immune compromised (e.g. from diabetes, chemotherapy or steroids)

Your doctor may prescribe you an oral medication to treat the ringworm in some cases.

What Causes Ringworm?

Ringworm is a fungal infection. Fungi called dermatophytes, which live off tissues in your skin, and cause ringworm. The fungi can survive on your skin or household objects such as towels and soil.

A ringworm infection starts when you get the fungi spores on your body. Spores spread in different ways:

  • person-to-person contact
  • animal to person contact
  • object to person contact (eg, towels, combs, bed linen)
  • soil to person contact (through prolonged contact with infected soil)

Is ringworm contagious?

Yes, ringworm is contagious. Even when treating ringworm, you can pass it on to others. While there are any spores alive on your body, you can pass them on.

Can I get ringworm from my pet or give it to them?

Yes, you can get ringworm from your pet and give it to them if you have it. If you suspect that you have ringworm or your pet does, wash your hands carefully with soap and warm water after touching your pet.

What increases the risk of ringworm?

Certain factors make you more likely to develop a fungal infection like ringworm:

  • living in a humid environment
  • regularly using public showers or changing rooms
  • close contact with animals
  • take part in contact sports
  • previous fungal infections
  • sweating more than usual
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • obesity
  • a weakened immune system (either through a medical condition such as HIV or treatment such as chemotherapy)
  • poor circulation or hardened arteries
  • African-Caribbean heritage
  • if you are very young or very old

You can help prevent a ringworm infection from spreading by:

  • not scratching the ringworm rash (so it doesn’t spread to other areas of your body)
  • washing towels and bedsheets frequently
  • wash your hands carefully and keep your skin clean when in contact with animals or soil that may have the infection
  • taking your pet to the vet as soon as you suspect a ringworm infection

How is Ringworm Diagnosed?

A doctor or pharmacist diagnoses ringworm by looking at the rash and asking about your symptoms. If a doctor wants to know which specific fungus is causing the infection, they may send a small scraping of the skin to a laboratory.

At Superdrug Online Doctor, we can diagnose ringworm quickly and easily. You will be asked to answer a short questionnaire about your symptoms as well as uploading photos to help our doctors confirm your diagnosis. Our doctors will recommend the best topical anti-fungal treatment for you, which can then be sent discreetly to an address of your choice.

Doctors and pharmacists will examine your rash to ensure it is not something else. Other rashes that can look like ringworm are eczema, pityriasis rosea and psoriasis.

Ringworm v Eczema

An eczema rash looks very similar to ringworm, often ring-shaped and itchy. However, an eczema rash doesn’t usually have healthy skin in the centre or blisters, and it can be more extensive than ringworm.

Ringworm v Pityriasis Rosea

Pityriasis rosea can start with one ‘herald’ patch that looks similar to ringworm as it is ring-shaped. It then spreads to a more extensive rash with small raised patches, usually on the torso, neck, upper arms, and thighs.

Ringworm v Psoriasis

Like ringworm, a psoriasis rash has red or purple patches depending on your skin colour. However, a psoriasis rash also has white, silvery or grey scales. It usually appears in small patches on your lower back, scalp, elbows and knees.

How is Ringworm Treated?

The treatment for ringworm is an anti-fungal medication available over the counter. It is usually a gel, cream or spray that you apply to your skin for between 2 and 4 weeks. Anti-fungal medications work by killing the fungi spores and stopping them from growing.

If you have ringworm on the scalp, the treatment is usually taken orally for between 1 and 3 months.

Treatment can get rid of a ringworm infection, but you can’t cure it permanently. You may get it again in the future.

Many different products treat fungal infections. Common anti-fungal medications include:

  • clotrimazole (Canestan)
  • miconazole
  • terbinafine (Lamisil)
  • ketoconazole (Daktarin)
  • amphotericin
  • fluconazole
  • nystatin (Nystan)
  • econazole

Studies have shown that terbinafine is effective at clearing up ringworm within 4 weeks in 93.5% of cases and clotrimazole in 73.1%.

Here at Superdrug Online Doctor, we offer Daktarin cream or Daktacort ointment to treat ringworm. It is essential to follow the instructions on when to apply the cream or ointment and to continue to apply it for as long as you are directed to if you want to stop the ringworm infection completely.

Home remedies for ringworm

There is no scientific proof that home remedies successfully treat ringworm and some may aggravate your symptoms, but many people use the following:

  • apple cider vinegar
  • coconut oil
  • turmeric
  • essential oils: oregano, lemongrass, tea tree

How to Prevent Ringworm

You can stop the spread of a ringworm infection by:

  • not scratching the rash
  • keeping your skin clean and dry
  • starting treatment as soon as possible after you get symptoms
  • washing bedsheets and towels regularly
  • checking your pets for signs of ringworm and taking them to the vet as quickly as possible
  • washing your hands carefully after handling soil


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