Ringworm

Also known as tinea corporis, tinea circinata and tinea glabrosa

Ringworm is a common type of fungus infection that appears on the trunk of the body, arms, legs, feet, groin or scalp. Ringworm is not caused by a worm.

On this page, you can find the following information:

What is ringworm?

Ringworm is a common skin infection caused by a fungus and not a worm.

Ringworm (also called tinea infections) are known by specific names, depending on the part of the body that is affected. The most common types of ringworm include:

  • athlete’s foot or ringworm of the foot 
  • jock itch  or ringworm of the groin
  • ringworm of the scalp can affect adults and children. It is also called tinea capitis.
  • ringworm of the body. 

How is ringworm spread?

The fungus is easily passed from person to person by contact with infected skin, objects or surfaces. It's possible to get ringworm from:

  • Having skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it.
  • Petting an animal like a dog, cat, or farm animal infected with ringworm.
  • Touching soil infected with ringworm.
  • Using an infected object like a phone, comb, or towel.

The fungi that cause ringworm can live on any infected object, including clothing, brushes, and sports equipment for a long time.

What are the symptoms of ringworm?

You can get ringworm anywhere on your skin including the trunk of the body, arms, legs, feet, groin or scalp. Symptoms of ringworm on the body are:

  • redness
  • itching
  • discomfort
  • a ring shaped rash around normal-looking skin.

The infection usually starts as flat, scaly spots with a raised red border that spreads outwards in a circle. The border may be scaly and may blister, while the centre of the area often becomes more normal in appearance with fine scaling. Ringworm is often itchy.

On the scalp ringworm causes:

  • painful, small, raised pimple-like bumps
  • the bumps will spread and leave fine, scaly patches of skin
  • temporary bald spots
  • broken hair.

It may appear as a painful, small, raised pimple that spreads leaving fine, scaly patches of skin. Infected hairs can become brittle and break off causing small areas of temporary hair loss. This condition is most often seen in pre-adolescent children.

How is ringworm treated?

Antifungal treatment

Ringworm is caused by a fungus, so it is treated with antifungal products.

Antifungals products come in a variety of forms such as creams, lotion, powder, spray or gel which can be bought from the pharmacy. The choice of product will depend on where on the body the ringworm appears. It is important to follow the instructions on the pack carefully. Some products need a single application only; others need regular application until after the infection has cleared, to prevent recurrence. Some infections are harder to clear and might also require an antifungal tablet.

Ringworm on the scalp or beard needs to be treated with antifungal tablets for 1 to 3 months. Creams, lotions, or powders don’t work for ringworm on these areas.

When to see your doctor

See your doctor if your child also has a fever; if non-prescription treatments from the pharmacy have not worked; or if the infection:

  • becomes severe, swollen, warm, blistered, crusted, smelly or pusy
  • lasts longer than 2 weeks.

Self care

  • Do not pick the infected area, it could cause a bacterial infection.
  • Check all family members and pets for ringworm and treat the infection.
  • Restrict contact activities e.g. gym and swimming until the ringworm goes away.
  • Your child can go to school or childcare but they should avoid skin contact with other children until the ringworm goes away.  

How can ringworm infection be prevented?

To prevent ringworm, you and your children should:

  • Shower or bathe daily.
  • Dry your skin thoroughly between your toes and skin folds.
  • Avoid sharing towels, clothing or shoes, hair brushes, bedding or headphones.
  • Wear jandals or plastic sandals in public pools and changing rooms.
  • Wear loose clothing made from breathable materials that draw moisture away from the skin (i.e wool, cotton or leather).
  • Avoid clothing made from synthetic material.
  • Change your shoes each day and allow them to dry out.
  • Wash towels, bathmats, sports clothing, socks and underwear regularly in very hot water (over 60ºC) and dry them well.
  • Regularly wash floors (with very hot water and soap) where you walk in bare feet.

Learn more

Images and more information about tinea corporis  DermNet NZ
Ringworm and other fungal infections NHS Choices
Ringworm of the Skin - topic overview WebMD

Credits: Editorial team. Last reviewed: 18 Jan 2015