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.

Key points

  1. Ringworm is a common skin infection caused by a fungus and not a worm.
  2. Ringworm can appear almost anywhere on the body, arms, legs, feet, groin and scalp.
  3. It is easily spread among people.
  4. Ringworm is usually treated with creams sold by your pharmacy.

Causes

Ringworm is caused by a fungus that is passed from person (or animal) to person by contact with infected skin, objects or surfaces.

Symptoms

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.

Treatment

Most cases of body ringworm can be treated with medicines from a pharmacy. 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.

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
  • is on the scalp or in the beard.

Your doctor may prescribe an antifungal cream, lotion, gel, spray or shampoo and for treatment of severe cases, antifungal tablets. Each anti fungal product is different. Some stop fungi growing or kill the fungus while others are combined with a corticosteroid drug to reduce itching.

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.
  • Stop your child from doing things where their skin touches other children's skin (i.e. wrestling and swimming), until the ringworm goes away.

Prevention

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