Ringworm is also known as dermatophytosis or tinea. It is a fungal infection that affects your skin.

Ringworm is caused by a fungus, not a worm. So don’t be misled by its name.

Like many skin conditions, it can be hard to tell apart—and there’s no doubt that ringworm can resemble common skin disorders like eczema (dermatitis). 

Thus, it won’t be surprising for people to slather on the wrong medicated cream and wonder why their treatment isn’t effective. Knowing the symptoms of ringworm can guide you in seeking the correct treatment for the infection.

What Is Ringworm? 

Ringworm, also known as dermatophytosis, is a prevalent skin infection. Contrary to its name, ringworm is caused by a fungus and not a worm. [1

Depending on the part of your body affected, your doctor might call it a different name. This includes:-

  • Tinea cruris (jock’s itch) – An infection involving the skin around the groin or scrotum, thighs, and buttocks. [3
  • Tinea corporis (ringworm of the body) – Commonly affects young adults or children but can be seen in all age groups. [4
  • Tinea capitis (ringworm of the scalp) – Occurs primarily in children aged 3-14 but can be observed in any age group. [5
  • Tinea unguium (ringworm of the fingernails or toenails) – Your nails may be discolored white or yellow and appear deformed.

What Are Symptoms Of Ringworm? What Does Ringworm Look Like? 

Symptoms of ringworm are as follows:-

  • Tinea pedis (athlete’s foot) – Swollen, red, itchy, or peeling skin in the area between your toes is common. Silvery, white, and fine scales cover the affected area. Sometimes, the fungus may infect areas around your heel or sole, and in severe cases, you might notice some blistering. [2]
  • Tinea cruris (jock’s itch) – You will usually notice a red, itchy, and scaly border that may extend from the groin region to the inner thighs. Sometimes, a red ring-shaped rash may form on the buttocks. The symptoms are similar to tinea corporis. [3
  • Tinea corporis (ringworm of the body) – Presents as a ring-shaped lesion that is commonly itchy. Initially, it may present as a red patch with a circular shape with a raised edge. The center of the ring is usually lighter (hypopigmentation). The border of the lesion can either be raised (papular) or have small bumps filled with pus (pustular). Over time, multiple lesions can form and merge to form a polycyclic pattern on the skin consisting of rings or partial rings. [4
  • Tinea capitis (ringworm of the scalp) – The infection will initially present as red bumps, and these will increase in size as the condition prolongs. The disease can spread to the entire scalp, and at times, it may extend to the eyebrows or eyelashes. The skin at the center of the lesion may appear normal, and the lesion borders are usually red and inflamed. You may see severe dandruff on various places of the scalp. More severe infections can lead to pus discharge and permanent hair loss. [5
  • Tinea unguium (ringworm of the fingernails or toenails) – Commonly asymptomatic (showing no symptoms), and patients will usually seek advice first for cosmetic reasons. The affected nail may either be brittle or thick and hard. It may also be discolored (yellow or brown) or irregularly shaped. If the nail remains untreated, the fungus can spread to the skin underneath the nail (nail bed) or cause the nail to fall off entirely. [6, 7

How Is Ringworm Diagnosed?

Your doctor or dermatologist will be able to determine whether or not you have a ringworm infection. They will conduct a thorough physical examination and may ask you a few questions to determine the likely cause of your skin condition. If they are less certain, they may take skin scrapings of the infected area and examine those under a microscope. 

What Causes A Ringworm Infection?

Experts estimate that approximately 40 different species of fungi are responsible for ringworm infections in various parts of the body. Plus, certain factors are likely to predispose you to a higher risk of ringworm infection. [8

Tinea pedis is likely to affect those who walk barefoot around swimming pools, shared bathing areas, locker rooms, and walkways. If you tend to sweat a lot, then keeping your feet in closed or occlusive footwear also increases your chances of getting this infection. [2]

Usually, the infection starts with the nails or the feet. Using an infected towel or scratching can cause the infection to spread to other parts of the body. [3

Sharing or personal belongings like clothes, towels, or bedding can also cause the infection to spread from one person to another, leading to ringworm infection. [4

Additionally, wearing occlusive clothing and sweating will increase your chances of a tinea infection. Plus, if you frequently come into contact with pets or animals, this may expose you to the fungus that causes ringworm infections. [9

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Is Ringworm Contagious? 

Ringworm or tinea is a contagious infection that can easily spread. This infection spreads in three main ways. Firstly, getting into contact with someone who has a ringworm infection can increase your risk of getting infected, too. Sharing personal belongings such as combs or towels with someone who has ringworm can also spread the disease. [10

Secondly, you can get ringworm upon contact with certain surfaces. The fungi thrive on damp, moist, and warm surfaces. Hence, walking barefoot in locker rooms, swimming pools, or communal showers increases the risk of getting tinea pedis (athlete’s foot). [11

Lastly, people may get a ringworm infection after getting into contact with an animal with a ringworm infestation. Animals such as cats and dogs, in particular kittens and puppies, can spread this infection upon contact. Cows, pigs, goats, and horses are also capable of spreading this infection to humans. [10


However, there is one type of tinea infection that isn’t contagious, and that’s tinea versicolor. 

How Long Does Ringworm Last? 

Mild cases usually subside entirely after 2 to 4 weeks. However, more severe cases may take up to 3 months to clear up, even with treatment. Infections that affect the nails or scalp may require treatment for a few months. [11

Does Ringworm Go Away By Itself? 

A mild case may go away on its own without any treatment, but this can take months. Usually, treatment will help to clear up the infection quicker. 

How Do You Get Rid Of Ringworm Fast? 

There’s no miracle cure for overnight success. However, proper treatment will usually speed up recovery. Treatment of ringworm infections commonly takes 2-4 weeks. Severe cases involving the scalp or nails typically take 1-3 months to clear up, even with treatment. [12

Non-prescription antifungal formulations can be used to treat ringworm infections of the skin, such as tinea pedis (athlete’s foot) or tinea cruris (jock’s itch). These are topical creams, lotions, or powders that are applied directly to the skin. [12

Some examples of antifungals that treat ringworm infections are clotrimazole, miconazole, terbinafine, and ketoconazole. [12

These antifungals are highly potent in treating these infections. You may notice your symptoms improving within a few days. Even then, if you do not treat the condition long enough, the ringworm might reappear in a few weeks. [15

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Ringworm involving the scalp requires prescription antifungal medications and requires treatment for 1-3 months. These medications are taken orally (by mouth) as creams, lotions, or powders are not effective enough to clear off the infection of the scalp. [12

It is crucial you follow the instructions given by your healthcare professional. Avoid skipping treatment days or ceasing the medication prematurely without consulting your healthcare provider beforehand. 

Are There Any Home Remedies To Treat Ringworm? 

Tea tree oil may be used as a home remedy for mild cases of athlete’s foot. It is applied directly to the affected area. Do not take it by mouth as it is toxic if ingested. [13]

Besides that, aloe vera gel may help to soothe the itchiness and irritation due to the infection. 

Some resources may recommend using apple cider vinegar as a treatment applied directly to the skin. Do NOT do this, as the acidic nature of this solution may lead to open sores and scarring. [13, 14]

What Happens If Ringworm Is Not Treated?

If left untreated, ringworm may spread to other parts of your body. Because ringworm is contagious, you may pass it on to other people in your household, especially if the infection lasts longer. More serious cases of ringworm may even lead to hair loss or scarring.

When Should You See The Doctor? 

Mild cases affecting the skin can be treated with non-prescription medications that you can attain from the pharmacy. However, if the condition involves the scalp, you will need to see a doctor for an oral antifungal prescription. [1

For any case of ringworm infection, seek medical attention if your symptoms worsen, even with treatment. 

If you have diabetes or are on chemotherapy drugs, steroids, or immunosuppressive medications, you may have a weakened immune system. In this case, see your doctor if you get a ringworm infection. [1

How Do You Prevent Ringworm? 

To prevent getting or spreading the infection, try your best to do the following:-

  • Change your clothes every day, including your innerwear.  
  • Avoid occlusive shoes. Wear open-toed shoes that allow air circulation around your feet. 
  • Do not share your towels or personal belongings. 
  • Avoid walking barefoot in swimming pool areas, public showers, or locker rooms. Wear a pair of thongs instead. 
  • Keep your skin dry and clean at all times. 
  • Shower immediately after performing activities that cause you to sweat.
  • Keep your fingernails and toenails clean and short.
  • Wear clothes that are breathable and not occlusive. 
  • If you have ringworm, wash your clothes, towels, and beddings with hot soapy water. 
  • Avoid touching the infected area. Wash your hands thoroughly after touching or applying medication to the site. [9, 16]
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If you suspect your pet has ringworm, take it to the vet to check. Say your pet has a ringworm infection. In that case, do the following:- 

  • Protect your pet’s health by ensuring it gets appropriate treatment. 
  • Ensure that every pet in the household is checked for ringworm as well. 
  • Keep the environment of your home clean
  • Wash any bedding or tools that your pet comes into contact with regularly. [17]

How Do You Prevent Ringworm From Spreading?

These are some of the most practical ways to prevent spreading the infection to someone else or to other parts of your body:

  • As tempting as it is, try to avoid scratching the area. If you do touch the area during the application of your medication, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Do not share your personal belongings with your friends or family. This includes articles of clothing, such as hats.
  • Treat the area for as long as your doctor has recommended. Stopping treatment early may result in your ringworm returning soon after.
  • If you’re using equipment in public places, such as the gym, be sure to wipe down the equipment before and after use.

Bottom line: Managing Ringworm Infections

Ringworm is a curable infection that is effectively treated with antifungal medications. Ringworm of the skin can resolve within 2-4 weeks, while an infection involving the nails or scalp may take a few months to clear up. 

If you have any doubts or questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider.

Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not replace the advice given by your own healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.


  • Jasmine Chiam, B.Pharm

    Jasmine is a Bachelor of Pharmacy graduate from Monash University. She started off as a freelance writer for various medical companies, startups, and wellness organizations in the health and medical field. Now, she manages HealthPlugged’s entire content team. LinkedIn


Jasmine is a Bachelor of Pharmacy graduate from Monash University. She started off as a freelance writer for various medical companies, startups, and wellness organizations in the health and medical field. Now, she manages HealthPlugged’s entire content team. LinkedIn