Ringworm is a common fungal infection. Usually, a ringworm rash will form a circular or oval-shaped rash on the skin. It often appears on the feet, hands, groin, nails, and scalp.

The fungi responsible for ringworm thrive in hot, moist environments, such as the tropics, or more specifically, locker rooms and indoor pools.

Sometimes, we classify ringworm by the area of the body that it affects — other names include jock itch and athlete’s foot. A doctor may also refer to the rash as tinea or dermatophytosis.

Anyone, of any age, can develop this infection. On darker skin, the rash may be brown or gray. On lighter skin, it may be red.

The rash usually develops 4–14 days after the person comes into contact with the fungi and develops the infection.

A person with a weakened immune system is more likely to experience symptoms of the infection.

Beyond the rash, ringworm can occur with itchiness, cracked skin, and hair loss. Other symptoms depend on the location of the infection, which may be:

The feet

Commonly known as athlete’s foot, ringworm on the feet causes the skin between the toes to become itchy and scaly, and it may also soften, blister, and bleed.

The infection may spread to the heels and soles, and touching the feet can cause the ringworm to spread to the hands.

Learn more about athlete’s foot here.

The hands

On the hands, the rash may resemble very dry skin that cracks. These skin changes may form in ring-shaped patches.

Learn more about ringworm on the hands, or tinea manuum, here.

The groin

Ringworm on the groin is also known as jock itch. It may first appear where the leg meets the body, then spread to the inner thigh.

The infected area is often itchy and sore, with scaling, flaking skin.

Learn more about jock itch here.

The nails

Ringworm can affect the fingernails, toenails, or both, and an infection in these areas causes no visible rash.

Thickening of the nails is an early sign, and the nails may change color, start to disintegrate, and seem to rise away from the nail bed.

The scalp

Ringworm on the scalp is also known as tinea capitis. It is more common in children than adults and especially common in kids aged 3–7.

Tinea capitis is contagious, and it can cause scaly, itchy bald patches to form. Not everyone exposed to the fungi develops this rash, however.

Learn more about ringworm on the scalp here.

Arms, legs, and trunk

On these areas of the body, ringworm is most likely to cause its characteristic circular rash with raised edges.

The infection gets its name because the raised edges may look a little like worms.

The beard area

Ringworm in this area commonly affects agricultural workers who have contact with infected animals.

The affected skin on the face and neck may:

  • swell
  • turn reddish or purplish
  • develop pus-filled bumps
  • lose hair
  • otherwise look and feel damaged

Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications can treat ringworm. The location of the infection helps determine the right type and length of treatment.

Always follow the instructions carefully and complete the full course of treatment, even if the rash and other symptoms fade. Also, wash the hands thoroughly after applying the medication, to prevent the infection from spreading.

Experts recommend the following, if the infection is on the:

  • Feet: A person typically uses an OTC spray or cream for at least 2–4 weeks.
  • Hands: Depending on the severity of the infection, a doctor may recommend mild antifungal medication or more powerful treatments.
  • Groin: Using an OTC powder, cream, or spray twice a day for up to 2 weeks is usually effective, and applying cool, wet compresses several times a day can help. It is essential for people with this infection to wash their clothes after wearing them.
  • Nails: This requires prescription antifungal medication, often for a long period.
  • Scalp: A person needs a course of prescription medication, often for 1–3 months. The person and everyone in their household may need to use an antifungal shampoo.
  • Beard: This requires a tailored treatment plan that may involve prescription medication, shaving, and the removal of damaged tissue.

As a general rule, it is important to keep the affected area dry, clean, and as cool as possible.

Learn about home remedies for ringworm here.

Ringworm is contagious, and regular handwashing helps prevent its spread. Also, avoid contact with any animals other people who have recently had the infection.

Also, the fungus can survive on objects for quite a while. Regularly cleaning shared objects in a household or workplace, for example, is key. A person should avoid touching anything recently held or operated by a person with ringworm before the object is cleaned.

It may be a good idea for people living in close quarters, such as military housing, dormitories, or summer camps, to avoid sharing combs, phones, razors, or towels. It is also advisable to wear flip flops or waterproof shoes in widely shared showers or pool areas.

Make sure that children with ringworm do not share toys, clothes, towels, or bedding.

Anyone who thinks that their pet may have ringworm should take them to a veterinarian for treatment and disinfect the home by:

  • washing and bleaching, if possible, the pet’s bedding and favorite areas
  • vacuuming areas that the pet has access to
  • making sure that everyone is washing their hands with soap and water after touching the pet

How long is ringworm contagious? Find out here.

A professional visual examination is a key element in diagnosing a ringworm rash — not all of these rashes have the telltale circular shape with raised edges. Thickening of the nails can also be a key indication.

While it is possible for a person to correctly identify ringworm and effectively treat it with OTC medications, see a doctor of the symptoms do not improve or worsen.

Dermatologists can make a definitive diagnosis by taking a biopsy, a small sample of an affected area of nail, hair, or skin. An analysis can show whether the fungi are present.

A person might mistake a ringworm rash for other skin conditions, including:

Receiving an accurate diagnosis is important and can ensure that treatment is effective.

Learn about other causes of circular rashes here.

Ringworm is a common fungal infection that can develop on many areas of the body. The specific symptoms, including skin changes, and the right treatments depend on the affected area.

Itchiness is generally a key symptom of a ringworm rash, which may be circular and have raised edges. A doctor may also look for thickening of the fingernails or toenails.

Ringworm tends to respond well to OTC treatment, but if symptoms persist, a doctor can prescribe stronger medication.