What is ringworm?

Ringworm is a contagious fungal skin infection, named after its unique ring-shaped appearance. Ringworm is most common on your torso, scalp, groin or feet. Jock itch (in the groin) and athlete’s foot are both types of ringworm.

Causes of ringworm

Ringworm is caused by fungi that is found in soil, but can live on any surface, including your skin. It is very common for animals to come in contact with the fungus and spread the infection to humans. Your dog or cat may have ringworm if you notice hairless patches on their fur.

The infection spreads through contact with the fungus, which can happen when you touch the hair or skin of an infected person – including yourself – or a surface that contains fungi like clothing and shoes, bedding, personal items, exercise equipment and the floor.

Risk factors for ringworm

Risk factors for ringworm include:

  • Communal environments — public pool and shower floors, along with exercise machines, tables or mats, are a common place for ringworm-causing fungi to live.
  • Pets — dog and cat owners may be more likely to pick up ringworm from an infected pet.
  • Sports — athletes who participate in barefoot or skin-to-skin sports, like gymnastics and wrestling, are more at risk for athlete’s foot and jock itch.

Symptoms of ringworm

Symptoms of ringworm include:

  • Red, itchy rash often with defined edges
  • Dry or scaly patches
  • Ring-shaped rash — raised, red edge with light center, most commonly found on the body

Diagnosis of ringworm

Ringworm is diagnosed in a physical exam with your primary care provider. They will look at the rash and talk with you about symptoms and possible exposure. Occasionally, they might take a small skin scraping and send it to a laboratory to confirm the presence of fungi that causes the ringworm infection.

Treatments for ringworm

Ringworm is treated with topical antifungal medication. Athlete’s foot and jock itch typically only require an over-the-counter antifungal ointment. Severe cases of ringworm on the body or scalp might require a prescription antifungal cream.

Clothing and slip-on shoes, hairbrushes, sheets and towels, exercise mats and other items that might come into contact with your rash should be washed frequently (daily or every other day) to prevent spreading the infection.

Recovery from ringworm

With antifungal treatment, ringworm usually fades in 1-3 weeks. You should continue to apply your recommended medication until the rash is completely gone. Avoid scratching the infected skin, which may cause fungus to spread to other parts of your body.

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