The Basics of Ringworm

Health Writer

Ringworm is common childhood fungal infection called tinea which appears on the body. Anyone, at any age, can get ringworm however it is much more common in children. Tinea is the same fungal infection that causes jock itch and athlete's foot but is called by different names based on the location of the rash. Although not serious and fairly easy to treat, it can cause discomfort and can be quite unpleasant. Despite the name, it is not caused by a worm and has nothing to do with worms.


Ringworm appears as a red, raised, scaly patch. It is usually circular with clearly defined edges. The red patches are frequently redder around the edges which makes it look like a ring (thus the name). It may appear as more than one ring and the rings can overlap or it may not be a ring at all but look like a rash. The scaly patches may blister and ooze.

If ringworm appears on your scalp, your hair will probably fall out in the area of the patch. It can also appear on your nails. Your nails will thicken and become discolored and may crumble.

Ringworm patches are usually itchy and uncomfortable.

Ringworm is Contagious

Ringworm, like athlete's foot, can easily spread from one person to another. It can also be spread by touching an object, such as clothing or towels, that someone with ringworm used. Animals can also get ringworm and it can be spread from animal to human.

Towels, hair brushes, hats, shoes, clothing and other personal items should not be shared. If you know someone who has ringworm, you should avoid direct physical contact until after he or she has been properly treated. Floors and bathrooms, especially if someone has ringworm, should be cleaned using an fungicidal soap or cleaner. If you are using common bathrooms and showers, such as in a locker room, make sure to not touch personal items of others and be sure to wear flip flops or water shoes.

The exact incubation period is not known, however, ringworm may appear anywhere from 4 to 14 days after contact.

Any items or clothing used by someone with ringworm should be washed separately, in hot water, to destroy the fungus.


In many cases, ringworm is treated with over-the-counter antifungal ointments or creams. Usually, this helps. In addition, you should keep your skin dry and clean and avoid wearing clothing that will rub or irritate the area. You should wash sheets and clothing everyday while until the ringworm is cleared up in order to prevent spreading the infection to others.

For stubborn or hard-to-treat ringworm you should contact your doctor. That means if at-home treatment doesn't clear it up or it returns after treatment. You should also contact your doctor if your ringworm is on your scalp or your nails as this may need special care and oral antifungal medication. .


"Ringworm," Revised 2011, Oct, Staff Writer, New York State Department of Health

"Ringworm (Tinea) Fact Sheet," 2008, APril, Staff Writer, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene