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Ringworm, or as it is medically known ‘tinea corporis’ is a highly infectious fungal skin condition. The infection is common and will present itself as ring-shaped red rash on the skin. Ringworm can occur almost anywhere on the body, with the feet, groin and scalp being the most common locations. The infection is not serious and is easily treated using anti-fungal cream and other treatments, which are readily available from pharmacies.
Despite the name, ringworm doesn’t have any connections with worms; it is instead caused by fungi called dermatophytes. Dermatophytes feed on a substance called keratin, which can be found in the skin, nails and hair. The reason the condition is known as ringworm is simply due to the ring or worm-shaped appearance of the rash.
The symptoms of ringworm can differ slightly depending on which part of the body it is affecting. If you are experiencing ringworm on the body then the symptoms will likely be a red, ring shaped rash on the skin. The ring itself will appear red and irritated, whereas the skin inside will appear healthy and unaffected. In some, more severe cases of ringworm, the rash can duplicate and increase in size, in some cases merging together with other rings. In severe cases of ringworm you may experience pus-filled blisters and sores around the rash with the rings themselves feeling raised to the touch.
The fungus that causes ringworm is the same that is responsible for causing athlete’s foot and fungal nail infections. Hence a fungal infection (or ringworm) of the foot is called athlete’s foot and when it is spread to the nail it is simply know as a fungal nail infection (not ringworm of the nail!). You can find out more about athlete’s foot and fungal nail infections on their respective pages. If you have ringworm on your body it is important to treat it promptly to prevent it spreading elsewhere.
Ringworm can also affect the scalp. The symptoms of scalp ringworm include an itchy, sore scalp with the appearance of patchy, scaly skin. If suffering with a more severe case of scalp ringworm then you may experience pus-filled sores and crusting on the scalp. In extreme cases of scalp ringworm you may develop a large sore known as a Kerion. This sore will be inflamed with a tendency to ooze pus.
Ringworm can also affect the groin area and is often referred to ‘jock itch’ or ’dhobie itch’. Ringworm of the groin will present with red-brown spots which may be blister or be pus-filled around the edge. The area will feel sore and itchy, with the skin on your inner thigh often becoming scaly and flaky. The good news is that the genitals themselves are not usually affected!
It’s worth noting that ringworm of the foot, nail and groin won’t necessarily present itself as a ring-like shape.
In most cases of simple ringworm, you can diagnose the condition yourself, or with the aid of a healthcare professional. Normal cases of ringworm can then be treated using over-the-counter antifungal medicines as detailed below in ‘Treatment’.
If you are unsure or you have a more serious case your GP is usually able to perform a diagnosis by visually inspecting your skin or scalp. When prescribing anti-fungal medication it is important to know exactly what type of fungus is causing the infection, as certain antifungal medications work better at combating certain types of fungi. To ascertain the specific type of fungus, your doctor may remove a small sample of affected skin, which can then be sent to the laboratory for testing. A microscopic analysis will be able to identify exactly what type of fungus is causing the infection so that your GP can then suggest or prescribe the most effective treatment.
Treatment for ringworm differs depending on where the infection is located. If you are suffering from ringworm of the body (including the groin) then the recommended treatment involves antifungal creams, gels or sprays. They are available to buy without a prescription. Examples of suitable antifungal preparations include:
- Clotrimazole 1% Cream (generic)
- Canesten Cream
- Canesten Hydrcortisone Cream
- Daktarin Miconazole 2% Cream
- Daktarin Gold Cream 2%
- Daktarin Powder
These treatments are usually applied to the affected area once or twice daily for up to two weeks. When using these treatments it is recommended to apply to the rash and to one inch of skin beyond the edge of the rash, to ensure none of the fungus remains. Always read the manufacturers leaflet for additional information.
For foot ringworm and nail ringworm there are several tailored treatments available over-the-counter. See the athlete’s foot and fungal nail infections sections for more details.
If you are suffering with ringworm of the scalp then this can be easily treated using a variety of antifungal shampoos, which are available over-the-counter without prescription. These shampoos usually contain ketoconazole or selenium sulphide and should ideally be used twice a week for the first two weeks of treatment. Examples of antifungal shampoos include:
Contracting ringworm doesn’t necessarily involve direct contact with an infected person or animal. The fungal spores that cause the infection are highly resilient and can live for months on household objects such as clothing, furniture, hairbrushes and towels. To help prevent an infection from returning or spreading it is recommended to:
- Avoid sharing personal items which me be harbouring the fungi spores.
- Promote high levels of personal hygiene, ensuring all family member wash their hands frequently
- Try and avoid scratching the area(s) of skin affected by ringworm as this can spread the infection to other areas of your body
- Use a hot wash cycle to wash bed linen and towels. If possible, washing different people’s bedding and clothing separately
- Ensure every family member infected with ringworm is receiving the appropriate treatment
- If you suspect a pet to be the source of infection then it is recommended to take them to your vet for treatment.
Having ringworm isn’t considered reason to stay off work or school, so long as good personal hygiene is followed and appropriate treatment sought.
Is ringworm anything to do with worms?
No, ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin and has no relation to worms in any way. It gets the name ringworm from its red, raised, circular appearance.
Is ringworm the same as athlete’s foot?
Athlete’s foot is sometimes called ringworm of the foot. This is because the same fungus that causes ringworm also causes athlete’s foot and other fungal infection like jock itch. All are similar fungal infections that are treated in the same way with topical antifungals.
The red ring appears to be getting bigger, is this normal?
Yes, if you do not treat your ringworm infection it will start to spread and the red ring will grow in size. You will notice, as the ring grows larger, the skin inside may appear to return to normal, this is a distinctive sign of ringworm. It is important to treat ringworm as quickly as possible to prevent spread on yourself and to others.
Do I need to see a doctor to treat ringworm?
Most cases of ringworm can be self-diagnosed and treated using over-the-counter antifungal creams such as clotrimazole cream. Cases of ringworm that haven’t responded to treatment after 2 weeks should be referred to your GP for further investigation and treatment.
What treatment should I use for ringworm?
Most topical antifungal creams will be effective in treating ringworm. Canesten cream, clotimazole cream or Lamisil cream are all applied once or twice daily to the affected area for 10-14 days to treat ringworm.
Who is most likely to get ringworm?
You are more likely to get ringworm if you:
- Live in damp, crowded or humid conditions
- Are in close contact with an infected person or animal
- Share clothing, bedding or towels with an infected person
- Participate in contact sports
- Have a weakened immune system
- Sweat excessively
Is ringworm contagious?
Yes, ringworm is extremely contagious; treatment should be started as soon as possible. Ringworm is spread by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person or animal so ensure you do not touch areas of infection on yourself or others.
Can I catch ringworm from my pets?
Yes, ringworm is one of the few conditions that can spread between animals and humans. If you suspect that you have caught ringworm from an infected animal, you should ensure that both yourself and the animal are treated at the same time to stop a cycle of re-infection.
How soon will symptoms appear if I think I may have caught ringworm?
If you have caught ringworm from an infected person symptoms will normally take 4 – 10 days to appear. It is important to start treatment as soon as you see the rash develop.