The Independent Pharmacy

Ringworm vs. Eczema: What’s The Difference?

Scott McDougall
Scott McDougallMPharmDirector & Registered Manager

Reviewed on 26 Jan 2023

However, despite their similarities, nummular eczema and ringworm are two entirely different conditions, with their own unique risk factors and treatment options. If you suspect one of these conditions to be responsible for your symptoms, read on — we’ll help you figure out exactly what you’re dealing with.

What is eczema?

Eczema (also known as dermatitis) is an extremely common skin condition — studies show it affects 1 in 5 children and 1 in 10 adults in the UK.

Eczema causes a rash on the upper layer of your skin. It is usually itchy, red, and scaly, and can appear in any area of the skin, including the scalp, hands, arms, legs, and face.

Eczema isn’t contagious, nor is it particularly serious, but it can be extremely irritating, uncomfortable, and embarrassing to live with. Eczema usually fades by itself, but it can come and go throughout a person’s lifetime. There is no cure for eczema, but there are plenty of ways to manage the symptoms and prevent further flare-ups.

The way you treat your eczema will depend on its type. There are seven different kinds of eczema:

  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Neurodermatitis (discoid eczema)
  • Dyshidrotic eczema (pompholyx)
  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Stasis dermatitis
  • Nummular eczema

Nummular eczema produces small round lesions. These lesions tend to be itchy, red, and inflamed, and they may also ooze puss. Nummular eczema is commonly confused with ringworm.

Below, we’ll discuss how you can treat nummular eczema. For more information on the different types of eczema mentioned above, head over to our eczema types guide.

What is nummular eczema?

Nummular eczema generally presents in a similar way to atopic eczema but draws similarities with ringworm due to its disc-shaped appearance. Nummular eczema may develop as a result of:

  • Stress
  • Damage to the skin’s protective barrier
  • Dry or sensitive skin
  • A contact dermatitis flare-up
  • Certain medications such as statins, interferon, and ribavirin

You’re likely suffering from nummular eczema if you notice:

  • Circular, discoloured lesions on the skin, usually found on the hands or fingers, but which may also develop on the arms, legs or feet, and shoulders. Colours can range from red or pink to grey, purple and brown.
  • An itchy, burning sensation, ranging from mild to severe.
  • Inflamed or scaly skin around the lesion.

If you suspect nummular eczema, it’s best to visit your GP to get an official diagnosis. They may deem it necessary to test for infections and allergies before treating your symptoms.

How to treat nummular eczema

Treatment options for nummular eczema include:

  • Topically-applied corticosteroids such as HC45 Cream — help to reduce inflammation and any severe symptoms you’re experiencing.
  • Emollients such as Dermol Cream — helps to moisturise the skin and replenish its protective barrier.
  • Antihistamines such as Piriton — these medications can be taken to reduce itchiness and inflammation.

If you’re suffering from nummular eczema, it’s also a good idea to switch to a gentle, dermatologist-approved bath soap or shower gel. The harmful chemicals in most regular soap formulations may exacerbate your condition.

If your symptoms are particularly severe or you’ve developed an infection, your doctor may also prescribe you other medication, such as antibiotics.

What is ringworm?

Despite its misleading name, ringworm isn’t caused by parasitic worms. It’s actually a contagious fungal infection caused by dermatophytes. Dermatophytes are a type of fungi that feed on keratin; a protein found in skin, hair, and nails.

Symptoms of ringworm include:

  • An itchy, irritated, ring-shaped rash, occurring anywhere on the body (including the scalp and groin)
  • Skin inside this ring may appear clear or scaly
  • Discolouration — rash may appear red, purple, brown, or grey, depending on your skin tone

As ringworm is contagious, it’s always advised that you:

  • Begin treatment as soon as you notice symptoms
  • Wash your towels and bedsheets regularly, and never share combs, towels or bedsheets with someone who has ringworm
  • Maintain good hygiene — wash your hands regularly with an antibacterial soap, especially after touching animals or soil
  • Take your pet to the vet if you suspect they have ringworm
  • Avoid scratching your rash

How to treat ringworm

If you suspect you have ringworm, you must receive confirmation from your pharmacist or GP before attempting to treat your condition. Once they’ve examined your rash, they’ll decide whether to prescribe you antifungal medication. This may come in the form of a gel, cream, or spray, depending on the nature of your rash. You may also require specially-formulated shampoo if the rash is on your scalp.

Antifungal medications such as Clotrimazole Cream or Daktacort Cream are highly-effective against ringworm, and you should see results within a week or so of treatment. However, as with antibiotics, you must continue your treatment per your doctor’s orders, even if the rash has gone away.

If your rash shows no signs of improvement even after the use of medication, seek further advice from your GP.

How can you tell the difference between ringworm and eczema?

The symptoms of nummular eczema and ringworm are incredibly similar. This is why it’s always best to seek the advice of a medical professional.


Condition

Cause

Symptoms

Contagious?

Treatment

Nummular eczema

May be triggered by stress, damage to the skin’s protective barrier, dry or sensitive skin, contact dermatitis, or certain medications

Itchy, discoloured, and inflamed skin, accompanied by a ring-shaped rash.

No

Emollient creams, topical corticosteroids, and antihistamines

Ringworm

A fungal infection

Itchy, discoloured and inflamed skin, accompanied by a ring-shaped rash.

Yes

Antifungal creams, sprays, gels, or shampoo.


Skin conditions can be embarrassing at the best of times, especially if they’re visible to others. Fortunately, both of the conditions mentioned above are easily treated. A prescription or over-the-counter antifungal cream can be used to treat ringworm at home. And while nummular eczema cannot be cured, its symptoms are treatable with over-the-counter medications and prescription medication. So, no matter which one you’re suffering with, the best advice is to seek the guidance of a medical professional — either your doctor or local pharmacist. They’ll be able to get you on the path to recovery.

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Scott McDougall
Written by Scott McDougall

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