Different fungi, depending on their location on the body, cause ringworm. It is caused by a fungal infection--not an actual worm. Fungi on the skin, hair, and nail bed are called dermatophytes. Also referred to by doctors as Tinea infections, infection on the scalp, arms, legs, face, and trunk is characterized by ring-shaped, red, scaly patches with clearing centers. Tinea infections of the feet, nails, and genital areas are not generally referred to as ringworm, as they may not take on the typical ring shape. There is an increased risk of contracting ringworm and other tinea infections if a person:
Has poor hygiene
Lives in a warm climate
Has contact with other people or pets that have ringworm
Is immunocompromised by disease or medication
Plays contact sports, such as wrestling
Uses communal baths or locker rooms
The most common types of ringworm include the following:
Athlete's foot (tinea pedis). This common condition mostly affects teen and adult males. It less frequently affects children before puberty. Contributing causes include sweating, not drying the feet well after swimming or bathing, wearing tight socks and shoes, and warm weather conditions. Symptoms of athlete's foot may include:
Whitening of the skin between the toes
Scaling of the feet
Itchy rash on the feet
Blisters on the feet
Jock itch (tinea cruris). Ringworm may be hard to cure. This condition is also more common in males and occurs more often during warm weather conditions. It is very rare in females. Symptoms of jock itch may include:
Red, ring-like patches in the groin area
Itching in the groin area
Pain in the groin area
Does not usually involve the scrotum
Scalp ringworm (tinea capitis). Scalp ringworm is highly contagious, especially among children. It occurs mainly in children between the ages of 2 to 10. It rarely occurs in adults. Symptoms of scalp ringworm may include:
Red, scaly rash on the scalp
Itching of the scalp
Hair loss on the scalp
Rash elsewhere on the body
Ringworm of the scalp can also develop into a kerion, a large, tender lesion over the area of the initial ringworm. This is caused by a hypersensitivity to the ringworm and may be associated with a rash elsewhere and tender lymph nodes in the neck.
Nail infection (tinea unguium). An infection of the finger or toe nail, this type is characterized by a thickened, deformed nail. This condition more often affects the toenails than the fingernails. It occurs more often in adolescents and adults rather than young children. Symptoms of nail ringworm may include:
Thickening of the ends of the nails
Yellow color to the nails
Body ringworm (tinea corporis). This skin infection is characterized by a ring-like rash anywhere on the body or the face. It occurs in all ages, but is seen more frequently in children. It is more common in warmer climates. The symptoms of body ringworm may include:
Red, circular lesion with raised edges
The middle of the lesion may become less red as the lesion grows
Itching of the affected area
The symptoms of ringworm may resemble other skin conditions. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.
Ringworm is usually diagnosed based on a medical history and physical examination. The lesions of ringworm are unique, and usually allow for a diagnosis simply on physical examination. In addition, your doctor may order a culture or skin scraping of the lesion to confirm the diagnosis.
Ringworm may be hard to cure. Specific treatment will be determined by your doctor based on:
Your age, overall health, and medical history
Extent of the condition
Location of the ringworm
Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
Expectations for the course of the condition
Your opinion or preference
Treatment for scalp ringworm (tinea capitis) may include an oral antifungal medication that is usually prescribed for four to eight weeks. Some people require longer treatment. Treatment for scalp ringworm may also involve the use of a special shampoo, to help eliminate the fungus. If a kerion is present (a large, tender, swollen lesion) or you have developed a secondary abscess or bacterial infection, your doctor may order additional medications, such as steroids, to help reduce the swelling.
Treatment for ringworm of the body, groin, and foot is usually a topical antifungal agent or an oral antifungal medication. The length of the treatment depends on the location of the ringworm. Because the fungi can live indefinitely on the skin, recurrences of ringworm are likely. Treatment may need to be repeated.
If you have ringworm symptoms, see your health provider for treatment recommendations. It is important to note that common home remedies do not effectively treat this condition.