Symptoms of Ringworm

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Ringworm causes a raised, red, scaly rash that typically forms in circular or ring-shaped patches. In certain areas, though, ringworm may not show up in the classic ring. In places like the scalp, hands and feet, groin, or beard area, ringworm may simply cause a scaly, itchy rash without the circular shape.

Knowing which signs and symptoms of ringworm to look for will help you seek proper diagnosis and treatment.

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Frequent Symptoms

Anyone can get ringworm, but it's particularly common in children. Ringworm symptoms can vary depending on the affected region of the body, which spans from your head to your toes. So, ringworm rashes on the stomach can look very different compared to ringworm on the scalp, for example.

In all areas, the first sign of ringworm is often a small, red, scaly area of skin. Just before the rash appears, you may feel some minor burning or itching. Ringworm is generally red, but the rash may be brown or grey in color.

Ringworm of the Body (Tinea Corporis)

You get the typical, ring-shaped ringworm rash on the trunk, arms, and legs. First, you'll find a small, scaly area on the skin that itches. The scaly area progresses quickly to form a slightly raised, ring-shaped rash. As the rash spreads, the rings grow in diameter. The skin inside the ring may be clear and appear normal or have red and flaky patches. Sometimes the rash resembles a bullseye. As the rash progresses small blisters can form, causing oozing and crusting.

The rings aren't always circular; they can also grow in an irregular shape. You may have just one ring or several. They can be separate or overlap.

Ringworm of the Face (Tinea Faciei)

Ringworm on the face can take on the classic ring-shaped rash, but not always. Instead, you may just notice raised, red, scaly patches that itch.

Ringworm in the Beard Area (Tinea Barbae)

For men, ringworm can also appear in the beard area. Ringworm in the beard area causes crusty, flaky areas of skin. The hair can break or fall out, causing bald patches in the beard. Ringworm here often forms bumps and blisters that can be confused with acne or folliculitis.

Ringworm of the Scalp (Tinera Capitis)

On the scalp, you won't likely notice a ring. Instead, you'll have flaky, itchy patches. These patches can be red, silvery grey, or crusty yellow. Your hair can get brittle and break or fall out easily. Very often it causes bald patches. Scalp ringworm is fairly common in toddlers and school-aged children.

Ringworm of the Feet AKA "Athlete's Foot" (Tinea Pedis)

Athlete's foot is caused by the same group of fungi, dermatophytes, that cause ringworm. Instead of a ring-shaped rash, you'll get dry, peeling, itchy skin, especially between the toes. Your feet might burn or sting. After a while, the sole of your foot may thicken like a callus. Athlete's foot is common in teens and adults, but rare before adolescence.

Ringworm in the Groin Area AKA "Jock Itch" (Tinea Cruris)

Like athlete's foot, jock itch is caused by the same group of fungi that cause ringworm. Jock itch causes a red to brown rash in the creases of the skin around the groin. It can spread to thighs, buttocks, and stomach. The rash is scaly and raised. It often itches but not always. It may just feel painful. Jock itch is more common in men than women, and like athlete's foot it is rare in children.

Ringworm of the Hands (Tinea Manus)

Ringworm can also appear on the hands. If it appears on the back of the hands, you'll likely get the classic itchy, ring-shaped rash. On the palms and between the fingers, though, you may mistake it for dry skin because of dryness, peeling, and cracking. You may also notice thickening of the skin, like a callus, as time goes on.

Ringworm of the Nails (Tinea Unguium)

Also called onychomycosis, this fungal infection can also affect the nail. It can happen in both the fingernails and the toenails, but it tends to be more common in the toes. The nails will be discolored, thickened, and brittle. They may lift off of the nail bed.

Possible Complications

Really serious complications from ringworm are extremely rare. In the vast majority of cases, it goes away quickly with treatment.

Spreading

The biggest complication to look for is spreading to other areas of your body. Ringworm can be easily spread by touching infected spots and then touching other areas of your skin.

Dark Marks

After ringworm has healed, some people may have a dark mark left where the rash was. This is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. These marks can happen after an inflammatory wound, like a ringworm rash, has healed. Some people are more prone to developing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and it's more common in those with dark complexions.

Secondary Infections

Secondary bacterial infections can also happen if bacteria invade broken skin. They can be more common in children because they are more likely to give in to scratching, breaking the skin and allowing opportunistic bacteria to take hold. Signs of a secondary bacterial infection include redness, pain, swelling, pimple-like bumps, heat, and oozing. If the fungal infection is left untreated in the nails for a long period of time, your nails may become misshapen.

Abscess

A type of abscess called a kerion can also develop if you are super sensitive to the fungi that cause ringworm or if it is left untreated. Kerions most commonly develop on the scalp but can develop anywhere you have ringworm. They are large, inflamed, pus-filled lumps. They feel mushy and typically cause bald patches where they form.

These bald patches can be temporary or permanent depending on how much damage has been done to the skin. Some people also get a fever and generally feel unwell.

Deep or Widespread Infections

Although rare, the fungi that cause ringworm can sometimes cause a deeper infection called Mojocchi granuloma. Ringworm typically affects just the surface of the skin, called the epidermis. In Mojocchi granuloma the fungus travels down the hair follicle and infects the deeper skin layers, called the dermis. Topical treatments can rarely reach these deeper areas, so oral medications are needed to treat Mojocchi granuloma.

Widespread fungal infection, where the fungus grows unchecked over large areas of the body, is extremely rare but can happen in people who have compromised immune systems—for example, if you have HIV/AIDS or are going through chemotherapy. Also, those with weakened immune systems and the elderly may have a harder time fighting ringworm infection, even with treatment.

When to See a Doctor

Ringworm isn't a serious problem in most cases. But there are some instances where you will want to see a doctor.

  • You've used an OTC anti-fungal medication for two weeks with no improvement.
  • You have ringworm on the scalp. Treating scalp ringworm as soon as possible is important to help prevent hair loss.
  • You have ringworm over large areas of your body, or it's spreading quickly.
  • Your ringworm patches become infected (swollen, oozing, hot, and painful).
  • You're not sure if what you have is really ringworm. Any time you have an unidentified rash, it should be checked out by a physician.

Ringworm can easily be treated in most cases, but you don't want to ignore it. Your physician can help you treat it.

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