Symptoms of Ringworm

Ringworm (dermatophytosis) is a fungal infection that gets its name from the circular rash it usually creates on the skin. The rash is typically red, scaly, and itchy, though ringworm can cause vastly different symptoms when it affects the face, hands, or scalp.

Common Symptoms of Ringworm

© Verywell

Ringworm can also manifest as athlete's foot (tinea pedis), jock itch (tinea cruris), and nail fungus (tinea unguium), which come with additional symptoms.

This article describes the signs and symptoms of ringworm in its different forms, including possible complications. It also explains when it is time to seek treatment from a healthcare provider.

Frequent Symptoms of Ringworm

The classic first sign of ringworm is a small, red, scaly area of skin. Just before the rash appears, you may feel mild burning, tingling, or itching.

The ringworm rash is usually red but can sometimes turn a brownish or gray color.

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Ringworm of the Body
 DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

There are, however, symptom variations depending on the body part ringworm affects.

Ringworm of the Body (Tinea Corporis)

Ringworm of the body (tinea corporis) causes a rash on the trunk, arms, and legs. It typically starts with a small, scaly area on the skin that itches. The scaly area progresses quickly to form the classic ringworm rash, circular in shape with slightly raised edges. As the rash spreads, the ring will grow outward in a symmetrical circular pattern.

With that said, the rashes aren't always circular. You may have just one or several rashes, and they may either be separate or overlap. Small blisters may also form within the patchy skin, causing oozing and crusting.

In some cases, the skin inside the ring may be clear and appear normal. At other times, the rash may resemble a bullseye.

Ringworm of the Face (Tinea Faciei)

Ringworm on the face (tinea faciei) can cause a classic ring-shaped rash, but not always. Instead, you may simply have raised, red, scaly patches of skin that itch.

Tinea faciei rashes tend to be photosensitive, meaning they can turn red and irritated when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. The rash can sometimes feel wet or develop crusting.

Ringworm of the Beard (Tinea Barbae)

In people with facial hair, ringworm in the beard area (tinea barbae) causes crusty, flaky areas of skin. The hair can break and fall out in large patches. Tinea barbae can also cause bumps and blisters that are easily confused with acne.

Tinea barbae causes inflammation of hair follicles (folliculitis). It predominantly affects males and can affect those who are clean-shaven as well as those with heavy beards or mustaches.

Ringworm of the Scalp (Tinea Capitis)

Ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis) is uncommon in adults and mainly seen in toddlers and school-aged children. It rarely causes a ring-shaped rash. Instead, you'll find flaky, itchy patches on the scalp that may red, silvery gray, or yellowish in color.

Tinea capitis can cause hair shafts to become brittle and break, causing single or multiple patches of hair loss.

How Quickly Does Ringworm Develop?

If you're exposed to ringworm, you can expect to develop a rash four to 10 days later. Ringworm of the scalp takes a bit longer—between 10 and 14 days.

Ringworm of the Hands (Tinea Manuum)

Ringworm of the hands (tinea manuum) tends to affect the back of the hands, causing classic itchy, ring-shaped rashes.

On the palms and between the fingers, the symptoms tend to be less obvious with dryness, peeling, and cracking (reminiscent of athlete's foot). You may also notice a callus-like thickening of the skin.

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Ringworm of the Feet AKA "Athlete's Foot"
DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND 

Athlete's Foot (Tinea Pedis)

Athlete's foot (tinea pedis) is caused by the same group of fungi that cause ringworm. But, instead of a ring-shaped rash, you'll get dry, peeling, itchy skin, especially between the toes. Your feet might also experience burning or stinging sensations.

If left untreated, the soles of your foot may thicken like a callus. Athlete's foot is common in teens and adults and rarely seen before adolescence.

Jock Itch (Tinea Cruris)

Like athlete's foot, jock itch (tinea cruris) is caused by the same group of fungi that cause ringworm. It causes a raised, scaly, reddish-brown rash in skin creases around the groin that can itch, sometimes intensely.

The rash can easily spread to the genitals, thighs, buttocks, and stomach. Jock itch blisters in the groin area can easily mistaken for genital herpes.

Jock itch is more common in males than females. Like athlete's foot, jock itch is rare in children.

Nail Fungus (Tinea Unguium)

Nail fungus (tinea unguium) can affect both fingernails and toenails but is more common in the toes. Also known as onychomycosis, this hard-to-treat fungal infection can cause nails to become discolored, thickened, and brittle. In severe cases, the nail may separate from the nail bed and fall off.

Tinea unguium affects roughly 10% of adults with older adults being most commonly affected. Males have nail fungus more than females.

Possible Complications

Serious complications from ringworm are rare. In the vast majority of cases, ringworm goes away quickly with treatment.

With that said, there are certain complications you need to watch out for, particularly if the infection is left untreated.

Spread of Infection

Arguably the biggest complication of ringworm is the spread of infection to other areas of your body. It doesn't take much; merely touching the infected spot before touching another can lead to a new outbreak.

How Easy Is It to Pass Ringworm?

Ringworm can be passed to others if they come into contact with the rash or when clothing, towels, combs, or other personal care items are shared. Animals can also spread ringworm to people, including dogs and cats (and most especially kittens and puppies).

Hyperpigmentation

After the ringworm rash has healed, some people may find a dark mark left in its place. This is called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

These marks are caused when inflammation (the body's response to injury) triggers the overproduction of melanin, a brownish pigment produced by skin cells called melanocytes. The discoloration can be long-lasting but generally fades over time.

Some people, including those with dark complexions, are more prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation than others.

Secondary Infections

Secondary infections are those that occur when a primary (first) infection provides disease-causing organisms entry into the body. With ringworm, dryness and cracking of the skin provide bacteria easier access to susceptible tissue beneath the surface of the skin.

Signs of secondary bacterial infections may include:

  • Increasing skin redness, swelling, warmth, or pain
  • A pus-like or foul-smelling discharge from the wound
  • Expanding redness or red streaks emanating from the wound
  • High fever with chills

Risk of Cellulitis

With fungal infections like athlete's foot or nail fungus, the transmission of bacteria can occur simply by walking barefoot on contaminated surfaces. This can lead to a severe bacterial infection known as cellulitis that involves deeper tissues.

Kerions

A type of skin abscess called a kerion can develop as a result of an immune reaction to the fungal infection. A kerion is a large, inflamed, pus-filled lump that most commonly develops on the scalp but can appear elsewhere on the body.

Kerions most commonly occur with tinea capitis or tinea barbae, causing folliculitis and large patches of hair loss.

The bald patches can be temporary or permanent, depending on how much damage has been done to the skin. Some people also experience fever and malaise (a general feeling of unwellness).

Majocchi's Granuloma

Although rare, the fungi that cause ringworm can cause a deeper infection called Majocchi's granuloma. This occurs when the fungus travels down hair follicles and infects the deeper skin layers, called the dermis.

Majucchi's granuloma causes hardened, pinkish lumps or lesions as well as pustules (pus-filled bumps). It can affect any hairy part of the body but is most often found on the scalp, face, forearms, and legs. Patchy hair loss is common.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Ringworm is rarely a serious medical condition, but certain signs and symptoms warrant a visit to a healthcare provider, particularly if:

  • You've used over-the-counter antifungal medications for two weeks with no improvement
  • You have ringworm on the scalp or beard area (to avoid hair loss)
  • You have ringworm over large areas of your body
  • You have signs of a secondary infection
  • The rash is spreading quickly (as ringworm generally does not progress rapidly and you may have something else)

Ringworm Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Woman

Summary

Ringworm (tinea corporis) is a common fungal infection that causes a classic ring-shaped rash on the skin. But, ringworm can take other forms, particularly when it develops on the face, hands, scalp, feet, groin, or nails. In cases like these, there may be irregular patches of skin dryness, redness, and scaling as well as tiny blisters or pimples.

Athlete's foot (tinea pedis) and jock itch (tinea curis) are two examples of fungal infections caused by many of the same fungi that cause ringworm. When ringworm occurs on hairy skin, such as the scalp or beard area, it can damage hair shafts and lead to bald patches.

A Word From Verywell

Because ringworm doesn't always cause a ring-shaped rash, is it easy to confuse it with other skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, or even herpes.

Because of this, it is in your best interest to see a healthcare provider if you're not sure what you are dealing with so that you can be provided the right treatment for the right skin condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does ringworm get better on its own?

    Ringworm usually doesn't get better on its own, so the symptoms are likely to get worse if left untreated. The infection can also spread to other parts of the body.

  • What conditions can be mistaken for ringworm?

    Because ringworm does not always cause a classic ring-shaped rash, it can easily be mistaken for:

  • Is ringworm really caused by a worm?

    No. Ringworm is not caused by a worm but by any one of 40 different fungus species, including Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epidermophyton.

  • Can adults get ringworm?

    While especially common in children, anyone can get ringworm. Those with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV, are particularly at risk.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Dermatology. Ringworm: signs & symptoms.

  2. Alkeswani A, Duncan JR, Theos A. Tinea faciei starting at day two of life. Pediatr Dermatol. 2019;36(1):e20-e22.

  3. Furlan KC, Kakizaki P, Chartuni JC, Valente NY. Sycosiform tinea barbae caused by trichophyton rubrum and its association with autoinoculationAn Bras Dermatol. 2017;92(1):160–161. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20174802

  4. Hay RJ. Tinea capitis: current status. Mycopathologia. 2017;182(1-2):87–93. doi:10.1007/s11046-016-0058-8

  5. New York State Department of Health. Ringworm.

  6. Errichetti E, Stinco G. Dermoscopy in tinea manuumAn Bras Dermatol. 2018;93(3):447–448. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20186366

  7. Ely JW, Rosenfeld S, Seabury Stone M. Diagnosis and management of tinea infections. Am Fam Physician. 2014;90(10):702-10.

  8. Nadalo D, Montoya C, Hunter-smith D. What is the best way to treat tinea cruris?. J Fam Pract. 2006;55(3):256-8.

  9. Piraccini BM, Alessandrini A. Onychomycosis: a ReviewJ Fungi (Basel). 2015;1(1):30–43. doi:10.3390/jof1010030

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How ringworm spreads.

  11. Davis EC, Callender VD. Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation: a review of the epidemiology, clinical features, and treatment options in skin of colorJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010;3(7):20–31.

  12. Boral H, Durdu M, Ilkit M. Majocchi's granuloma: current perspectivesInfect Drug Resist. 2018;11:751–760. doi:10.2147/IDR.S145027

  13. Jain A, Jain S, Rawat S. Emerging fungal infections among children: A review on its clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and preventionJ Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2010;2(4):314–320. doi:10.4103/0975-7406.72131

Additional Reading

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.