Ringworm vs. Eczema: What Are the Differences?

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Though ringworm and eczema can have similar symptoms and methods for diagnosis, their causes, treatment, and prevention methods differ. If you have ringworm or eczema, make sure you see a healthcare provider for a diagnosis to receive the proper treatment.

This article will look at the similarities and differences between ringworm and eczema.


Distinguishing ringworm from eczema can be challenging because both can cause rashes, scaly patches, and itching. A type of eczema known as nummular eczema can be especially hard to tell apart from ringworm. Nummular eczema and ringworm can both appear as a ring- or coin-shaped red rash, along with dry, itchy skin patches.

You should not attempt to determine if you have eczema or ringworm on your own. If you have symptoms of either condition, contact a healthcare provider to get a proper diagnosis.


Ringworm symptoms can appear anywhere on the body, including the fingernails and toenails. Symptoms typically happen four to 14 days after contact with the fungi that cause ringworm and the infected area.

General symptoms include:

  • A ring-shaped rash
  • Round, flat, scaly patches that are red or pink on light skin or brown or gray on dark skin
  • Itchy skin
Ringworm marking on the skin

Reproduced with permission from ©DermNet NZ and ©Raimo Suhonen www.dermnetnz.org 2022

Ringworm on the foot is known as athlete’s foot. Symptoms include:

  • Dry, scaly skin between the toes that can spread to the bottom or sides of the feet
  • Itching and burning on the soles of the feet or between the toes
  • Blisters, or painful cracking skin on the feet

When ringworm infection occurs on the groin, it’s called jock itch. The first sign is a red or brown itchy rash with swelling in the crease where the leg meets the body. The rash can spread to the inner thighs, waist, and buttocks.

Ringworm can also occur on the scalp or beard in people with facial hair. Symptoms include hair loss, scaly bald patches, itching and swelling, and pus-filled sores.


Eczema almost always starts with itchy skin. Scratching can lead to a rash, which is also itchy.

Other symptoms of eczema include:

  • Dry, sensitive skin
  • Swelling
  • Discolored skin
  • Scaly patches or rough skin
  • Oozing or crusting
A close-up image of eczema

PansLaos / Getty Images


Although ringworm and eczema share some symptoms, their causes are different. Ringworm is not caused by a worm but by fungi that live on the skin and in the environment. Ringworm is very contagious. Eczema is a complex skin condition with many causes and triggers that aren’t fully
understood. Unlike ringworm, eczema is not contagious.


Ringworm is more common in warm, humid environments. The risk of getting ringworm increases in tropical settings, during the summer, and with heavy sweating.

Ringworm spreads in three main ways:

  • From contact with an infected person
  • From touching an animal that has ringworm
  • Through the environment, such as surfaces where ringworm lives

Athletes are more at risk for ringworm because they tend to sweat, use locker rooms where ringworm thrives, and have skin-to-skin contact with other athletes.


What causes eczema isn’t exactly known. Environment, family history, exposure to stress, and an overactive immune system are all believed to play a role.


Ringworm and eczema are both diagnosed by a healthcare provider or dermatologist (a doctor specializing in skin, hair, and nail health) based on symptoms and examination of the infected area. They may also obtain a small skin sample to examine under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis.


Ringworm and eczema need proper diagnosis because their treatments are different. Ringworm is also highly contagious, so getting the right diagnosis is important to stop the spread to others.


How ringworm is treated depends on where it is on the body and how much the infection has spread. Treatments include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications: Nonprescription creams, lotions, or powders may treat ringworm for athlete’s foot, jock itch, or mild cases elsewhere on the skin.
  • Prescription creams, lotions, or powders: These might be needed for more serious infections.
  • Prescription antifungal medications: Ringworm on the scalp or under the nails usually requires a course of antifungal oral medications.
  • Antifungal shampoos: Those with scalp or beard ringworm and everyone in their household (because ringworm is very contagious) may need to use the shampoo.


There is no cure for eczema. Treatments are designed to manage symptoms and triggers and reduce flare-ups. Treatment plans usually include gentle skin care, determining and avoiding triggers, and sometimes, medications.


Because the causes of ringworm and eczema differ, so do the ways to prevent them. However, there are steps you can take to help prevent each one.


Ringworm is so contagious it’s important not to share clothing, towels, brushes and combs, phones, or any personal items with someone with ringworm. Always wear something on your feet in locker rooms and pools because ringworm thrives on surfaces in damp environments. You should also avoid petting household or farm animals with ringworm.

Other ways to prevent ringworm include:

  • Keeping your skin clean and dry
  • Changing socks and underwear daily
  • Wearing shoes that let air circulate
  • Washing your hands with soap and water after coming in contact with pets
  • Showering after any sports and keeping sports gear clean


Managing eczema involves avoiding potential triggers that can cause the condition to flare up. These triggers can include stress, allergens, irritants, and skin that becomes too dry.


Ringworm and eczema can cause scaly patches, redness, and itching, and (especially with nummular eczema) be hard to tell apart by anyone other than a healthcare professional. Though a medical provider can diagnose both conditions, they have different causes and treatments. Prevention also differs for ringworm, caused by contagious fungi, and eczema, which is not contagious and still not fully understood by the medical community.   

12 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. Forefront Dermatology. Ringworm vs eczema.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of ringworm infections.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Ringworm: signs and symptoms.

  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Eczema types: Atopic dermatitis symptoms.

  5. National Eczema Association. What is eczema?

  6. National Eczema Association. Eczema causes and triggers.

  7. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Ringworm: who gets and causes.

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

  9. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Eczema types: atopic dermatitis diagnosis and treatment.

  10. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Ringworm: diagnosis and treatment.

  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treatment for ringworm.

  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ringworm risk & prevention.

By Cathy Nelson
Cathy Nelson has worked as a writer and editor covering health and wellness for more than two decades. Her work has appeared in print and online in numerous outlets, including the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News.