What is ringworm?

Ringworm (tinea) is a skin infection that is caused by fungus (organism similar to yeast or mold). It is called “ringworm” because the infection can cause a circular rash on the skin. The fungi that cause ringworm can live on the skin, towels, clothes, bed linens, and surfaces. Ringworm goes by many names based on its location on the body.

Here you will find a description of athlete’s foot, jock itch, and ringworm of the scalp.

What is athlete’s foot?

Athlete's foot (tinea pedis) is a common type of ringworm, a skin rash of the feet caused by a fungus. Skin rashes thrive in skin areas that are warm, damp, and dark. Athlete’s foot affects the area between the toes and, if spread, near the groin. Athlete's foot is very common in teenagers and adult males.

What are the symptoms of athlete's foot?

Symptoms of athlete’s foot include:

  • Itching and burning between the toes
  • Red, scaly, cracked skin between the toes
  • Raw rash that oozes when scratched
  • Blisters (in severe cases)
  • Unpleasant odor from the feet
  • A rash or scaling of the bottom of the feet (sole)

How is athlete's foot treated?

Athlete's foot can be treated at home with an over-the-counter antifungal cream or powder, such as Tinactin®, Micatin®, Lotrimin-AF®, or Lamisil®:

  • Rinse and dry your feet, especially between the toes.
  • Apply the cream to the top and bottom of both feet, the sides of both feet, between all toes, and around the nails.
  • Continue to apply the cream twice a day for 2 - 4 weeks until the rash clears.

How can I prevent athlete's foot?

You can prevent athlete's foot if you:

  • Bathe your feet regularly, using soap between the toes.
  • Keep your feet dry and clean.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and socks made from natural fibers such as wool and cotton.
  • Dry your feet completely before putting on socks and shoes.
  • Use an antifungal powder, lotion, or spray on a regular basis if you are prone to athlete's foot.

What is jock itch?

Jock itch (tinea cruris) is a fungal infection of the groin, upper thighs, and/or buttock. It is caused by several types of fungi (dermatophytes) that live on the dead tissues of the skin, hair, and nails. This condition is more common among athletes, but anyone can get it.

What are the symptoms of jock itch?

Jock itch is less severe than other kinds of skin rashes caused by fungi. The most common symptoms of jock itch include the following:

  • Burning, itchy red rash in the groin and upper, inner thighs, or anal area.
  • The skin in this area may be scaly and the border may be covered with very small blisters.

What are the causes of jock itch?

  • Sweating heavily
  • Hot and humid weather
  • Friction from wearing tight clothes for a long period of time (such as bathing suits)
  • Sharing clothes with someone who has this condition
  • Certain health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, and disorders of the immune system

How is jock itch treated?

As with the treatment of athlete's foot, your doctor will recommend an over-the-counter antifungal medication. Apply the medication twice daily until the rash goes away. Contact your healthcare provider if the rash does not improve after two weeks of treatment.

How can I prevent jock itch?

  • Wear loose-fitting cotton underwear and pants.
  • Keep the groin area clean and dry.
  • Make sure to fully dry all areas after showering.
  • Do not share personal items with others, including towels and undergarments.
  • Treat athlete’s foot to prevent spread to the groin.
  • Put on your socks before your underwear to prevent the spread from feet to the groin.
  • Use an antifungal powder.

What is ringworm of the scalp?

Ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis) is a fungal infection of the scalp. It is more common in children and is usually spread from an infected pet, a child who has ringworm, or from the environment (such as surfaces). Ringworm of the scalp typically looks like scaly, itchy, red, circular bald spots. The bald spots can spread and grow in size if the infection is left untreated.

What are the symptoms of ringworm of the scalp?

  • Round patches of hair loss that slowly increase in size. The rash may be slightly raised, scaly, or have a black-dot with a stubbly appearance.
  • Scaly patches that are swollen and pink with blisters. The scaly patches may develop a white pus-filled center that clears, leaving a scaly ring. This type of scalp ringworm is more common among African-American children and can lead to scarring and hair loss.
  • A dry, crusty scalp that flakes like dandruff in children who have outgrown cradle cap.
  • Areas of the scalp with very brittle hair which is easily pulled out.

How is ringworm of the scalp treated?

Ringworm of the scalp cannot be treated with lotions. A healthcare provider will prescribe oral medication for your child. In most cases, medication is taken once a day for 6 - 8 weeks. Your child may also need to use a prescription antifungal shampoo or an over-the-counter dandruff shampoo that contains selenium sulfide (such as Selsun Blue®). The shampoo will help prevent the spread of ringworm, but it will not cure it.

If your child has ringworm, he or she may need to stay home until the treatment has started.

How can I keep my child's ringworm from spreading to others?

Until treatment has begun, you should:

  • Prevent others from using your child's hair care items.
  • Prevent others from using your child's personal items, such as clothing, hats, towels, and bed linens.
  • Limit your child's play with other children.

How can I protect my child from having ringworm of the scalp?

  • Avoid braiding hair tightly or using gels on the hair. (Gels may encourage fungus to cling to the scalp.)
  • Limit contact with children who have ringworm.
  • Limit contact with personal items of children who have ringworm, such as clothing, hats, towels, bedding, and hair care items.
  • Avoid infected animals. These animals may have patches of skin with missing fur. Household pets with these signs should be taken to the veterinarian for further evaluation.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/22/2017.


  • TeensHealth. Ringworm Accessed 5/30/2017.
  • New York State Department of Health. Ringworm Accessed 5/30/2017.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ringworm Accessed 5/30/2017.

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