What is ringworm?

Ringworm is a skin rash caused by a fungus, which is an organism containing elements such as yeast and mold. Ringworm is not caused by a worm.

Health care providers call ringworm tinea. Athlete's foot (tinea pedis) and jock itch (tinea cruris) are types of ringworm. Fungi that cause these rashes thrive in areas of skin that are kept warm, damp, and dark, such as the area between the toes and near the groin. Athlete's foot and jock itch are common in adolescents and adult males. Both infections can be treated at home.

Ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis) is most common in children and can spread easily. In some cases, the fungus will be caught from an infected pet. Treatment requires medication prescribed by a health care provider. A child with ringworm may need to stay at home until treatment has been started.

Ringworm also may appear on other areas of the skin.

What are the symptoms of athlete's foot?

You may have athlete's foot if you have:

  • Itching and burning between the toes
  • Red, scaly, cracked skin between the toes
  • A rash that becomes raw and weepy when scratched
  • A rash that may have blisters (severe cases)
  • Feet that have an unpleasant odor
  • A rash or scaling that occurs on the bottom of the feet

How is athlete's foot treated?

Athlete's foot can be treated with an over-the-counter antifungal cream or powder, such as Tinactin®, Micatin®, Lotrimin-AF®, or Lamisil®. First, 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 and between all of your toes. Continue to apply the cream twice daily for several 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 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 are the symptoms of jock itch?

Symptoms of jock itch include:

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

How is jock itch treated?

As with athlete's foot, you can treat jock itch with an over-the-counter antifungal medication. Apply the medication twice daily until the rash goes away. Contact your health care provider if the rash does not improve after two weeks of treatment.

How can I protect myself from jock itch?

Ways to prevent jock itch include:

  • Wear loose fitting cotton underwear and pants.
  • Keep the groin area clean and dry. After showering, be sure to fully dry all areas.
  • Do not share personal items with others.
  • Treat athlete’s foot to prevent spread to the groin.
  • Use an antifungal powder.

What are the symptoms of ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitus)?

Symptoms of ringworm include:

  • Round patches of hair loss that slowly increase in size. The rash may be slightly raised or have a black-dot, stubbly appearance.
  • Scaly patches which 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 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. Your health care provider must prescribe a medication taken by mouth. In most cases, medication is taken once a day for six to eight weeks. Your child may also need to use a prescription 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.)

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, towels, and bed linens.
  • Limit your child's play with other children.

How can I protect my child from ringworm?

Ways to prevent ringworm include:

  • Avoiding braiding hair tightly or using gels on the hair. (Gels may encourage fungus to cling to the scalp.)
  • Limiting contact with children who have ringworm.
  • Limiting contact with personal items of children who have ringworm (clothing, towels, bedding, hair care items, etc.).
  • Avoiding 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.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 10/15/2013...#4560