Ringworm of the body (tinea corporis) is a rash caused by a fungal infection. It's usually an itchy, circular rash with clearer skin in the middle. Ringworm gets its name because of its appearance. No worm is involved.
Ringworm of the body is related to athlete's foot (tinea pedis), jock itch (tinea cruris) and ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis). Ringworm often spreads by direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person or animal.
Mild ringworm often responds to antifungal medications applied to the skin. For more-severe infections, you may need to take antifungal pills for several weeks.
Signs and symptoms of ringworm may include:
- A scaly ring-shaped area, typically on the buttocks, trunk, arms and legs
- A clear or scaly area inside the ring, perhaps with a scattering of bumps whose color ranges from red on white skin to reddish, purplish, brown or gray on black and brown skin
- Slightly raised, expanding rings
- A round, flat patch of itchy skin
- Overlapping rings
When to see a doctor
Talk to your doctor if you have a rash that doesn't begin to improve within two weeks of using an over-the-counter antifungal product. You may need prescription medication.
Ringworm is a contagious fungal infection caused by common mold-like parasites that live on the cells in the outer layer of your skin. It can be spread in the following ways:
- Human to human. Ringworm often spreads by direct, skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.
- Animal to human. You can contract ringworm by touching an animal with ringworm. Ringworm can spread while petting or grooming dogs or cats. It's also fairly common in cows.
- Object to human. It's possible for ringworm to spread by contact with objects or surfaces that an infected person or animal has recently touched or rubbed against, such as clothing, towels, bedding and linens, combs, and brushes.
- Soil to human. In rare cases, ringworm can be spread to humans by contact with infected soil. Infection would most likely occur only from prolonged contact with highly infected soil.
You're at higher risk of ringworm of the body if you:
- Live in a warm climate
- Have close contact with an infected person or animal
- Share clothing, bedding or towels with someone who has a fungal infection
- Participate in sports that feature skin-to-skin contact, such as wrestling
- Wear tight or restrictive clothing
- Have a weak immune system
A fungal infection rarely spreads below the surface of the skin to cause serious illness. But people with weak immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, may find it difficult to get rid of the infection.
Ringworm is difficult to prevent. The fungus that causes it is common, and the condition is contagious even before symptoms appear. Take these steps to reduce your risk of ringworm:
- Educate yourself and others. Be aware of the risk of ringworm from infected people or pets. Tell your children about ringworm, what to watch for and how to avoid infection.
- Keep clean. Wash your hands often. Keep shared areas clean, especially in schools, child care centers, gyms and locker rooms. If you participate in contact sports, shower right after practice or a match and keep your uniform and gear clean.
- Stay cool and dry. Don't wear thick clothing for long periods of time in warm, humid weather. Avoid excessive sweating.
- Avoid infected animals. The infection often looks like a patch of skin where fur is missing. If you have pets or other animals, ask your veterinarian to check them for ringworm.
- Don't share personal items. Don't let others use your clothing, towels, hairbrushes, sports gear or other personal items. And don't borrow such things.
Your doctor might be able to diagnose ringworm simply by looking at it. Your doctor may take skin scrapings from the affected area so that they can be examined under a microscope.
If over-the-counter treatments don't work, you may need prescription-strength antifungal medications — such as a lotion, cream or ointment that you apply to the affected skin. If your infection is particularly severe or extensive, your doctor might prescribe antifungal pills.
Lifestyle and home remedies
For a mild case of ringworm, try these self-care tips.
- Keep the affected area clean and dry.
- Apply an over-the-counter antifungal lotion, cream or ointment such as clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF) or terbinafine (Lamisil AT) as directed on the packaging.
Preparing for an appointment
Your family doctor or a skin specialist (dermatologist) can diagnose ringworm of the body. Here are some tips to help you get ready for your appointment.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions helps you make the most of your appointment. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For ringworm, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What might be causing the signs and symptoms?
- Are tests needed to confirm the diagnosis?
- What is the best treatment?
- Is this condition temporary or chronic?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
- Can I wait to see if the condition goes away on its own?
- What can I do to prevent the infection from spreading?
- What skin care routines do you recommend while the condition heals?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
- When did you first notice your symptoms?
- What did the rash look like when it first started?
- Have you had this type of rash in the past?
- Does a pet or family member already have ringworm?
- Is the rash painful or itchy?
- Have you used any medications on it already? If so, what?