Overview

Ringworm of the body (tinea corporis) is a rash caused by a fungal infection. It's usually a red, 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 that you apply to your skin. For more-severe infections, you may need to take antifungal pills for several weeks.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of ringworm may include:

  • A scaly ring-shaped area, typically on the buttocks, trunk, arms and legs
  • May itch
  • A clear or scaly area inside the ring, perhaps with a scattering of red bumps
  • 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.

Causes

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.

Risk factors

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

Complications

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.

Prevention

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.

Sept. 13, 2019
References
  1. Allmon A, et al. Common skin rashes in children. American Family Physician. 2015;92:211.
  2. Ferri FF. Tinea corporis. In: Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2020. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Aug. 8, 2019.
  3. Office of Patient Education. Fungal infection: Ringworm of the body. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2010.
  4. Goldstein AO, et al. Dermatophyte (tinea) infections. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Aug. 12, 2019.
  5. AskMayoExpert. Superficial fungal infection. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2019.
  6. Ringworm risk and prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/ringworm/risk-prevention.html. Accessed Aug. 12, 2019.