Facts About Ringworms

The Myth

There are stories that follow almost all illnesses. Most are old wives’ tales and the one about ringworm is no different. Ringworm, unlike how the name implies, is not caused by worms. That used to be the reasoning mostly because of how the rashes look, but it is not true.

Ringworm (often called “tinea”) is caused by a fungus. As you know, fungi like warm, moist areas to grow out of control and cause problems, namely itching. Ringworm is highly contagious. It can be spread by contact with toys, brushes, skin or other surface that contains the fungal spores.

Spreading the Fungi

Ringworm can be acquired by someone who is infected. It can live on the outer layer of skin, those keratinized cells that are sloughed off regularly. They can also exist on hair shafts in people and pets, in the soil and common places like locker rooms and showers.

A telltale sign of ringworm is the lesion which is usually circular, red and raised. It resembles a worm that is coiled up. The lesions are very itchy and spores can be transported to other parts of the body and other people through scratching when hand washing is not carried out.

Depending on the area of the body where it is found, there is a different name for the condition. For instance, when ringworm lesions are found on the scalp it is called “tinea capitis.” On the body it is referred to as “tinea corporis.” On the feet, we call it “tinea pedis” or “athlete’s foot.”


Ringworm is usually treated by a doctor who notices the signs. On the body, the rash is the most common sign. In the hair, a circular bald pattern may develop where the ringworm fungus has infected the skin. On feet and in the groin (jock itch), the rash is red, itchy and often burns. It is found between the toes and in the folds of the groin where it is dark and moist.

Because it is a fungus, an antifungal is often used prescribed in the form of powders, creams and ointments: clotrimazole, miconazole and terbinafine to name a few. Trade names are Lotrimin, Monistat, and Lamisil respectively.

Another treatment option (and prevention too) is hand washing. Washing hands after touching lesions and applying creams prevents the spread to other areas of the body and other people.

Ringworm is a fungal infection that is highly contagious. It is not caused by worms but the lesions may remind you of one. Prompt treatment lowers the risk to others and prolonged agony for yourself.