scorecardHow you can contract ringworm and who is most likely to get infected
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How you can contract ringworm and who is most likely to get infected

Ashley Laderer,Jason McKnight   

How you can contract ringworm and who is most likely to get infected
LifeScience2 min read
  • You can get ringworm via contact with an infected person, contaminated soil, or an infected animal.
  • You can also contract ringworm from contact with a contaminated object, such as shared gym equipment.
  • You may be more at risk if you are immunocompromised or play sports with a lot of skin contact.

While ringworm might sound like a condition caused by a worm or parasite, it is actually caused by a fungus. The condition is also called tinea corporis, and it is characterized by an itchy ring-shaped rash that may look more clear in the center with a defined border.

Other symptoms include:

  • Scattered bumps that may be red, purple, brown, or gray
  • Flat round patches
  • Ring-shaped rashes that overlap

The appearance of ringworm is very distinct and relatively easy to identify. The rash is common, and it is often easily treatable with over-the-counter creams if the infection is mild.

Here are common ways you can contract ringworm, risk factors for getting it, and treatment options.

Ways you can contract ringworm

This fungal infection is typically spread through direct contact between the fungus and the skin, says Jason Miller MD, board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group. Miller says some ways you can contract ringworm are coming into contact with:

Commonly contaminated objects are yoga mats or other pieces of gym equipment that your skin may have prolonged contact with, since the fungus from the skin can transfer to the objects, says Hadley King MD, board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University.

Risk factors for ringworm

While anybody can contract ringworm, King says some groups of people are more likely to get it including:

  • People with a compromised immune system
  • People who live in warmer climates
  • People who participate in sports with a lot of skin-to-skin contact, such as wrestling

Furthermore, you may want to be careful about sharing towels, clothing, or bedding with people who might have an underlying fungal infection, as this can be a risk factor too, says Miller.

Treatment for ringworm

The course of treatment for ringworm will depend on the severity of the infection. For example, Miller says small, localized areas of infected skin may respond well to topical antifungal creams such as clotrimazole or terbinafine, both of which are available over the counter.

However, if the rash is not responding to this type of treatment, King says you should see a board-certified dermatologist, who can confirm the diagnosis and offer prescription options, such as a prescription-strength cream. Or, in more serious cases where the fungal infection has gone deeper into the skin and affected the hair follicles, King says oral antifungal medications may be needed.

Insider's takeaway

There are various ways you can contract ringworm, including an infected person, animal, contaminated soil, or a contaminated object. If you think that you have ringworm, you may be able to self-diagnose and self-treat it.

However, if the rash and discomfort won't go away with over-the-counter treatments, be sure to see your dermatologist to get a correct diagnosis and determine the best course of treatment to get you feeling better.