For doctors

Ringworm is a highly contagious fungal infection of the skin.

Despite its name, ringworm is not caused by worms. Rather, the infection is caused by a fungus that can affect the scalp and body. It’s called ringworm because of the characteristic round and oval spots, which are smooth in the center and have a scaly red border. When ringworm affects the nails, it produces nails that are discolored, thick, and crumble easily.

Ringworm is especially common in children. It is highly contagious and can affect the skin on the scalp, feet, hands, and nails. Cats are commonly infected with the fungus that causes ringworm, and you can also catch the infection by touching a person who has ringworm or by coming into contact with an infected hat, brush, comb, pool surface, shower, or unwashed clothing.

When ringworm affects the scalp, it is possible to lose hair in the affected area. Ringworm on the body can appear as one isolated patch or several lesions. These patches may itch and be mildly uncomfortable.

Ringworm treatment

Ringworm that occurs on the body is typically treated with a cream that is available over-the-counter or by prescription. These creams include:

  • Clotrimazole—available at your local drugstore without a prescription
  • Miconazole—available at your local drugstore without a prescription
  • Tolnaftate—available at your local drugstore without a prescription
Apply the cream two to three times each day for at least one week. During this time, you should see slow but gradual clearing of the skin. Cover the area with a bandage if your child is attending daycare or camp.
Ringworm that affects the scalp or nails requires an oral antifungal medication from your child’s physician. A stronger prescription cream will be prescribed if your child has more than one patch or if the rash worsens during treatment. To prevent the permanent loss of hair in the scalp, early treatment is the most effective. If your child has scalp ringworm, it’s a good idea to use a specially formulated shampoo prescribed by your physician.

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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Ringworm.
  2. NYU Langone Medical Center. Ringworm.


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