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Ringworm is a common fungal skin infection. It's not caused by worms. It can appear anywhere on the body, including the scalp, groin and feet.

It's most common between the toes where the skin becomes white and soft, with sore red skin underneath. This is known as athlete's foot.  Ringworm on the groin is often called jock itch.

You can usually buy medicine from a pharmacy to make it go away.

Symptoms of ringworm

The main symptom of ringworm is a red or silver rash. The rash may be scaly, dry, swollen or itchy.

ring-shaped rash on the skin
The rash is often ring-shaped, unless it's on your face, neck or scalp.

But not all circular rashes are ringworm. Other causes include eczema and psoriasis.

ringworm spreading on the back
Sometimes the rash grows, spreads or there's more than one rash.
ringworm on the scalp
Ringworm on the face or scalp may also cause patchy hair loss.

Causes of ringworm

Ringworm is caused by a type of fungus.

It can be spread through close contact with:

  • an infected person or animal
  • infected objects – such as bed sheets, combs or towels
  • infected soil – although this is less common

If your child has ringworm, it's fine for them to go to school or nursery once they have started treatment.

Treatment for ringworm

Speak to a pharmacist first. They can look at your rash. They'll recommend the best antifungal medicine.

Antifungal medicine

This might be a cream, gel or spray. It will depend on where the rash is.

You usually need to use antifungal medicine every day for at least 2 weeks. It's important to finish the whole course, even if your symptoms go away.

A pharmacist will tell you if they think you should see a GP.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • ringworm has not improved after using antifungal medicine for 2 weeks
  • you have ringworm on your scalp – you'll often need prescription antifungal tablets and shampoo
  • you have a weakened immune system – for example, from chemotherapy, steroids or diabetes

How to stop ringworm spreading:

  • Start treatment as soon as possible.
  • Wash towels and bed sheets regularly.
  • Keep your skin clean and wash your hands after touching animals or soil.
  • Regularly check your skin if you have been in contact with an infected person or animal.
  • Take your pet to the vet if they might have ringworm - for example, patches of missing fur.
  • Do not share towels, combs and bed sheets with someone who has ringworm.
  • Do not scratch a ringworm rash – this could spread it to other parts of your body.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 24 March 2021
Next review due: 24 March 2024

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.