• Ringworm is a common infection that is caused by a fungus. It is very contagious, and can affect the scalp, face, body, feet or nails. Ringworm affects both humans and animals.

    Ringworm gets its name from the raised, ring-shaped pattern the infection forms when it is on the skin. Ringworm is not an actual worm.

    The medical term for ringworm is tinea. Some types of tinea include tinea corporis (affecting skin), tinea capitis (affecting the scalp), tinea pedis (affecting the feet, also called athlete’s foot) and tinea cruris (affecting the groin, also called jock itch).

    Signs and symptoms of ringworm

    Ringworm affects different parts of the body in different ways.

    On the body and groin: it begins as a ring-shaped, flat, scaly rash. Gradually the ring becomes larger and raised, with the inside of the ring clearing. Ringworm on the skin or groin usually appears four to 10 days after contact with an infected person, pet or surface.

    On the scalp: ringworm starts as a small pimple that grows larger and creates patches of dry, scaly, bald skin. The hair can become brittle and break off. Sometimes crusty areas develop, which may be mistaken for dandruff.  If left untreated, the area can become boggy (spongy), discharge pus and develop areas of hair loss.  This form of ringworm is most common in children. Scalp ringworm usually appears 10 to 14 days after contact with an infected person, pet or surface.

    On the fingernails: if the nail bed becomes infected, it can become thick, brittle and discoloured.

    On the feet: ringworm causes dry, cracked skin, most often between the toes. It can be quite itchy. It often does not have the usual ring-like appearance.

    When to see a doctor

    If you think your child has ringworm, take them to see your GP or to your local pharmacy and, if appropriate, show the affected area to the pharmacist.

    Treatment for ringworm

    Ringworm can be treated effectively with most antifungal medications. These are usually in the form of 'over-the-counter' creams, but nail-bed and scalp infections most often require prescription oral treatments. Early treatment is important and your doctor or pharmacist will be able to advise which treatment is needed. Creams should be applied to the area for an extra week after the rash has cleared. If the rash persists despite a few weeks of treatment, it is important to be seen by your GP to ensure both the diagnosis and treatment is appropriate.

    Preventing the spread of ringworm

    Ringworm is spread by contact with infected humans, animals and contaminated objects and surfaces. Children are most likely to be infected by other people who already have ringworm, via school playgrounds, gyms, contaminated clothing, bath mats, towels, damp floors and showers.

    Because ringworm is very contagious, it can be difficult to prevent. However, there are ways you can help your child avoid being infected:

    • Avoid contact with infected people. Where this is not possible, wash hands thoroughly after contact, and dry them well.
    • Pay special attention to drying moist areas on the body (e.g. armpits, groin, in between toes).
    • Don't share brushes, combs, hats, clothing, linen or towels with an infected person.
    • Don't walk in bare feet on damp floors or in communal showers.
    • Avoid contact with infected pets, and wash your pets with anti-fungal solution.

    If your child has ringworm:

    • Cover the rash with clothing or a dressing (e.g. a Band-Aid).
    • Don't let them use communal pools or baths until you have started the appropriate treatment.
    • Wash their clothing, towels and bed linen in hot water often. 
    • Spray their shoes with anti-fungal spray if the ringworm is on their feet. This will help stop their feet being reinfected after treatment.

    Key points to remember

    • Ringworm (tinea) is a fungal infection that is highly contagious and affects the scalp, body, feet or nails.
    • Ringworm is spread by contact with a person or animal who has ringworm, or by touching an object or surface that may contain the fungus (e.g. brushes, showers or towels).
    • Antifungal medications are used to treat ringworm – early treatment is important.

    For more information

    • Kids Health Info fact sheet: Worms
    • See your GP or pharmacist.

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    Do I need to keep my child home from school if she has ringworm?

    There is no need to keep your child home from school, but the rash should be covered by clothing or a dressing to avoid spreading ringworm to others. Avoid being barefoot in public showers; public swimming pools can be used once treatment has been started. Avoid sharing towels.

    My child’s feet are extremely itchy from the tinea. What can I do to help? Do you recommend tea tree oil?

    Antifungal creams are the best way of treating athlete’s foot. Occasionally, an oral treatment is also needed – discuss this with your doctor or pharmacist. Soaking your child’s feet in salty water or a diluted vinegar foot bath can help to dry blisters. Some people find relief from tea tree oil, but we do not recommend tea tree oil as a treatment because it can cause skin inflammation.

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Dermatology department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed July 2020. 

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.


This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.