What is tinea infection?
Tinea is a fungal infection of the skin. Tinea is also known as ringworm. This is
because it can cause red patches on the skin in the shape of rings. But it’s not
caused by worms. It’s caused by different types of fungi. Tinea infection can affect
any part of the body. Tinea infections of the feet, nails, and genital area are not
often called ringworm. This is because the red patches may not look like rings. But
it most often occurs in moist areas of the body and around hair. The fungus can be
spread from person to person.
Different types of fungal (tinea) infections are named for where they occur on the
body. The most common types are:
Athlete's foot (tinea pedis). This common type occurs on the feet and
between the toes. It may be cause by sweating, not drying the feet after
swimming or bathing, wearing tight socks and shoes, and warm weather.
Jock itch (tinea cruris). This rash occurs in the genital area. Jock itch
may be hard to cure. This condition is more common in men and rare in women. It
happens more often in warm weather.
Scalp ringworm (tinea capitis). Scalp ringworm occurs on the head. It is
very contagious but rare in adults.
Nail infection (tinea unguium). This is an infection of the toenails, and
sometimes fingernails. It causes thickened, deformed, and discolored nails
instead of a rash.
Body ringworm (tinea corporis). This occurs anywhere on the body or the
face. But it is more common in skin folds. It is also more common in warmer
What causes tinea infection?
The fungus that causes tinea is very common all over the world, including the U.S.
It’s very contagious. The fungus is spread through direct contact with:
An infected person
Infected objects such as towels, clothing, and combs
An infected animal
It can take days or up to 2 weeks before you develop the infection after being in
contact with the fungus. The fungi that cause ringworm can live for a long time on
objects. Because of this, you may not know the exact source.
Who is at risk for tinea infection?
You are more at risk for tinea infection if you:
Live in a warm climate
Have contact with people or pets that have tinea
Play contact sports, such as wrestling
Use communal baths or locker rooms
Have poor hygiene
Have a depressed immune system because of disease or medicine
Don’t have good nutrition
What are the symptoms of tinea infection?
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each person.
Symptoms of athlete's foot (tinea pedis) may include:
Symptoms of jock itch (tinea cruris) may include:
Red, ring-like patches in the groin area and inner thighs, but not scrotum
Itching in the groin area
Pain in the groin area
Symptoms of scalp ringworm (tinea capitis) may include:
Symptoms of nail infection (tinea unguium) may include:
Symptoms of body ringworm (tinea corporis) may include:
The symptoms of tinea infection can be like other health conditions. Psoriasis,
pityriasis rosea, and atopic dermatitis all look similar. Make sure to see your
healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is tinea infection diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and health history. He or she
will give you a physical exam. The physical exam will include looking closely at
your skin or nails. You may also have tests, such as:
Skin scraping. The healthcare provider may scrape the top of your skin
with a small tool. This does not hurt. The scraped tissue is looked at with a
microscope. This test can confirm the diagnosis.
Biopsy. If the infection is on the scalp or in the nails, the provider
will take samples of hair or nail clippings to look at with a microscope to
identify the fungus.
Skin culture. A sample of skin may be sent to a lab to see what kind of
fungus is growing. This is called a culture.
How is tinea infection treated?
Tinea may be hard to cure. Scalp ringworm and nail infection are hardest to treat.
The length of the treatment depends on the location of the tinea. Fungi can live for
a long time on the skin. Because of this, tinea infection is hard to cure and can
come back easily. Treatment may need to be repeated.
Treatment of athlete's foot (tinea pedis) may include:
Treatment of jock itch (tinea cruris) may include:
Treatment of scalp ringworm (tinea capitis) may include:
Treatment of nail infection (tinea unguium) may include:
Antifungal medicine by mouth for weeks or months
Treatment of body ringworm (tinea corporis) may include:
Antifungal medicine by mouth
Don't scratch at the rash or pick at the rash. This can cause infection and
Take medicine as prescribed. If you were prescribed a cream, apply it exactly as
directed. Put the cream on the rash, and also on the skin 1 or 2 inches around
Wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after you use the medicine
on the rash. This will keep from spreading the fungus.
Take medicine by mouth as directed until your healthcare provider says to stop.
Keep tinea from spreading to others. It can be spread by skin-to-skin contact
and sharing personal items, such as brushes, shoes, or towels.
When you wash the area of your body that has ringworm, wash your hands before
touching any other part of your body. Use a different towel to dry the rest of
your body to prevent spreading the ringworm. Wash towels in hot, soapy water.
Keep the part of your body that has ringworm clean and dry.
Wear shower shoes in public pools, gyms, locker rooms, and public showers.
Ringworm can live on gym equipment for a long time.
Talk with your healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side
effects of all treatments.
What are possible complications of tinea infection?
Tinea of the scalp can also develop into a kerion. This is a large, painful, swollen
sore over the area of the tinea infection. This is caused by a hypersensitivity to
the tinea. The lymph nodes in your neck may be swollen and sore. You may also have a
rash on another part of your body. A kerion may be treated with steroid medicine to
help reduce inflammation and swelling.
In some cases, a tinea infection can lead to an infection by bacteria. This may be
treated with antibiotics.
Can tinea infection be prevented?
Some types of tinea infection can be prevented if you:
Wash after you get dirty or sweaty, or after using a locker room.
Don’t go barefoot. Wear shower shoes in public showers, gyms, locker rooms, and
Don’t share combs or brushes.
Keep your skin and feet dry.
Wear clean, loose-fitting underwear.
Make sure your pet does not have ringworm. People can get ringworm from animals.
If you think your pet has ringworm, take the pet to a veterinarian for
treatment. The vet can advise you on how to disinfect your home.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Call the healthcare provider if you have:
The rash does not get better after 10 days of treatment
The rash spreads to other areas of the body
Redness around the rash gets worse
Fluid leaks from the rash
You have a fever of 100.4ºf (38ºc) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare
Key points about tinea infection
Tinea is a fungal infection of the skin. It is also known as ringworm. But it is
not cause by worms.
The fungus can be spread from person to person.
Tinea infection can affect any part of the body. But it most often occurs on the
feet, the groin, nails, body, and scalp.
Treatment depends on what part of the body is infected. It may include
antifungal cream, shampoo, or medicine by mouth.
Some types of tinea infection can be prevented if you keep your skin dry.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines,
treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you.
Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.