The telltale signs of the fungal infection ringworm, include an area of the skin that may be:
- roughly circular
It may also have a slightly raised border. If the border of the patch slightly raises and extends outward, roughly forming a circle, it might resemble a worm or a snake.
Ringworm is actually caused by mold-like parasites — no actual worm is involved. If caught early it can be cleared with an antifungal cream or ointment. If it covers a large area of skin, your doctor may prescribe an antifungal medicine.
These signs of ringworm can be different for different people and they’re similar to other conditions. So, if that red circle on your skin isn’t ringworm, what could it be?
Like ringworm, eczema is often first noticed as an itchy, red patch. Other symptoms may include:
- dry skin
- rough or scaly patches of skin
- crusting or oozing
Unlike ringworm, there’s currently no cure for eczema. But symptoms can be managed with:
- lifestyle changes
- over-the-counter remedies
- prescription topicals
Because it often looks like a ring of small skin-colored, pink or red bumps, granuloma annulare might be mistakenly identified as ringworm. The diameter of the rings can be up to 2 inches.
While ringworm is a fungal infection, it’s not clear was causes granuloma annulare.
It’s sometimes triggered by:
- minor skin injuries
- insect or animal bites
Granuloma annulare is typically treated with:
- corticosteroid creams or injections
- oral medications, such as antibiotics or drugs to prevent immune system reactions
- freezing with liquid nitrogen
- light therapy
Psoriasis could be mistaken for ringworm because of the itchy red patches and scales that are symptoms of the condition.
Unlike ringworm, psoriasis is not a fungal infection, it’s a skin condition that accelerates the skin cell life cycle.
Psoriasis symptoms may include:
- red patches with silvery scales
- itching, soreness, or burning
- cracked, dry skin
While ringworm can be cured with antifungal medication, there’s currently no cure for psoriasis. The symptoms of psoriasis can be addressed with a variety of treatments including:
- topical steroids
- vitamin D analogues
- calcineurin inhibitors
- light therapy
With its itchy, red rash, contact dermatitis might be confused with ringworm. Contact dermatitis occurs when your body reacts to a chemical, such as a skin care product or detergent.
Other symptoms might include:
- dry, scaly, cracked skin
- swelling or tenderness
- bumps or blisters
Like ringworm, a key to treating contact dermatitis is avoidance. With ringworm, a contagious fungal infection, you avoid infected people, animals, and objects. With contact dermatitis you identify and avoid the substance that triggers the condition.
Treatment might include steroid ointments or creams and oral medications such as antihistamines or corticosteroids.
A bullseye rash is a common sign of Lyme disease. Because of its circular appearance, it can be mistaken for ringworm.
Lyme disease is caused by a bite from a black-legged tick.
Other symptoms of Lyme disease may include flu-like symptoms and a spreading rash that’s itchy or painful.
It’s important to treat Lyme disease as soon as possible. Treatment commonly includes oral or intravenous antibiotics.
Pityriasis rosea typically starts with a round or oval, slightly raised, scaly patch on your chest, abdomen, or back. Because of its shape, the first patch (herald patch) might be erroneously thought to be ringworm. The herald patch is usually followed by smaller spots and itching.
Although the exact cause of pityriasis rosea hasn’t been determined, it’s thought to be triggered by a viral infection. Unlike ringworm, it’s not believed to be contagious.
Pityriasis rosea commonly goes away on its own in 10 weeks or less and is treated with nonprescription medications and remedies to relieve itching.
If the itching is unbearable or it doesn’t disappear in an appropriate amount of time, your doctor may prescribe:
- antiviral drugs
Although a circular or ring-like rash could be ringworm, it could also be a ringworm look alike.
If you notice a circular rash on yourself or a child, a visit to the doctor for an accurate diagnosis is often warranted. Your doctor might refer you to a dermatologist. The Healthline FindCare tool can provide options in your area if you don’t already have a dermatologist.
If, following the doctor’s visit, the rash doesn’t clear up as expected, update your doctor to see if you need a new diagnosis. Many skin conditions have similar appearances and symptoms, so the original diagnosis may have been inaccurate.