What Happens If Ringworm Is Untreated?

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If a person lives in a warm, damp climate or often wears wet clothing, such as swimsuits or sweaty workout wear, she is at risk for contracting ringworm. This fungal infection is not dangerous and can be easily treated at home. However, if it is left untreated, ringworm can spread and lead to potentially serious health problems.

If left untreated, ringworm can spread and lead to health problems.
If left untreated, ringworm can spread and lead to health problems. (Image: Elena Stepanova/iStock/Getty Images)

Ringworm

Ringworm is a common skin infection caused by a fungus. Ringworm can infect skin anywhere on the body. When it develops in the groin area, it is often called jock itch. The type found on feet is called athlete's foot. Infected people often have ringworm in more than one spot, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Athlete's foot is ring worm on the foot.
Athlete's foot is ring worm on the foot. (Image: maska82/iStock/Getty Images)

Symptoms

The chief symptom of ringworm is a red, itchy rash. Sometimes it takes the form of a raised ring, which gives the infection its name. Skin affected by the rash can become scaly, moist or oozy. Ringworm can cause bald patches on a person's scalp. If ringworm is left untreated, the itchy rash can spread, and the skin will become even more irritated and cracked, according to New York University's Langone Medical Center.

A red, itchy rash is the chief symptom of ringworm.
A red, itchy rash is the chief symptom of ringworm. (Image: Heike Kampe/iStock/Getty Images)

Diagnosis

A doctor often diagnoses ringworm just by looking at a patient's skin. If a doctor wants to be certain, she can use a black light to examine the skin. The fungus that causes ringworm appears blue under a black light. Doctors also can take a skin scraping and examine the cells under a microscope. This can be helpful if the infection has gone untreated, leaving a person at risk for a bacterial infection.

Your doctor can diagnose ringworm by examining the skin.
Your doctor can diagnose ringworm by examining the skin. (Image: AlexRaths/iStock/Getty Images)

Treatment

You can treat ringworm at home. Keep the skin clean and dry and apply anti-fungal medications--powders, lotions and creams--that are available without a prescription. If ringworm is left untreated, stronger anti-fungal medications, often administered orally, are available by prescription. If a person has developed a related bacterial infection, a doctor generally will prescribe antibiotics to clear it.

You can treat ringworm at home.
You can treat ringworm at home. (Image: Jaykayl/iStock/Getty Images)

Complications

Ringworm is extremely contagious. It can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact and via contaminated items, such as clothing, sheets and the surfaces in a shower. If a person does not treat ringworm, she could infect other people, even after they have sought treatment for their own infections.

Ringworm is extremely contagious.
Ringworm is extremely contagious. (Image: Martin Voigt/iStock/Getty Images)

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