The stages of ringworm can be confusing due to the following factors involved: First, the symptoms of ringworm may be chronic (a slow buildup over time) or acute (a sudden attack), making it hard to predict if you're just experiencing an itch or a skin condition.1
Second, the symptoms vary depending on which part of your skin is infected, such as your foot or scalp. Third, the species of fungi responsible may elicit various responses depending on the person.
The third factor is reaffirmed in Mycology Online by The University of Adelaide, explaining that, "The type and severity of the host response is often related to the species and strain of dermatophyte causing the infection."2
Therefore, knowing the common symptoms for each type of ringworm and how they usually begin can help you determine the correct course of action.
Below are a few possible cases on how ringworm might start to appear in different parts of your body:
• The first sign of ringworm in your body (tinea corporis) is usually a mild burning sensation along with itching. You might disregard this at first because the itch is nothing unusual.
• As the itch stays longer, inflammation settles in. The infected part becomes reddish and flaky.
• The inflamed area will start to develop into a circular rash.
• In nail ringworm (tinea unguium), circular spots do not form. Instead, your nails start to become brittle and may lift off from the nail bed.
• In scalp ringworm (tinea capitis), the distinctive red spots may not appear and your scalp may become flaky instead.
In the advanced stages of ringworm, the infection has fully settled in and presents itself in various ways.
• Tinea unguium
Yellow spots may appear on your lunula, which is the white, crescent-shaped area of your fingernail or toenail. If left untreated, the fungi may completely destroy your nail.3
• Tinea capitis
Kerion, a pus-filled lump several centimeters in diameter that may break open and drain, may develop. If left untreated, it may lead to scarring and permanent hair loss on the area. If a fever develops, you may have a more serious condition. Call your doctor immediately if that happens.4
• Tinea pedis
You may develop blisters on the sides of your foot. It's possible that your entire sole may also be dry but not inflamed.
• Tinea barbae
Your facial hair area may become very inflamed, and even develop pustules and small lumps of kerion in the area. The facial hair also becomes easy to pull out.5
If left untreated, ringworm may last for several months, but when acted upon right away, it only lasts for two to four weeks, depending on how your skin responds to your chosen remedy.6 Once treatment begins, you'll notice that your skin may flake and peel as it heals — don't worry as this is normal. The itching also gradually lessens until it disappears.
During healing, it's recommended to have your home cleaned thoroughly to minimize the chances of fungi growth. If you fail to remove fungi in your home, not only will your relatives and pets be at risk of ringworm, but you might also get infected again.