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.
Ringworm doesn’t manifest right away once you’re exposed to dermatophytes. It usually takes four to 14 days3 before symptoms appear:4
1. Once fungi multiply on your skin, you may notice a red or pink spot that’s slightly raised. It may be moist, but more often, it’s dry, scaly and itchy.
2. The size of the rash will increase, and the center will start to clear up.
3. The result creates a circular patch with red edges, which is a classic symptom of ringworm.
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.5
• 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.6
• Tinea pedis — You may develop blisters on the sides of your foot. It's possible for your entire sole to 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.7
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.8 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. Effective solutions include vacuuming daily, as well as steam cleaning carpets and other furnishings to remove spores. For beddings, wash them in hot water.9