A person shrugging with their hands in the air standing in front of a patch of psoriasis and a patch of ringworm.

Psoriasis vs. Ringworm

When a skin rash develops, it can be difficult to figure out the cause. Some rashes may be confused for one another. Psoriasis may be confused for ringworm when signs and symptoms first appear.

It is important to have the correct diagnosis because the 2 rashes have different causes and are treated differently. Understanding the differences can help you get the right care.1

What do psoriasis and ringworm look like?

Psoriasis and ringworm both cause a red itchy rash. However, they are very different conditions. Ringworm patches are usually circular. The edges of the circle are raised so it may look like a worm under the skin. The itching is often very intense.

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As the infection spreads, the circle grows larger, but the center will clear up. It can affect the feet, where it is called “athlete’s foot.” It can also affect the groin area of males, where it is called “jock itch.” Other common locations are the scalp and nails, but it can show up anywhere on the body.1-3

Psoriasis patches may be circular but usually look more irregular. The patches are scaly. They may appear white or silver in some areas where the skin is shedding. They are usually found on the elbows, knees, scalp, back, and palms.

Psoriasis patches can grow in one spot or they can appear in multiple areas at once. Psoriasis can cause symptoms other than the rash. Some people may experience a fever or muscle aches.4

What causes psoriasis and ringworm?

The name “ringworm” can be confusing. It is actually a fungal infection. No worms are involved. Ringworm is very contagious and is passed through contact. Anyone can get ringworm, but certain people are at a higher risk. The fungi that cause ringworm like to live in warm, damp areas. They can be found in locker rooms or public showers.3

Ringworm of the foot is also very common if you wear tight, damp shoes often. Because of this, ringworm is very common in athletes like wrestlers or football players. People living with a weakened immune system may also be at higher risk for ringworm.5

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease. In autoimmune diseases like psoriasis, the body’s immune system sees itself as a threat so it will attack itself. It is not contagious.4

Scientists believe that psoriasis is passed in families through DNA. Patches often come and go in waves called “flare-ups” or “flares.” Many things can cause a psoriasis flare, such as stress or drinking alcohol.6

How do you treat psoriasis and ringworm?

Ringworm is contagious but it is temporary and treatable. Your doctor will prescribe an anti-fungal cream to apply to the rash. Ringworm is also very preventable. If you ever use a public shower or spend time in a locker room, do not walk around barefoot.

Wear breathable shoes and change out of wet socks whenever you can. If you are an athlete, shower after playing. Avoid sharing your gear.2,5 Psoriasis is a chronic disease. It cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be treated. The treatments vary from creams to light therapy to steroid drugs. Because it is passed in DNA, scientists do not have a way of preventing psoriasis.

If you are living with psoriasis, avoiding triggers can help reduce the number of flare-ups you may have.4 If you think you may have one of these rashes or may not have been diagnosed correctly, speak to your doctor or dermatologist.

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