Rashes that look like ringworm but aren’t 

rashes that look like ringworm but aren't
Medically reviewed by Dr. Ola Tarabzuni

Overview

Skin rashes can be alarming, especially when they resemble common conditions like ringworm (tinea corporis) but turn out to be something else entirely. While ringworm is a fungal infection characterized by a red, circular rash, several other conditions can mimic its appearance. It’s crucial to consider other potential causes based on the presentation and accompanying symptoms. Individuals can effectively manage these skin issues and relieve discomfort and irritation by understanding the various conditions that can mimic ringworm, appropriate treatment options, and when to seek medical advice.

This comprehensive blog will explore the types of rashes resembling ringworm, effective treatment options, and when seeking medical advice is crucial.

Have a ringworm-like skin infection not clearing from antifungals? Consult now for a diagnosis and treatment.

What are the types of rashes that look like ringworms but aren’t?

Nummular eczema

The red circle on your skin might not be ringworm. Nummular eczema is known as discoid eczema and presents round or oval-shaped inflamed skin patches that can be mistaken for ringworm. Unlike ringworm, nummular eczema is not caused by a fungal infection but by an allergic reaction or irritation.

Psoriasis

Plaque Psoriasis can cause red spots that are oval or round and have silvery scales, much like ringworms. These patches result from the autoimmune disease psoriasis, which produces a high turnover of skin cells.

Contact Dermatitis

When an irritant or allergen comes into contact with the skin, it may result in irritation and the formation of an itchy red circular rash or red rings on skin known as contact dermatitis. The rash may resemble ringworm and appear irregularly shaped or round.

Granuloma Annulare 

This chronic skin condition manifests as raised, ring-shaped lesions on the skin. Although the cause of granuloma annulare is not well understood, it is not infectious like ringworm.

Pityriasis Rosea 

Pityriasis rosea typically starts with a single, large, pink or red patch known as a herald patch, followed by smaller patches that spread in a distinctive “Christmas tree” pattern. While the herald patch may resemble ringworm, the subsequent rash is not circular and has no raised border.

Lymes Disease

A bacterial infection from the bite of a black-legged deer tick causes Lyme disease. It typically presents with a circular bull’s-eye rash around the bite (Erythema migrans), which can be mistaken for ringworm. Around 70% of those affected will develop this rash within 5–7 days, with symptoms like burning, itching, or heat in the area. On lighter skin, the rash appears bright red, while on darker skin, it may show as a pinkish-brown ring around a maroon-red area, though it can be harder to spot.

Secondary syphilis rash 

Syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection, can cause a rash that may appear as reddish-brown spots on the palms and soles or as a generalized rash on other parts of the body. This rash may be mistaken for ringworm but requires different treatment.

Seborrheic dermatitis 

This condition can cause red, scaly patches on the scalp, face, or other oily body areas. While it may resemble ringworm, seborrheic dermatitis is not caused by a fungus but rather by an overgrowth of yeast on the skin.

Lupus

During its initial flare-up, ringworm-like scaly rash on the face and upper torso might be caused by lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease. Darker skin tones may display a dark black or light pink spot with a maroon edge, while lighter skin tones may display a pink spot with a dark-brown border. Flares can be triggered by sunlight exposure, stress, infection, or injury and may last for weeks before improving, potentially leaving scars. Lupus is chronic so flare-ups can recur in the same or new areas.

Erythrasma

Erythrasma, a bacterial infection often overlooked, manifests as pink to brown patches in skin folds, particularly in warm, moist areas like the groin, armpits, or between toes. Caused by Corynebacterium minutissimum, its diagnosis can be confirmed through Wood’s lamp examination or culture tests. Treatment typically involves topical or oral antibiotics, swiftly resolving the infection and alleviating discomfort.

Drug eruptions 

Certain medications can cause skin reactions that present as red, circular rashes similar to ringworm. These drug eruptions can occur as an allergic reaction or as a side effect of the medication. They may require medical attention and discontinuation of the offending drug. 

Petechiae:

These may present as red circles on the skin, not itchy. Petechiae, tiny red or purple spots on the skin, result from bleeding under the skin’s surface. Various factors, like infections or clotting, cause these. Prompt medical evaluation may unveil the condition’s origin.

How do you treat red circles on the skin?

When faced with a red circular rash on the skin, it’s essential to determine the underlying cause before initiating treatment. Here are various treatment options depending on the diagnosis:

Prescription medications

Antifungal Creams or Oral Medications

Antifungal medications prescribed by a healthcare provider can effectively clear the infection if the rash is ringworm or another fungal infection. These can be requested via telemedicine platforms.

Topical antibiotics:

For bacterial skin infections masquerading as ringworm, antibacterial creams or oral antibiotics clear up the rash and eradicate the germ. Prompt treatment ensures a swift and full-term recovery.

Topical Steroids

Topical corticosteroids are given to treat inflammatory skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema to lessen irritation and inflammation.

Immunomodulators 

In some cases of eczema or psoriasis, immunomodulating medications such as calcineurin inhibitors may suppress the immune response and alleviate symptoms.

Topical treatments

Moisturizers

Keeping the affected skin moisturized can help alleviate symptoms of dryness and itching associated with various skin conditions.

Calamine Lotion

Calamine lotion can relieve itching and irritation associated with contact dermatitis or other inflammatory skin conditions.

Over the counter Medications

Antihistamines 

OTC antihistamines can help alleviate itching associated with allergic reactions or inflammatory skin conditions.

Hydrocortisone Cream 

OTC hydrocortisone cream can temporarily relieve itching and inflammation associated with mild skin rashes.

Your skin infection may not be fungal. Consult now for a treatment plan

When should I see a doctor?

While some skin rashes may resolve on their own or with OTC treatments, it’s essential to seek medical attention if:

  • The rash does not improve or worsen despite treatment.
  • The rash is accompanied by severe pain, fever, or other systemic symptoms.
  • The rash is spreading rapidly or affecting a large area of the body.
  • Your immune system is compromised, and you may have underlying medical issues that make diagnosing and treating the rash more difficult.

FAQs about rashes

What type of lupus looks like ringworm?

Cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE) is a type of lupus that can manifest with skin symptoms resembling ringworm. CLE can present with various skin lesions, including red, scaly patches or plaques that may have a circular appearance. It’s essential to differentiate between CLE and ringworm to ensure appropriate treatment and management.

Is there a bacterial infection that looks like ringworm?

Yes, there are bacterial infections that can produce skin lesions resembling ringworm. One example is erythrasma, which is caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium minutissimum. Erythrasma typically presents as reddish-brown patches with sharp borders in areas of skin folds, such as the groin, armpits, or between toes. While erythrasma may resemble ringworm superficially, it requires different treatment approaches, such as topical or oral antibiotics.

What is a skin fungus that isn’t ringworm?

Tinea corporis, known as ringworm, is caused by a dermatophyte fungus. However, other types of skin fungal infections are not ringworm. For example:
1. Malassezia species are the source of tinea versicolor, a fungal infection that usually manifests as patches of discolored skin that are either lighter or darker than the surrounding skin. It is typical to find tinea versicolor on the shoulders, back, and chest.
2. Candida species, including Candida albicans, cause this fungal ailment. It can affect the skin, nails, mouth, and vaginal region, among other regions of the body. Infections with Candida can manifest as red, swollen areas accompanied by satellite lesions on the skin.

Can ringworm be misdiagnosed?

Yes, ringworm can be misdiagnosed, especially when other skin conditions mimic its appearance. Conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, pityriasis rosea, and nummular dermatitis can present with red, circular rashes that may be mistaken for ringworm. Additionally, bacterial or fungal infections with similar clinical features can lead to misdiagnosis. Therefore, healthcare providers must conduct a thorough evaluation, including visual inspection, skin scraping for microscopic examination, and possibly fungal cultures, to accurately diagnose ringworm and differentiate it from other skin conditions.

Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

  • Cameron, Daniel Cameron-Daniel. “What does a Lyme disease rash look like?.”
  • Duramaz, Burcu Bursal, et al. “Appearance of skin rash in pediatric patients with COVID‐19: three case presentations.” Dermatologic Therapy 33.4 (2020).
  • Mahé, A., et al. “A distinctive skin rash associated with coronavirus disease 2019?.” Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology 34.6 (2020): e246.

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