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Rashes That Look Like Ringworm But Aren’t

If you develop a red, itchy, circular rash, you may automatically assume it’s ringworm.

Ringworm is caused by a fungal infection and gets its name because of its ring-shaped appearance. Ring-like rashes often start small and then expand, possibly adding to your confusion and concern as they grow.

In addition to its ring-like shape, a ringworm rash may be pink, red, or brown (depending on your complexion) and have a raised, scaly border. Some people with ringworm also develop blisters.

However, before you diagnose yourself with ringworm, it’s important to understand that there are many other skin rashes and disorders that can leave you with the same circular rash. Keep reading to learn the different skin conditions that are commonly mistaken for ringworm.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by the bite of an infected tick. About 70% to 80% of people with Lyme disease develop a rash from a tick bite. The rash will likely:

  • Appear within 3-30 days after the tick bite
  • Have a “bullseye” appearance, with a large dot in the center and rings around it
  • Grow up to 12 inches wide
  • Feel warm to the touch

The difference: Lyme disease vs. ringworm

  • Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, while ringworm is a fungal infection.
  • Lyme disease is transmitted through an infected tick, while ringworm is spread through contact with an infected person, animal, or object.
  • A rash is the only symptom of ringworm. Lyme disease has a wide range of symptoms that can impact your health.
  • Ringworm isn’t life-threatening. Lyme disease is treatable if detected early on, but can be fatal if left untreated.


Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that affects people of all ages, even newborns. It’s usually very itchy and can appear as dry rashes, scaly patches, or blisters anywhere on your body.

Nummular eczema is a type of eczema that causes circular patches on the skin, often on your arms or legs. (Fun fact: the word “nummular” comes from the Latin word for “coin,” since the patches are usually coin-shaped.)

Nummular eczema patches are typically pink, red, or brown (depending on your complexion) and may itch, burn, ooze liquid, and crust over.

The difference: Eczema vs. ringworm

  • Eczema is not contagious like ringworm. You cannot pass it to another person or get it from someone or something else.
  • Eczema can be caused by a variety of factors, such as soaps or fragrances that irritate the skin, fabrics like wool or polyester, exposure to cigarette smoke, or dry air.
  • Ringworm has no triggers – you either have the infection or you don’t.
  • Ringworm is usually cured by anti-fungal medication. There is no cure for eczema, but vybe can help you manage your symptoms.


Hives are red, itchy welts that are sometimes circular in shape. You may develop hives when your skin reacts to allergens (such as pollen or pet dander), insect bites or stings, bacterial or viral infections, or certain foods or medications. Hot or cold weather can also trigger hives.

Some people only get hives occasionally and they clear up quickly. Others develop chronic hives that are more difficult to treat.

The difference: Hives vs. ringworm

  • While ringworm is caused by a fungal infection, hives have many potential causes, including allergic reactions, bacterial or viral infections, and environmental factors.
  • Hives are not contagious like ringworm.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is an itchy rash caused by an allergic reaction to a specific substance. The rash usually shows up within days of exposure to the substance in question, such as cosmetics, fragrances, jewelry, or plants. For instance, the rash may appear on your leg after you brush up against poison ivy or around your neck after you wear a necklace made with certain metals.

In addition to the rash, you may experience:

  • Dry, cracked, or scaly skin
  • Bumps or blisters that ooze and crust over
  • Swelling, tenderness, or burning

The difference: Contact dermatitis vs. ringworm

  • Ringworm is almost always circular. Contact dermatitis can be circular or other shapes.
  • Contact dermatitis develops as an allergic reaction to a particular substance, not a fungal infection.
  • Contact dermatitis is not contagious like ringworm. However, it is possible to get a poison ivy rash from plant oil that remains stuck to clothing, pet fur, garden tools, or other items.


Psoriasis is a chronic skin disease that causes a rash with itchy, scaly patches – usually on your elbows, knees, scalp, or lower back. However, a psoriasis rash can appear anywhere on your body. The rash may vary in color, appearing purple with gray scales on darker skin and pink or red with silver scales on lighter skin.

In addition to the rash, which can range from small spots in one isolated area to major eruptions all over your body, you may experience:

  • Dry, cracked skin that bleeds
  • Itching or burning where the rash appears
  • Discoloration or pitting in your fingernails or toenails
  • Stiff, swollen, or painful joints (if you also have psoriatic arthritis)

The difference: Psoriasis vs. ringworm

  • The edge of a ringworm rash might be raised or scaly, but the inside is generally flat. With psoriasis, the entire rash is usually raised.
  • Ringworm often appears in moist areas of the skin, such as your feet (athlete’s foot) or groin (jock itch). Psoriasis typically appears in drier areas, such as your elbows, knees, scalp, or lower back.
  • Psoriasis symptoms often come and go, while ringworm may never return after successful treatment.

Pityriasis Rosea

Pityriasis rosea is a rash that begins with an oval, slightly raised, scaly patch (called the herald patch) on your face, chest, abdomen, or back. Before the patch appears, you may have a fever, headache, sore throat, or fatigue.

The herald patch is often followed by smaller bumps or spots that form a pattern resembling the branches of a pine tree. The rash is usually itchy and persists for several weeks, then heals without scarring.

Pityriasis rosea can happen at any age but is most common between the ages of 10 to 35. Because the initial patch is oval-shaped, pityriasis rosea is often mistaken for ringworm in its early stages.

The difference: Pityriasis rosea vs. ringworm

  • As pityriasis rosea spreads, the rash may begin to look like the branches of a pine tree. Ringworm can also spread but never has this tree-like pattern.
  • Ringworm usually has a flat center, enhancing its “ring” appearance. The herald patch that signals pityriasis rosea may have a raised border or depressed center.
  • Ringworm can appear anywhere on your body, while pityriasis rosea typically appears on your trunk, upper arms, or legs.

Can I go to urgent care for ringworm and other skin rashes?

Yes, urgent care can diagnose and treat many types of skin rashes, including ringworm, eczema, poison ivy, Lyme disease, and more! A clinician will examine your skin, identify your rash, explain your treatment options, and prescribe creams or antibiotics if needed. We can also refer you to a specialist if needed.

When over-the-counter medications aren’t getting the job done – or you aren’t sure what kind of skin rash you have – our team is here for you. All vybe urgent care centers have licensed medical professionals with a wide range of healthcare knowledge.

Visit vybe today

All vybe locations are open seven days a week with extended weekday evening hours to serve you. You can walk in anytime or schedule an appointment for your convenience.

Visit your nearest vybe to have your skin rash checked today.