Tinea refers to a group of skin conditions caused by a fungus. The most common infections caused by tinea include ringworm, athlete’s foot, and jock itch. These infections can be caught by touching an infected person or animal or a contaminated surface, such as a public shower floor. Tinea infections are typically harmless and are easily treated with over-the-counter or prescription antifungal medications.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The symptoms of tinea infections depend on the type; all of the infections affect the skin. The infection can occur on the feet (athlete’s foot), fingernails and toenails, groin (jock itch), scalp, face, and hands or palms. Ringworm causes a ring-shaped, itchy rash on the skin or an itchy patch on the scalp. Athlete’s foot causes itchy, cracked skin on the feet, between the toes, while jock itch causes a rash in the groin area. Fungus in the fingernails and toenails causes the nails to become cracked and brittle. Doctors can usually diagnose a fungal infection based on symptoms and a physical exam. A skin scraping may be taken to culture as well.


Tinea infections are caused by a fungus, not a worm as the term “ringworm” suggests. People can get tinea fungus by touching another person infected with the fungus. Some types of tinea fungus thrive in damp areas, such as locker rooms and public showers, so touching any of these surfaces can also cause an infection. Animals can also carry the fungus and give it to people. An infected animal may have a patch of skin with missing fur.


Fungal infections can be prevented by not walking barefoot in public showers, locker rooms, and swimming pools. People should also avoid sharing personal items with others, such as towels brushes, and hats. If an animal has bald spots, it is best not to touch it in case it has a fungal infection.


Most cases of tinea infection can be treated with over-the-counter anti-fungal creams, such as Lamisil-AT. If these do not work, a doctor may prescribe a stronger anti-fungal medication. The affected area should be kept dry and clean, and loose clothing should be worn to avoid rubbing the area. If a pet has a fungal infection, it should be treated to avoid spreading it to people.

More Information

KidsHealth: http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/fungal/ringworm.html#cat20711
Medline Plus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/tineainfections.html
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dermatophytosis