While there are a number of skin conditions that can cause inflamed, itchy and painful patches, two, in particular, stand out thanks to their similarities: ringworm and psoriasis. With overlapping symptoms, it can be hard to tell which is which.
But if you know what to look for, there are a few differences, including how each condition is treated. To get a better understanding of both psoriasis and ringworm, and how to tell them apart, we spoke to dermatologist Sean McGregor, DO.
What’s the difference between psoriasis and ringworm?
The biggest difference between psoriasis and ringworm, says Dr. McGregor, is the origins of each. Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition, while ringworm is a fungal infection. “While a person’s autoimmune issues trigger psoriasis, you can acquire the ringworm fungus in a number of different ways,” he adds, “from soil, other humans or even pets.”
Additionally, psoriasis is a chronic condition, meaning it never goes away. Ringworm, conversely, will go away with treatment since it’s simply an infection.
How to tell the difference between psoriasis and ringworm
For treatment purposes, of course, it’s important to differentiate between the two conditions and know which one you have. No matter which you think you have, though, it’s always important to contact your healthcare provider so you can get proper treatment.
Ringworm and psoriasis have several overlapping symptoms, which is where confusion can sometimes set in, including:
- Itchy skin.
- Scaly, cracked skin.
But there are signs that can help you figure out which condition you may be dealing with.
Specific symptoms of ringworm
Dr. McGregor says there’s one symptom in particular that can help you figure it out. “Ringworm gets its name from a worm-like shape around the edges of the rashes,” he says.
One other thing to look for, he advises, is a bit of clearing in the middle of a rash. “Ringworm tends to have a little clearing in the center of the rash with more of the inflammation or irritation around that border.”
Specific symptoms of psoriasis
While psoriasis doesn’t have symptoms that are as clear cut as those of ringworm, there are a few other ways you might be able to tell that it’s psoriasis and not something else.
First, if the symptoms are recurring and lack that ring-like feature, it may be psoriasis. Since psoriasis is a chronic condition, it doesn’t really go away over a few days with treatment like ringworm will.
Second, about 30% of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis, a type of arthritis closely associated with psoriasis.
As mentioned, the big difference in treatment is that ringworm can be cured, while the chronic condition of psoriasis is managed. No matter which condition you may have, it’s best to start by talking to your healthcare provider.
Treatment for ringworm
For treating ringworm, Dr. McGregor says, “The antifungal cream terbinafine 1% is the best over-the-counter treatment available.” Lamisil™ is the most prominent version of this medicine. If you wind up with ringworm on your scalp, though, your doctor will prescribe you an oral version instead of the topical cream.
Treatment for psoriasis
There are many home remedies you can try for temporary relief for psoriasis, including:
- Moisturizing cleansers.
- Oatmeal bath.
- Epsom salt.
When it comes to more long-term treatment, though, Dr. McGregor says your doctor will recommend topical steroids or Vitamin D ointment.