Ringworm infection treatments usually consist of an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription ointment, cream, or other topical medication that is applied directly to the rash.
In some cases, an oral drug is required. There are also natural treatments that are found to be promising for treating specific types of ringworm.
This page presents information on the different types of medicines to treat the ringworm disease and various natural remedies that can help with its symptoms and prevent the disease from spreading to others.
What is ringworm?
Ringworm can affect the following areas of the body:
- Feet (Athlete’s foot, also known as ‘tinea pedis)
- The groin, buttocks, or inner thighs (jock itch, also known as tinea cruris)
- Scalp (tinea capitis)
- Hands (tinea manuum)
- Beard (tinea barbae)
- Fingernails or toenails (onychomycosis, also known as ‘tinea unguium)
- Other body parts, such as the legs or arms (tinea corporis)
The signs and symptoms associated with ringworm vary depending on the body part affected, but they usually include:
- Ring-shaped rash
- Itchy skin
- Cracked, scaly, and red skin
- Loss of hair
Symptoms usually appear somewhere between 4 and 14 days post the skin is exposed to the fungi causing ringworm.
Causes and risk factors of ringworm
Ringworm is caused by nearly 40 different species of fungi; the scientific names for the fungi that induce ringworm are Microsporum, Trichophyton, and Epidermophyton.
The following factors may increase the risk of ringworm:
- Living in wet, hot, or humid climates
- Sweating excessively
- Participating in contact sports while wearing restrictive clothing
- Having a weakened immune system
- Sharing bedding, clothing, or towels with other people
Diagnosis of Ringworm
A healthcare provider may diagnose a patient as having ringworm by inspecting the skin affected and asking questions regarding the symptoms. In most cases, the healthcare provider will collect a small scraping of the nail or skin for a microscopic examination or send it to a lab for further testing.
Treatment for ringworm
Treatment for ringworm is usually determined on the basis of the location of the infection on the body. For instance, ringworm on the feet (tinea pedis) may require a different treatment than ringworm on the scalp (tinea capitis). In many cases, a doctor may recommend an over-the-counter (OTC) drug available at the local drugstore. Some people require prescription medications, depending on the severity of the infection.
To treat ringworm, the doctor may prescribe medications as well as recommend lifestyle changes. Depending on the extent of one’s ringworm infection, the doctor may prescribe different medications.
Certain ringworm infections, including jock itch, athlete’s foot, and body ringworm, are all typically treated using topical medications such as antifungal creams, ointments, gels, and sprays.
Ringworm treatment available over-the-counter
The first-line ringworm treatment option for most cases is a non-prescription (OTC) antifungal medication. These are usually available as ointments, powders, creams, or sprays and work quickly. They can be found in drugstores, supermarket pharmacies, and online.
The following antifungal medications are used in treating ringworm on the skin:
- Ketoconazole (Xologel)
- Clotrimazole (Lotrimin cream, Mycelex, and Cruex)
- Miconazole (Fungoid cream, Desenex topical powder, and Micatin cream)
- Terbinafine (Lamisil)
In most cases, one needs to apply the medication to the skin for 2 to 4 weeks to ensure that the fungus that caused ringworm is killed. It will also reduce the likelihood of it returning; however, if the symptoms worsen or do not improve after 2 weeks, the patient may require an oral prescription medicine from the doctor.
Ringworm prescription medications
A prescription antifungal medicine is required to treat ringworm under certain circumstances and for specific types of ringworm, including ringworm on the scalp, ringworm of the beard, and ringworm on the skin that does not clear after OTC medicines.
If ringworm on the skin does not disappear after applying a topical medicine for the recommended period, a prescription medication more powerful than OTC medicines may be needed.
Prescription topical ringworm treatments include:
- Econazole nitrate (Spectazole cream)
- Ciclopirox (Loprox cream)
- Oxiconazole nitrate (Oxistat lotion or cream)
OTC treatment options may not be sufficient if one has ringworm on the scalp or in multiple locations on the body. A physician can prescribe antifungal medication, which has to be taken orally for 1–3 months. Sometimes, a doctor may prescribe prescription-strength ketoconazole shampoo to treat stubborn ringworm on the scalp.
The most commonly prescribed oral medications for ringworm include:
- Griseofulvin (Gris-PEG)
Natural treatments for ringworm
Ringworm treatment options include over-the-counter and prescription medications; however, preliminary research indicates that natural remedies may work for some people.
- It should be noted that the options listed below have not been tested extensively, but if someone is looking for an alternative to medications used to treat a ringworm infection, medical advice should be sought to see if they are an option.
- Soapy water
- Garlic extract
- Apple cider vinegar
- Tea tree oil
- Liquorice oil
- Coconut oil
Skin care during a ringworm infection
Proper skin care can help accelerate recovery. The Following measure should be taken in case of an active infection.
- Gently cleanse the skin.
- Thoroughly but gently dry the skin.
- In tender areas, pat the skin using a towel but do not rub.
- Make sure to dry any areas and folds between the toes thoroughly
- If the socks or underwear cover an infection, change them more frequently than usual.
- As this infection frequently tends to spread from one region to another, treat the groin and feet at the same time.
- Wear loose-fitting garments and underclothes, such as boxers, whenever possible.
When to contact a doctor
One should visit the doctor at their earliest convenience is a ringworm infection is suspected. Also, if someone notices that the infection worsens or does not go away after using over-the-counter medications, they should contact a doctor. If someone has scalp ringworm, this requires using of a prescription antifungal medication.
Prevention of Ringworm
If ringworm occurs in a household, the following recommendations may help prevent its spread:
- A vet should be consulted right away if a pet is the cause of the infection.
- Everyone should regularly and thoroughly wash their hands with soap.
- All household members should be checked for ringworm.
- Clothing, bedding, combs, towels, hairbrushes, and footwear should never be shared.
- Anyone suffering from ringworm should avoid scratching affected areas as this leads to
- an increase in the risk of the infection spreading.
- Individuals should refrain from walking around in bare feet in their homes.
- Clothes must be washed with antifungal soap in hot water.
- A cool body temperature should be maintained, and loose-fitting clothes should be worn, which can help reduce the risk of infection.
Caution: Do not use steroids on ringworm infections
Ringworm is caused by a fungus that cannot be killed by steroid creams. Steroid creams can exacerbate ringworm by weakening the skin’s defences. Steroid creams can spread the infection throughout the body. Ringworm treated with topical steroids can have an abnormal appearance, making it difficult for healthcare professionals to diagnose it. In rare cases, steroid creams can allow the fungal infection to infiltrate deeper within the skin and end up causing a more severe condition.
Ringworm is a fungus that infects the scalp and skin. Ringworm is usually treatable with over-the-counter topical treatments that are directly applied to the areas affected; however, in some cases, a prescription medicine may be required to eliminate the infection.
Ringworm is highly infectious (contagious) and can be transmitted between humans and animals; therefore, it is essential to keep the skin and surroundings clean.
If treated properly, a ringworm infection should clear up in a few weeks. Even if it appears to clear up in a few days, keep using ringworm treatment as per the doctor’s recommendations.