Ringworm is a common fungal skin infection that often causes symptoms like ring-shaped rashes, itchiness, and scaly plaques. The condition can affect any part of the skin or nails.
Ringworm can be referred to by different names depending on the part of the body it affects. For example, ringworm of the feet is commonly known as “athlete’s foot,” while ringworm affecting the groin is called “jock itch.”
All types of ringworm are treated with antifungal medicines. In many cases, over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal creams, shampoos, powders, or sprays will clear up the infection within two to four weeks. Certain kinds of ringworm may require prescription antifungal medication, including ointments and oral tablets.
Treatments by Ringworm Type
Many kinds of ringworm can be effectively treated with non-prescription antifungal medicines. However, some types of ringworm require prescription medicine or other steps to relieve symptoms and clear up the infection.
Ringworm on the Body, Hands, or Feet
Ringworm of the body (tinea corporis), ringworm of the hands (tinea manuum), and ringworm of the feet (tinea pedis, also known as athlete’s foot) can be effectively treated with OTC antifungal lotion, cream, or powder that you can buy at the drugstore.
OTC antifungal medicines include:
- Clotrimazole, sold under brand names like Lotrimin and Mycelex
- Miconazole, sold under brand names like Micatin and Zeasorb AF
- Lamisil (terbinafine)
Use the OTC antifungal medicine as the product label or your healthcare provider directs.
If the ringworm covers a large area of your body, you may need prescription medication.
Ringworm of the groin area (tinea cruris), also known as jock itch, can often be treated at home by:
- Applying an OTC antifungal cream, spray, or powder to the affected area twice a day for 10-14 days
- Applying a cool compress to the groin for half an hour up to six times per day
- Washing the affected area of the skin and drying it thoroughly
If your jock itch symptoms don’t clear up within a few weeks, reach out to a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in skin conditions) or another healthcare provider about other options.
Ringworm on the Scalp
Unlike many other types of ringworm, ringworm on the scalp (tinea capitis) is treated with oral prescription antifungal medicine for one to three months. Antifungal medications prescribed to treat scalp ringworm include:
- Griseofulvin, sold under brand names like Grifulvin V and Gris-PEG
- Lamisil (terbinafine)
- Itraconazole, sold under brand names like Onmel and Sporanox
- Diflucan (fluconazole)
Medications for ringworm of the scalp may come as tablets, capsules, or liquids. Like in the case of Lamisil, they may also come in the form of granules, which you can sprinkle onto soft food like pudding and then consume.
Your healthcare provider may also recommend that you use an antifungal shampoo to clear the infection. It may even be recommended that all members of your household wash their hair with antifungal shampoo to avoid getting ringworm.
Ringworm on the Beard Area
Beard ringworm, or tinea barbae, affects the hair and hair follicles in or around the beard and mustache area. Ringworm of the beard area is treated with:
- Prescription antifungal medication
- Removal of the infected hair
- Removal of the affected tissue to allow for better healing (a dermatologist will need to do this)
Ringworm on the Nails
Ringworm of the toenails or fingernails—also called tinea unguium or onychomycosis—is most effective when started early. This kind of ringworm can be treated with:
- A six- to 12-week course of oral Lamisil (terbinafine)
- Laser therapy
- Antifungal nail polish
- Surgical nail debridement (reduction) or, in severe cases, removal
Living With and Managing Ringworm
Ringworm is not usually a serious health condition and can thankfully be treated regardless of where it is on the body. Most cases go away within a few weeks of antifungal treatment. Sometimes it can take longer to get rid of ringworm. Sticking to your treatment plan in the long term is important to successful healing.
While rare, complications may occur. Complications of ringworm may include:
- Bacterial infections from scratching at the infected skin
- Darkening or lightening of the affected area(s) of the skin
- Flare-ups of other skin conditions, such as psoriasis
- Development of a rash at a different body site as an allergic response to the fungal infection, known as a dermatophytid reaction
- A more serious fungal infection known as Majocchi’s granuloma
Ringworm is contagious. The fungus that causes ringworm often grows in humid, hot environments. The infection spreads through skin-to-skin contact with infected people or animals, including household pets. You can also get ringworm through contact with infected objects (such as items like shared razors, towels, or combs) or surfaces (such as public showers).
You can prevent getting ringworm or spreading it to others by:
- Washing and changing your clothing frequently, especially underwear and socks
- Washing your hands after interacting with your pets
- Keeping your skin and nails clean and dry
- Wearing flip-flops or shower shoes in public locker rooms and showers
- Taking a shower and drying yourself off well after working out, dancing, playing sports, or swimming
- Wearing well-fitting shoes
A Quick Review
Ringworm is a type of skin infection caused by fungi. Symptoms typically include circular rashes, as well as itchy, dry, thick, or scaly plaques on skin. Most types of ringworm, including jock itch and athlete’s foot, can be treated with antifungal powder, cream, or spray that you can purchase over-the-counter. If you have a fungal infection on your scalp, beard area, or nails, you might need to take prescription antifungal medication. Besides medication, you may need to take other treatment measures to clear the ringworm depending on where on the body it is. Talk to your healthcare provider if your ringworm symptoms aren’t going away or are getting worse.
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