How Ringworm Is Treated

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Most of the time, ringworm (tinea) can be successfully treated with an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription cream, ointment, or other medication that's applied directly to the rash. In some cases a systemic drug—one that is taken by mouth—is necessary. There also are natural treatments that have shown promise in curing certain types of ringworm.

The treatment used for ringworm usually depends on the part of the body that's affected.

Ringworm that affects the feet (tinea pedis, or athlete's foot) may need to be managed differently than ringworm that affects the scalp (tinea capitis), for example.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

Tips for Treating Ringworm
 Verywell / Maritsa Patrinos

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the only way to cure ringworm is with antifungal medication. While using such a drug, whether it's a topical product you apply directly to skin or a pill or liquid, there are things you can do to relieve any discomfort you're feeling until the medication takes effect.

It's also important to do all you can to prevent the fungus from spreading to another part of your body or to another person. Some key tips for managing ringworm:

  • To relieve itching, apply a cool compress to the uncomfortable area for 20 to 30 minutes at a time as needed. 
  • Fungi love warmth and moisture, so keep areas affected by ringworm clean and dry. After washing, use a separate towel to dry the infected body part. 
  • As much as possible, don't wear clothing or footwear that cause you to sweat.
  • Always shower after you work out to wash away perspiration. Dry off thoroughly.
  • Change all of your clothes every day.
  • Wash everything you wear or touch in hot water before wearing or using it again. This applies to clothing, towels, and compresses. 
  • Don't cover ringworm with a bandage or other dressing.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after touching an area affected by ringworm. 
  • Throw away any disposable items that might have been infected.
  • Disinfect items you want or need to keep. For example, if you realize you were harboring a fungal foot infection while wearing expensive leather dress shoes, you can use an ultraviolet (UV) shoe sanitizer or ozone cabinet, both of which can be purchased online. 
  • To prevent the spread of scalp ringworm, never wear someone else's hat or cap. Make sure your child doesn't share sports headgear, such as batting helmets, with teammates. 
  • Shampooing with a selenium sulfide shampoo such as Selsun Blue may make ringworm of the scalp less contagious.
  • If you suspect your pet has ringworm, see the vet right away. Ringworm can be passed between humans and animals. Cats are especially prone to the infection. 

Over-the-Counter Therapies

For most cases of ringworm affecting the skin, the first line of defense is a non-prescription antifungal medicine. These come as creams, ointments, powders, or sprays. You're probably familiar with many of them: They're readily available in drugstores, the pharmacy section of supermarkets, big-box stores, and online.

Some examples of antifungal medications for treating ringworm on the skin include: 

  • Lotrimin cream, Cruex spray powder, Mycelex, Pedesil (clotrimazole)
  • Desenex topical powder, Fungoid cream, Micatin cream, Lotrimin AF athlete's foot spray or powder, Lotrimin AF Jock Itch spray powder (miconazole)
  • Lamisil (terbinafine)
  • Xolegel (ketoconazole)

Topical antifungal medications often work quickly.

You'll probably notice that the scaly rash disappears before the general redness of your skin goes away, but most of the time ringworm on the skin will clear in a couple of weeks.

However, as with antibiotics, it's important to continue to treat the area for as long as directed, even if you feel you're totally fungus-free. This will help prevent the infection from coming back.

Ringworm on the scalp must be treated with an oral medication (as you'll read below), but often it can help speed up healing to also use a shampoo that contains a fungus-fighting ingredient. If you're prescribed a prescription drug to treat ringworm of the scalp, your healthcare provider may suggest you pick up an OTC shampoo that contains ketoconazole, such as Nizoral. This product usually can be used every three or four days just as you would a regular shampoo (wash, rinse, and repeat) for up to eight weeks.

Prescriptions

There are a few situations and types of fungal infections for which it's necessary to use a prescription antifungal medication to treat ringworm.

  • Ringworm on the skin that doesn't respond to OTC treatment. If ringworm doesn't go away after using a topical medication for the full amount of time directed, see a dermatologist. A stronger prescription medication may do the trick. For infections that get worse or don't go away, there are prescription topical products such as Loprox cream (ciclopirox), Spectazole cream (econazole nitrate), and Oxistat cream or lotion (oxiconazole nitrate).
  • Tinea capitas (ringworm on the scalp) or tinea barbae (ringworm of the beard). Fungal infections on the scalp must be treated with a prescription antifungal. Examples include Grifulvin V or Gris-PEG (griseofulvin), Onmel or Sporanox (itraconazole), terbinafine, and Diflucan (fluconazole). Sometimes a healthcare provider will prescribe prescription-strength ketoconazole shampoo to treat stubborn ringworm on the scalp. It is used just once.

Ringworm Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Woman

Natural Remedies

For the moment, the best way to treat most types of ringworm is with medication. But there has been some preliminary research to suggest that there may be alternatives that will work in some cases, for some people. Note that the options below haven't been tested enough to recommend, but if you're interested in an alternative to drugs for treating a ringworm infection, it can't hurt to run these ideas by your healthcare provider to see if they might be an option for you.

Tea Tree Oil

Some preliminary research has found that Melaleuca alternifolia, an essential oil known as tea tree oil that's widely used in aromatherapy, may help cure ringworm affecting the feet. For instance, a 2002 study published in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology compared solutions containing either 25 percent tea tree oil or 50 percent tea tree oil with a placebo to treat athlete's foot. Subjects applied one of the three options to areas affected with a fungal infection twice a day for four weeks.

At the end of the study, nearly three-quarters of the people who used the 25 percent solution had a significant improvement in their infection and more than half who used the 50 percent solution improved, while only 39 percent of the placebo group saw an improvement. 

Garlic Extract

Ajoene, which is a natural compound extracted from garlic, shows promise in the treatment of ringworm. For example, a 1999 study from the German journal Arzneimittel-Forschung found that a gel containing ajoene helped treat tinea cruris (jock itch) and tinea corporisn (ringworm on the skin).

Similarly, in a small study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 2000, ajoene was more effective than terbinafine (which is the active ingredient in Lamisil) in treating athlete's foot. For the study, researchers divided 70 subjects into three groups. One group used a topical medication containing 0.6 percent ajoene, the second group used 1 percent ajoene, and the third group used 1 percent terbinafine. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes ringworm?

    Ringworm is caused by one of three types of fungus, or dermatophyte—Trichopyton, Microsporum, or Epidermophyton. These organisms thrive on dead keratin, a protein on the top layer of skin and in the hair and nails.Ringworm is highly contagious and often occurs when someone touches another person or an animal that has the infection.

  • What are the best over-the-counter medications for ringworm?

    The medications you can buy without a prescription to treat ringworm are called antifungals. They all work by killing the spores that allow fungi to reproduce and come in different formulations. The best one for you will depend in large part on where the ringworm rash is located. If it's between your toes, for example, it may be easiest to use an antifungal spray or powder. If you have ringworm on your scalp, an OTC production will not be an option; you will need to take a prescription oral medication.

  • When will my ringworm symptoms go away once I start treatment?

    That depends on the body part that's affected, the severity of the infection, and the type of medication you're on, among other factors. Some people notice their ringworm starts to improve after just a few days, but it's more likely it will take two to four weeks for your symptoms to disappear completely if you're using a topical medication. Even if your symptoms are gone soon after you start treatment, it's important to continue using medication for as long as your healthcare provider prescribes or, if you're using an OTC product, the label recommends.

  • What can I do to make ringworm heal faster?

    Medications for ringworm are highly effective, but you can help them along by taking certain measures:

    • Keep the affected area clean, dry and covered.
    • Wash your hands immediately after touching a ringworm rash.
    • Put on fresh clothing every day.
    • Wash all items you take off before wearing them again. Wash towels before using them again.
    • If you get sweaty, take a shower or bath; use a fresh towel to dry yourself completely.
  • Will ringworm go away without treatment?

    It's possible, but it would likely take months for that to happen. The fungi that cause ringworm can live for up to nearly two years if they're in the warm, moist environment where they thrive.Untreated ringworm can cause skin to become cracked and open to bacterial infection, so it's best to treat it. And if you wait too long to treat ringworm, it can spread and become much harder to manage.

  • Why does my skin still itch even though the ringworm rash is gone?

    Even after the rash disappears, some ringworm symptoms such as itching and redness may linger as your skin continues to heal. If after two weeks of treating your ringworm you still have symptoms that bother you, see a healthcare provider. Do not use a steroid to ease the itch: These medications weaken the immune system and could exacerbate a fungal infection rather than help heal it.To treat itching caused by ringworm, you can apply a cool, wet washcloth to the area for 20 to 30 minutes.

  • Will my ringworm be contagious once I start treating it?

    Yes, but not for long. After 48 hours of treatment, ringworm usually is no longer easily spread. Note, however, if you have a pet with ringworm, they're likely to stay contagious for up to three weeks once you start treating them. This is important to know since ringworm can sometimes be passed from animals to humans.

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Article Sources
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