Ringworm describes a group of fungal skin conditions that create an itchy, round rash. Many people with ringworm can treat their symptoms with nonprescription medications. However, for some types of ringworm, doctors prescribe antifungal drugs.

Ringworm infections are very common and can affect a person’s skin, hair, and nails. Athlete’s foot and jock itch are familiar examples of this type of infection.

Drugstores sell a range of ointments, pills, and creams to treat the different types of ringworm. Many people successfully cure their infections within 4 weeks through regular use of such products.

Ringworm infections are contagious, so people should treat symptoms quickly to reduce the risk of it spreading.

This article looks at the types of ringworm and the treatments available, including over-the-counter (OTC) remedies and prescription medications. It also offers tips to help people manage their infections.

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Ringworm is the collective name for a group of fungal skin infections with an itchy rash. They are also known as tinea or dermatophytosis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say there are around 40 different species of fungi that cause ringworm. Doctors name the infections after the affected parts of the body. These infections include the following:

  • athlete’s foot, or tinea pedis, affects a person’s feet
  • jock itch, or tinea cruris, affects the groin area, inner thighs, or buttocks
  • tinea capitis affects the scalp
  • tinea manuum affects the hands
  • tinea corporis affects the arms, legs, or other parts of the body
  • tinea unguium affects fingernails and toenails, infections that doctors call onychomycosis
  • tinea barbae affects the beard area of the face

Ringworm rashes usually form a circular pattern and may have a slightly raised border around the edges.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says that antifungal treatments will clear all ringworm infections, but it can take time, and people need to complete the course.

Learn more about ringworm here.

Most people can successfully cure their ringworm infections with OTC treatments. Many of these treatments contain the same antifungal ingredients. Some of the most common antifungal medications are listed below.

Clotrimazole

Clotrimazole cream or lotion can treat tinea corporis, tinea cruris, and tinea pedis. Clotrimazole (Lotrimin) stops the fungi from growing.

When using clotrimazole, it is important to follow the instructions carefully. People usually apply the cream or lotion to the affected area twice per day.

Most people with tinea cruris find that their symptoms improve within 2 weeks, but people with tinea pedis may not notice an improvement until around 4 weeks.

Clotrimazole can cause side effects. These include:

  • blistering
  • stinging or burning sensations
  • swelling
  • cracks in the skin

Doctors advise seeking medical advice if any side effects are severe.

Miconazole

People use miconazole (Desenex, Micatin) to treat ringworm, jock itch, and athlete’s foot. It comes as a cream, powder, tincture, or spray.

People apply miconazole twice per day, and symptoms usually clear up within 2–4 weeks.

Some people may experience side effects. These include:

If any side effects are severe, a person should seek medical help.

Terbinafine

Terbinafine (Lamisil) comes in creams, sprays, and gels and can treat athlete’s foot, jock itch, and other ringworm infections on the skin.

The CDC says terbinafine seems to be the most effective treatment for tinea pedis.

Possible side effects include:

  • peeling
  • itchy skin
  • blisters
  • hives

A person should seek medical help if the side effects are severe.

Other treatments

Some people prefer to treat ringworm with natural products, including tea tree oil, aloe vera, or coconut oil. There is not enough scientific evidence to say whether or not these treatments are effective.

Learn more about home remedies for ringworm here.

Some tinea infections do not respond to topical treatments, and doctors prescribe stronger medications to combat them. Tinea capitis, tinea barbae, and tinea unguium almost always need prescription drugs.

Griseofulvin

Doctors usually prescribe griseofulvin for people with tinea capitis (scalp ringworm) and tinea unguium (fungal infection of the nails).

People take griseofulvin as a tablet, capsule, or liquid, and dosages vary depending on the severity of the infection.

Griseofulvin takes time to cure infections, and people need to follow a doctor’s directions for several weeks. Toenail infections take the longest time to treat, and people may need to keep taking the tablets for at least 6 months.

Some people experience side effects while taking griseofulvin. These include:

People with current or previous liver disease, lupus, or problems with alcohol consumption cannot take griseofulvin. It is also unsuitable for people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant.

Learn more about griseofulvin here.

Itraconazole

Doctors may prescribe itraconazole (Sporanox, Onmel) capsules or tablets for people with severe ringworm infections in the toenails.

Some people experience side effects while taking itraconazole. They include:

Itraconazole can cause heart failure, so it is not suitable for anyone who has had a heart attack, irregular heartbeat, or any type of heart, lung, liver, or kidney disease.

Terbinafine

Terbinafine is an ingredient in some OTC remedies, but doctors may prescribe tablets or granules for nail or scalp ringworm infections.

People need to take the granules with a spoonful of soft food they can swallow without chewing, such as pudding or mashed potatoes. Fruit-based sauces, such as applesauce, are unsuitable as they are too acidic.

Terbinafine interacts with several prescription and OTC medications, and some of its side effects can be serious.

The most common side effects include:

Doctors will not prescribe terbinafine for people with a history of heart, liver, or kidney disease or people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Fluconazole

Fluconazole (Diflucan) comes in tablet or liquid form, and doctors sometimes prescribe it for people with stubborn or recurring athlete’s foot.

Possible side effects of fluconazole include:

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • diarrhea
  • stomach pain

Rarely, people experience serious side effects, including difficulty breathing or swallowing. A person must seek medical help if they experience severe side effects.

Ringworm infections are contagious, and there are three main ways infections spread. These are:

  • Person to person: People with ringworm can share their infections with others, either through direct contact or by sharing personal items. The CDC recommends not sharing towels, clothing, hairbrushes, or other personal items.
  • Animal to person: Cows, horses, cats, dogs, and many other animals can have ringworm and can pass it to people. Everyone should wash their hands after petting an animal or handling their bedding.
  • Environment to person: Ringworm fungi can live in damp areas, including locker rooms or public showers. The CDC recommends wearing shoes to reduce the risk of athlete’s foot. Also, a person may consider wearing flip-flops while in communal showers or locker rooms.

The AAD stresses the importance of keeping the infected areas scrupulously clean and dry. After touching the area, even after applying treatment, the person needs to wash their hands thoroughly.

People with ringworm infections need to be meticulous about their personal hygiene. They can wash all clothing, towels, and bedding regularly in hot, soapy water to reduce the risk of reinfection.

Most people can treat ringworm infections with OTC medications, but infections on the scalp, beard area, and nails all need prescription medications.

A person should see a doctor if the rash does not improve after treatment or if it is spreading to other parts of the body.

Ringworm infections can be slow to clear, but people who stick to their treatment and medication regimens will recover completely.

Some people may need to take antifungal medications for at least 6 months before they are clear of the infection.

Ringworm describes a group of fungal skin and nail infections. These infections are also called tinea.

People can buy OTC remedies to treat many infections, but some will need prescription medications.

Even stubborn ringworm infections will clear if people follow their treatment plans carefully.

Ringworm is contagious, so people should take steps to ensure they do not spread the infection to other people.