Ringworm is a common skin infection that can affect anyone of any age. The name may give you the impression it’s a parasitic infection, one caused by a worm or bug, but ringworm is a fungal infection. The medical name for ringworm is tinea. It’s further identified by the part of the body the infection is found. For example, tinea on the foot or toes—commonly known as athlete’s foot—is tinea pedis. Pedis is Latin for ‘of the foot.’ Luckily, although ringworm is very contagious, it’s also fairly easy to treat. There are over-the-counter and prescription ringworm medicines, but it can take a while for the treatment to be effective. Here’s what you need to know about ringworm treatment. Ringworm Infections by Body Part Curing ringworm requires an antifungal medication, but the type of medication you use depends on where the infection is. Ringworm can affect your: Face: tinea faciei Scalp: tinea capitas Beard: tinea barbae Hand: tinea manus Groin (jock itch): tinea cruris Fingernails or toenails: tinea unguium, or onychomycosis Feet (athlete’s foot): tinea pedis Body: tinea corporis Ringworm Treatments Most of the time you can treat ringworm at home using over-the-counter (OTC) products. Home remedies for ringworm like tea tree oil have been around for generations, but are not effective in treating fungal infections. If the infection does not go away with OTC antifungal products or it needs more intense treatment, your doctor may prescribe oral antifungal medications (by mouth) or prescription-strength creams or ointments. Ringworm Medicine for the Scalp If you have a diagnosis of scalp ringworm, you will need an antifungal shampoo. Since ringworm is quite contagious, particularly on the scalp, doctors often recommend everyone living in the home of the affected person should use the antifungal shampoo for the duration of the infection. Over-the-counter antifungal shampoo for scalp ringworm should be used once every 3 to 4 days for about 2 months. Prescription shampoos are stronger and may only require a single use to successfully treat the infection. You use OTC antifungal shampoo as any other type of shampoo: wet your hair thoroughly, apply the shampoo, massage your scalp until there is a lather, and then rinse the shampoo from your hair. If there are spots of broken skin on your scalp, don’t use OTC antifungal shampoo. Speak with your doctor about alternative treatments. For prescription-strength shampoo, follow the instructions on the prescription label and package insert. Briefly, work the shampoo into a lather and leave the product on for 5 minutes before rinsing. Be careful not to get the shampoo in your eyes. If this does happen, flush your eyes well with water. Ringworm Medicine for the Skin Antifungal treatments used for ringworm may also be used in other forms for other fungal infections, such as yeast infections and thrush, so choosing an OTC medicine can be confusing. Carefully read the package instructions to make sure you’ve selected the proper remedy. If you are not sure about which product is best for you, speak with your pharmacist. OTC medications to treat ringworm for skin, such as athlete’s foot or jock itch, include: Clotrimazole (sold as Lotrimin) Terbinafine (sold as Lamisil) Miconazole (sold under many different brand names including Micaderm and Mitrazol), for topical use on the skin. Miconazole is also the active ingredient in creams that cure vaginal yeast infections (a type of fungal infection). Ketoconazole (sold under a few brand names including Extina and Xolegel) Some of these products are also available in stronger prescription-only formulations. It’s important to apply these antifungal products consistently and properly to eliminate the infection completely. Here’s how: Wash the rash area gently but well. Pat dry—do not rub to avoid irritating the skin further. To prevent the infection from spreading, either use paper towels or ensure cloths used for washing and drying are washed before they are used again. Wash cloths in hot, soapy water to kill the fungus. Apply a thin layer of the product to the rash according to instructions, usually 2 to 3 times a day. Don’t skip a dose during the treatment. Apply the product to the rash and about an inch or so around the rash border. Start by applying the product outside the border of the rash and move inward to the center. Lightly cover the affected area with a bandage if clothes are rubbing and irritating the area. Otherwise, leave the area uncovered. Wash out the sink or basin and wash your hands well with soap and water. Prescription Oral Ringworm Medicines Some types of ringworm, particularly of the nails or beard, are more difficult to treat than others and may require oral medications. It is very important to take the medication for as long as your doctor prescribes, even if it looks like the infection is gone. The most common oral antifungal medicines are griseofulvin, terbinafine and itraconazole. Griseofulvin can be taken as a pill, capsule or liquid, 1 to 4 times a day. The prescription is usually for 2 to 4 weeks for ringworm of the skin, 4 to 6 weeks for ringworm of the scalp, and 4 to 8 weeks for ringworm on the foot. Nail fungal infections can take longer to treat. For ringworm on fingernails, expect a prescription of 3 to 4 months, and up to 6 months for toenails. Terbinafine comes in two forms, tablet and granules. Both are usually taken once a day for 6 weeks for fingernail infections, 12 weeks for toenail infections. Itraconazole comes as a capsule, tablet or liquid. This medication is given for several types of fungal infections. If used for toenail ringworm, it is usually taken once a day for 12 weeks. If taken for fingernail ringworm alone, the dosage may be 2 times a day for a week, and then again 3 weeks later for another week. Fingernails and toenails grow very slowly, so infected nails can take 6 to 12 months before they look healthy again after the infection is treated. When to See Your Doctor Ringworm of the nails, either fingers or toes, generally needs to be treated with oral medications. These are only available by prescription, so you must see your doctor or nurse practitioner if you suspect you have a fungal nail infection. Quick treatment will reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others in your home or to other parts of your body. If you have ringworm on your skin or scalp and are treating it at home, you should see your doctor if: The rash does not go away after 1 to 2 weeks despite consistent treatment with OTC products. There are still signs of a rash after 4 weeks. There appears to be a secondary bacterial infection, often caused by scratching, which breaks the skin and allows other organisms in to mount an infection. Signs can include increased redness in the area, skin around the area that is warm to touch, pain, swelling, pus or discharge, and/or fever.