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How is Ringworm Treated?

A cream for treating ringworm.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 05 April 2014
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Ringworm is not, as the name implies, an infection caused by worms. Rather it is a fungal infection of the skin that can occur in various places—on the head, under the arms, in the groin area, and on the feet. The proper name for ringworm is tinea, and it is an infection that can be passed to other people. This is why treatment of the condition is important. Lack of treatment can cause this type of tinea, which often appears in ringed patches, to spread.

There are essentially a couple of ways to treat ringworm, and treatment may depend upon the extent of infection. For many, a small patch is treated with a topical lotion that contains an anti-fungal agent. There are several anti-fungals that may be used: clotrimazole, miconazole, ketoconazole, and terbinafine. Occasionally these are purchased over the counter, but you might need a prescription for a higher strength preparation.

Using lotions is usually the first line of treatment for minor cases of ringworm, but it may be ineffective if the area of fungal infection is large or growth is advanced. Further, some cases of tinea just don’t respond very well to lotions. Fungal infection around the nails for instance may not be adequately treated, and if it is under the finger or toenails, it’s almost impossible to get lotion to the areas.

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When lotions have failed, or are impractical for use, people may be prescribed certain anti-fungal medications to take orally in order to kill fungus. These are basically of three types: griseofulvin, itraconazole, and fluconazole. In the past, some fear existed that these internal treatments could damage the liver. The medical community has disproved this and these medications are safe to take in most cases. They can cause some unpleasant side effects including stomach upset, hypersensitivity to the sun, and fatigue.

As with treatment with antibiotics, it’s very important to take the medication prescribed for ringworm exactly as directed. Stopping before you finish the full course can result in a stronger backlash fungal infection that makes matters worse. If your infection has cleared prior to ending the medication, you should speak with your doctor about whether it is safe to stop taking meds.

You can also do some things at home to help speed recovery from ringworm. For instance keeping the affected area dry is important, since fungus tends to thrive in moist environments. Towel off fully after showering, or even use a blow dryer on a cool setting to make sure the skin remains dry. If you get sweaty during the day, pat dry the infected areas every couple of hours.

Since you can give ringworm to others, don’t share towels, makeup, or deodorant, wear shower shoes in the shower, and consider keeping the area of infection covered when possible.

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