Ringworm, which is also called tinea, is a common skin infection caused by a fungus. It is very contagious and can affect skin on any part of the body. Ringworm is easily treated at home with topical medications, including creams, gels, and sprays. For more widespread infections or for stubborn cases, doctors may prescribe an oral anti-fungal medication. Some patients prefer to treat ringworm with natural remedies.
Isolated ringworm patches on the body are best treated at home with over-the-counter creams, gels, and sprays. Unless complicating circumstances exist, most infections can be completely eradicated in a matter of weeks. Consistent use of non-prescription topical treatments is recommended to get rid of the infection.
Topical medications typically contain active ingredients from one of two predominant classes of antifungal medications. Clotrimazole, miconazole, ketoconazole, and econazole are examples of medications from the azole class. The allylamine class includes terbinafine, naftifine, and butenafine. These medications are applied directly to clean, dry skin and prevent the growth of fungi.
Ringworm infections that also burn or itch are often treated with topical products containing a combination of ingredients that both cure the fungal infection and relieve the discomfort. Terbinafine hydrochloride products are very effective but should not be used on nails, the scalp or near the mouth or eyes. Clotrimazole/betamethasone, available by prescription, prevents the growth of fungi, reduces inflammation and suppresses the body's immune response. Long-term use of this product is not advisable because it contains a corticosteriod which may pose complications.
Ringworm infections that affect the nails or scalp cannot be cured with topical treatments. A prescription oral medication may be needed. The same is true for infections that cover a large portion of the body, are severe, or have not gone away after several weeks of topical treatment. Oral medications to treat ringworm are generally taken for several months.
Griseofulvin, the first oral medication developed specifically to treat ringworm, is generally prescribed if an infection has not cleared up after using a topical treatment. Other common pills include itraconazole, fluconazole, and terbinafine, which is particularly useful in treating ringworm that is located on the scalp or in the beard. While side effects of topical treatments are rare, side effects of the oral treatments include stomach upset, headaches, skin rash, and liver problems.
In addition to topical and oral treatments to treat ringworm, there are numerous home remedies. Raw papaya, mustard seed paste, basil leaves, turmeric, sea salt, and tea tree oil are commonly used to treat ringworm infections naturally. Patients who suffer from chronic ringworm episodes sometimes find relief in taking steps to boost their immune system, such as changing their diet, exercising, and taking vitamin supplements.