Treating ringworm

A ringworm rash can be uncomfortable, but it is common and treatable. Early intervention is critical to prevent spreading the infection to others. Here are six simple ways to treat ringworm.

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1. Apply a topical antifungal

Most cases of ringworm can be treated at home. Visit your local drugstore or Amazon.com to purchase over-the-counter antifungal cream, lotion, or powder. Over-the-counter antifungals can kill the fungus and promote healing. Effective medications include miconazole (Cruex), clotrimazole (Desenex) and terbinafine (Lamisil).

After cleaning the rash, apply a thin layer of antifungal medication to the affected area 2 to 3 times per day or as directed by the package. Spread the treatment beyond the border of the rash by a couple of centimeters and allow the medication to absorb into your skin.

2. Let it breathe

It may seem logical to keep ringworm covered with a bandage to prevent spreading the infection. However, bandaging the rash locks in moisture and slows the healing process.

Instead, wear comfortable, breathable clothes to speed healing and avoid spreading the rash to other people. This includes loose-fitting, long-sleeve shirts and pants.

3. Wash bedding daily

Because ringworm is highly contagious, you should wash your sheets daily to get rid of the infection faster. Fungal spores can transfer to your sheets and comforter. If you sleep on the same sheets night after night, it can take longer for ringworm to heal, and the infection can spread to other parts of your body. Contaminated bedding can also infect your partner.

Use hot water and detergent when washing bedding and any infected clothes. Hot water alone can kill the fungus. As an extra precaution, add borax or bleach to your wash along with regular laundry detergent. Borax and bleach can be purchased from a grocery store, and they also kill fungal spores. Follow the directions on the package.

4. Change wet underwear and socks

If ringworm develops on your feet or groin area, keep these areas dry. If you sweat a lot during the day, bathe with an antifungal cleansing bar and then reapply your antifungal powder or lotion. Make sure the area is completely dry before putting on a new pair of underwear or socks.

5. Use an antifungal shampoo

Sometimes, ringworm develops on the scalp. Symptoms of a scalp infection include severe itching, patches of hair loss, scalp boils, and severe dandruff. If you have ringworm on your scalp, wash your hair with an over-the-counter medicated antifungal shampoo.

These shampoos kill bacteria and fungus on the scalp and stop inflammation. You can purchase them from a grocery store or drugstore. Look for shampoos with antifungal active ingredients, such as ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, and pyrithione zinc. Use shampoos according to the directions on the package.

However, be aware that scalp fungus is nearly impossible to eliminate without oral medications.

6. Take a prescription antifungal

Continue treatment with an antifungal powder, cream, or shampoo until the rash completely disappears. The infection may return if you stop treatment too soon. See a doctor if the rash doesn't go away after two weeks of home treatment. A ringworm infection that doesn’t improve or that spreads may require a prescription-strength topical cream or oral antifungal medication.

Make an appointment with your primary care doctor or see a dermatologist. Take the prescription medication as directed by your doctor. You may have to take the prescription for weeks to months, depending on the severity of the infection.

The takeaway

Don’t ignore ringworm. Although it’s a common skin infection, quick action is necessary to prevent spreading the fungus. You should also make sure you know how to prevent future infections. For example:

  • Don’t share personal care items, such as towels, clothes, and brushes, with others.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Learn how to recognize ringworm in people and animals.

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