Despite its name, ringworm is a fungal skin infection, not a parasitic worm. The name actually refers to the appearance of the infection, which often seems to form a red ring on the affected skin. The circular rash can be raised or flat and can cause the skin to look red, dry and flaky, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Because it is caused by a fungus, a ringworm infection can only be destroyed by an antifungal drug. Both topical and oral medications are available.
In most cases, topical medications are the first line of treatment for a fungal infection such as ringworm. Many are available over the counter in various forms, including ointments, lotions, creams and powders. When purchasing an over-the-counter medicine to destroy a ringworm infection, look for products with active ingredients such as miconazole, terbinafine, naftifine, butenafine, clotrimazole, ketoconazole or tolnaftate. Terbinafine is the most effect antifungal agent for ringworm, according to New York University's Langone Medical Center. Topical side effects pose few side effect risks, but always read and follow the label directions carefully. Your doctor may prescribe a stronger antifungal medication if your infection does not respond well to over-the-counter treatment.
If you have tried topical medications without success, your doctor may prescribe an oral antifungal medication to kill the ringworm infection. Oral drugs often contain the same active ingredients as the topical products only in different concentrations. In particular, oral antifungal drugs are used to treat ringworm affecting the scalp, fingernails or toenails. Because these drugs are taken internally, side effects are possible. Commonly reported side effects include stomach upset, skin rashes and abnormal liver function, according to MayoClinic.com.
Duration of Treatment
In most cases, a ringworm infection can be cleared in about a month if drugs are used properly, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. An infection that persists longer than four weeks should be evaluated by a doctor because a stronger drug may be necessary. Also, choosing topical products containing terbinafine may shorten the duration of treatment. This drug can destroy a ringworm infection in as little as one week, Langone Medical Center reports.
Other Treatment Steps
In addition to drug treatment, you will need to take additional steps to destroy ringworm. First, you need to prevent it from spreading elsewhere on your body or to others. To do this, wash your pajamas and bed sheets every day while the infection is present, the University of Maryland Medical Center advises. Also be sure to wash and thoroughly dry the affected skin each day and avoid scratching the affected skin, which can cause the infection to spread.
Once you've had a stubborn ringworm infection, you'll likely want to prevent future infections. This can be especially important for people prone to ringworm infections such as jock itch and athlete's foot. Preventive steps include avoided direct contact with people or animals who have ringworm and not sharing personal products such as towels or hairbrushes, Langone Medical Center advises. Also, when exercising or sweating, wear clothes that minimize moisture and, when possible, wear shoes that allow air to circulate. In a locker room setting, always wear sandals or water shoes in the shower and always use a clean towel.