How you treat ringworm on the body depends on the location of the infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Ringworm on the skin can typically be treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams, lotions and powders. Ringworm on the scalp or nails must be treated with prescription oral medications.
Ringworm is a common fungal infection that develops on the top layer of the skin, according to Mayo Clinic. It appears as a red circular ring on the skin and is spread through direct skin-to-skin contact. Although it can be itchy, the infection is not life-threatening.
According to KidsHealth, ringworm is part of a family of mold-like fungal infections that live on dead cells in the skin, nails and hair. The medical name for this group of infections is tinea. When the infection grows on the face or hair, it is called ringworm, but when it grows on the feet, it is athlete's foot. Ringworm often grows in a circular pattern on the skin, while athlete's foot tends to grow as red patches between the toes.
The fungus that causes ringworm spreads easily between humans. A child often catches ringworm by touching another person with the infection. However, it also spreads by sharing personal items, such as brushes or hats. MedlinePlus indicates that the fungus is able to pass from pets to humans. Cats often carry ringworm. Ringworm in the hair leads to bald patches. If it affects the nails, they become thick and discolored. Severe cases of ringworm sometimes require antibiotic treatment due to secondary staph or strep infections that begin in the skin weakened by the fungus.
There are several over-the-counter antifungal treatments you can apply to a ringworm infection on the skin, such as clotrimazole, miconazole, terbinafine and ketoconazole, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Follow the directions on the package label for proper application. These treatments may need to be applied to the skin for two to four weeks, until the infection clears up. For infections on the scalp or nail, you must see a doctor, who can then prescribe a specific oral antifungal medication. These include griseofulvin, terbinafine, itraconazole and fluconazole, which are typically taken for one to three months. Your doctor determines which type of medication is best for you.