Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin that affects people and many types of animals. According to the Mayo Clinic, it gets its name because it develops as a round, red rash with healthy-appearing skin in the centre, looking like a round worm under the skin. Most cases of ringworm are treated easily with over-the-counter products that kill the fungus.
Different types of ringworm affect different areas of the body. One of the most common is athlete's foot, which involves ringworm patches that develop between the toes. The moisture in this area promotes fungal growth. Jock itch is ringworm that affects a man's buttocks, genitals and the upper area of his inner thighs. Ringworm of the scalp usually affects children, causing red patches on the head. It is itchy and often leads to bald patches.
Because ringworm is a fungal infection, you must treat it with an antifungal ointment, lotion, cream or powder that is applied to the affected area. If your ringworm is mild, the Mayo Clinic says you should be able to get rid of it within four weeks by using an over-the-counter product with an antifungal medication such as clotrimazole, miconazole, terbinafine or tolnaftate.
Before applying one of these antifungal products, the Mayo Clinic recommends washing the affected area thoroughly. Apply a thin, even layer of medication to the ringworm patches. Do this twice a day for at least two weeks, or follow the directions on the package if it recommends a different schedule. If the ringworm isn't cleared up after four weeks, the Mayo Clinic recommends going to the doctor for a stronger treatment.
When OTC ringworm treatments don't cure the problem, your doctor may prescribe a stronger topical lotion or ointment or an oral antifungal. Oral drugs can cause gastric upset, rashes and even liver problems, so try topical OTC treatments first.
Along with antifungal treatment, take precautions to help your ringworm heal and to prevent future infections. Don't wear hot, heavy clothing that makes you sweat. Don't share personal items such as towels with other people. Don't touch an infected animal, and if you suspect that you got ringworm from your pet, take it to the veterinarian for treatment. The National Institutes of Health says that cats are common carriers.