Treating tinea fungal infections 

Most tinea fungal infections, including ringworm, are easily treated by using antifungal creams, tablets or shampoo.

You can also help to get rid of fungal infections and stop them from spreading by:

  • washing areas of affected skin daily and drying thoroughly, paying particular attention to skin folds and between your toes
  • in the case of a groin/foot infection, changing your underwear/socks daily, because fungi can persist in flakes of skin
  • with a scalp infection, not sharing combs, hairbrushes or hats
  • washing clothes, towels and bed linen frequently
  • wearing loose-fitting clothes, preferably made of cotton or other natural materials

Read more about preventing ringworm.

Ringworm, groin infections and athlete’s foot

Most cases of ringworm, groin infections and athlete’s foot can be treated using an over-the-counter antifungal cream, gel or spray. There are lots of different types, so ask your pharmacist to help you choose the right one for you.

You usually apply antifungal creams, gels and sprays daily to the affected areas of skin for two weeks. The cream, gel or spray should be applied over the rash and to one inch of skin beyond the edge of the rash. Read the manufacturer's instructions first.

You may be advised to use the treatment for a further two weeks, to reduce the risk of re-infection. See your GP if your symptoms have not improved after two weeks of treatment, because you may need to take antifungal tablets.

Both terbinafine and griseofulvin tablets can be used to treat ringworm infections, as well as another antifungal medicine called itraconazole (see below).

Treat groin and feet together

Groin infections can sometimes occur at the same time as athlete's foot. It's vital to treat both infections at the same time to avoid being re-infected with either condition.

Fungal scalp infections

Scalp infections are usually treated using antifungal tablets, often alongside an antifungal shampoo.

There are two main types of antifungal tablet:

  • terbinafine
  • griseofulvin

The antifungal medicine that your GP prescribes will depend on the type of fungi causing the infection.

Terbinafine tablets

Most people with fungal scalp infections are prescribed terbinafine tablets to take once a day for four weeks. It's an effective treatment for most cases.

Side effects of terbinafine can include:

These side effects are usually mild and short-lived. Some people have also reported that terbinafine temporarily affected their sense of taste.

Terbinafine is not suitable for people with a history of liver disease or lupus (where the immune system attacks healthy tissue).

Read more about terbinafine tablets.

Griseofulvin

Griseofulvin is a type of antifungal medicine that prevents fungi from growing and multiplying. It’s available in the form of a spray and is usually taken daily for 8-10 weeks.

Side effects of griseofulvin can include: 

However, these side effects should improve as your body gets used to the medicine.

Griseofulvin can cause birth defects, so it shouldn't be taken during pregnancy, or if you intend to become pregnant soon after stopping treatment. Men shouldn't father a child within six months of stopping treatment.

Griseofulvin is also not suitable for women who are breastfeeding, and those with severe liver disease or lupus.

Griseofulvin can interfere with both the combined contraceptive pill and the progestogen-only pill, so women need to use an alternative barrier form of contraception, such as a condom, while taking it.

Griseofulvin may also affect your ability to drive and can enhance the effects of alcohol.

Read more about griseofulvin.

Antifungal shampoo

Antifungal shampoo cannot cure scalp infections, but it can help to prevent the infection spreading and may speed up recovery.

Antifungal shampoos, such as selenium sulphide and ketoconazole shampoo, are available from your pharmacist. Ideally, antifungal shampoo should be used twice a week during the first two weeks of treatment.

There is no evidence that shaving a child's head will reduce the risk of an infection or speed up recovery.

Itraconazole

Itraconazole is usually prescribed in the form of capsules for 7 or 15 days. It is not recommended for use in children, elderly people or those with severe liver disease.

Side effects of itraconazole can include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • indigestion
  • diarrhoea
  • headache

Read more about itraconazole.

Read about how to stop ringworm spreading or coming back.

Fungal nail infections

Fungal nail infections can be treated with antifungal nail paint, but it also often requires antifungal tablets. These tend to work better than nail paints, although they can cause side effects, such as headache, nausea and diarrhoea.

Read more about treating fungal nail infections.

Page last reviewed: 05/03/2015

Next review due: 05/03/2017