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When Your Child Has Ringworm

Ringworm is a fungal infection that affects the skin. It is contagious (able to spread from person to person). Ringworm appears as a round or oval patch. It is smooth in the center with a scaly, red border. The most commonly affected areas are the scalp, feet, nails, and groin. It is called ringworm because of the way it looks. It is NOT caused by a worm. Ringworm is not serious and can usually be treated at home.

What Causes Ringworm?

Closeup of skin with two round patches. Ringworm is caused by certain kinds of fungus. These are normally found in the soil and on the skin of humans and animals.

How Is Ringworm Spread?

Ringworm can be spread in the following ways:

  • Contact with the ringworm patches on an infected person

  • Contact with an item (such as a comb, towel, or hat) that has been contaminated by an infected person

  • Contact with an infected animal

What Are the Symptoms of Ringworm?

Symptoms vary depending on the area of the infection, but can include:

  • Round patch with a scaly, red border (looks like a red ring)

  • Itching in the affected area(s) Man applying cream to boy's abdomen.

  • Bald patches (only with scalp infections)

  • Discolored nails (only with nail infections)

How Is Ringworm Diagnosed?

Ringworm is diagnosed by how it looks. To get more information, the doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. The doctor will also examine your child. You will be told if any tests are needed.

How Is Ringworm Treated?

  • Ringworm on the body generally goes away within 4 or 6 weeks of treatment.

  • You can treat your child’s ringworm by:

    • Applying over-the-counter (OTC) topical antifungal cream to the affected areas as directed by the doctor. Before and after each application, wash your hands with warm water and soap.

    • Washing your child’s hair and body with antifungal shampoo and body wash.

  • Ringworm on the scalp must be treated with oral medication prescribed by the doctor. Make sure that your child takes all of the medication, even if symptoms improve.

Call the doctor if your child has any of the following

  • Symptoms that do not improve within 6 to 8 weeks of starting treatment

  • Signs of infection such as pus, swelling, or drainage in the affected area(s)


How Can the Spread of Ringworm Be Prevented?

Follow these steps to keep your child from passing ringworm on to others:

  • Teach your child to wash his or her hands with soap and warm water often. Handwashing is especially important before eating or handling food, after using the bathroom, and after touching the affected area(s).

  • Do not allow your child to share personal items such as hats, combs, towels, or clothing with others.

  • Remind your child to avoid close contact with others at school or at day care.


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