Ringworm In Kids

Ringworm in children sounds a lot scarier than it actually is. It’s simply a common fungal infection that’s easy to diagnose and treat. Its primary symptom is an itchy rash and it is typically treatable with two weeks of topical medicine.

What is Ringworm?

Ringworm, despite the name, is actually a fungal infection of the skin. It’s more accurately called dermatophytosis. It often appears as a round scaly patch of skin (hence ‘ring’) in the affected areas. It can occur in multiple places on the body at one time.

The different types of ringworm are all caused by the same two genera of fungus. They’re identified by the location on the body, rather than the species of fungus.

Types of ringworm include:

  • tinea pedis (athlete’s foot)
  • tinea unguium (finger and toenails and nail bed)
  • tinea corporis (torso, arms and legs)
  • tinea cruris (jock itch)
  • tinea manuum (hands)
  • tinea capitis (scalp and hair)
  • tinea barbae (facial hair)
  • tinea faciei (face)
  • tinea incognito (lacking distinctive ring pattern – caused by misdiagnosis and treatment)

There are about three million reported cases in the US every year. While it can occur at any age, it’s rarer for children under three years old. It’s most common in children and people in close contact with pets, particularly cats.


The disease is contagious, spreading from person to person. It’s most common in warm, humid climates and can be spread by direct and indirect contact. It can also be passed from animals to humans.

Some vectors of infection include:

  • locker rooms
  • pool decks
  • clothing
  • haircare items
  • cats
  • dogs

It can also be transmitted directly from the soil, though this is rare.

In animals, it’s commonly found in cattle and cats, particularly those who suffer from immunodeficiencies. Veterinarians are able to diagnose it and provide treatment for house pets, though it’s rare to treat in livestock as it’s expensive and the infection is not dangerous to the animals.


Ringworm can occur in one or more places on the body, and it is identified by its characteristic ring-like spots on the skin. In certain areas, like the scalp, feet and genitals, it may not be ring-like, but rather leave patchy areas of hair and skin.

Skin in the affected areas may become dry and itchy, or become inflamed. It can also have dry blister-like rashes in the affected areas. Occasionally, puss-filled masses will form as well (these are known as kerion). This is most common on the scalp or under facial hair, however, can occur anywhere.

Kerion can be a sign of a secondary bacterial infection. This can cause further symptoms such as a sinus infection and fever. On the scalp or under facial hair, it will cause hair to fall out easily.

In the case of tinea incognito, it may be harder to diagnose as it lacks the characteristic ring shape that ringworm gets its name from, however, it still responds to traditional treatments.


Because of how contagious it is, preventing ringworm completely can be difficult. However, there are a few steps that can help reduce the chances of kids catching it. Wearing shoes in common areas like locker rooms and the side of the pool is a great way of preventing ringworm. Further, avoiding contact with infected pets (as hard as that may be) until their ringworm treatment is complete.

It can be difficult in the case of pets, as they can be asymptomatic and therefore have no outward signs of infection. Veterinarians have ways of testing animals for suspected cases of ringworm.

As it’s a common infection, taking basic steps towards preventing any diseases will help with preventing ringworm. Be sure to clean any cuts and scrapes a child gets while playing outside and otherwise disinfect surfaces regularly.

Also, try to avoid sharing clothes and brushes, and of course, be careful to avoid skin-to-skin contact with anyone infected with ringworm. These steps are especially important for people with weakened immune systems.


With as easy as it is to diagnose without a medical professional, the most common treatments are over-the-counter antifungal medicine. In more severe cases, doctors can provide prescription shampoo or oral antifungal medicine.

Some of available medicines include:

  • miconazole
  • terbinafine
  • clotrimazole
  • ketoconazole
  • tolnaftate

These are all different types of antifungal medications that can be found as creams and are available over the counter.

Try to avoid touching the infected area as it may cause the fungus to spread to other areas of the body and otherwise follow good hygiene procedures, such as showering daily and changing clothes every day. Try to avoid tight-fitting clothing and sharing clothes or other personal items with others to stop the spread.

Typically it doesn’t even call for a doctor’s visit unless it doesn’t clear up within a couple of weeks, at which point stronger medicine may be needed to fight it. A doctor should also be consulted if it infects the scalp or the nails, as it can be difficult or impossible to apply topical creams to the infected nailbed or scalp effectively.

If kerion is present, the doctor may also prescribe antibiotics to tackle the secondary infections that are often present.


The good news is long-term effects are still mild. At worst, there may be some balding if it occurred on the scalp or under facial hair. For patients with weakened immune systems, it may be advisable to seek out medical help earlier to prevent the infection from spreading deeper or lingering longer than necessary.

It is sometimes misdiagnosed and treated with a topical steroid – the treatment procedure for a similar rash – which can cause it to become tinea incognito. This particular form of ringworm comes without the distinctive scaly patches and can be harder to diagnose further down the road.

While there have been cases of antifungal-resistant ringworm, it’s currently not a widespread problem. However, it’s important to use any medicines as directed – even if the patient is starting to feel better or lacks visible symptoms – to prevent the creation and/or spread of antifungal-resistant ringworm.

With a little care and forewarning, ringworm doesn’t have to be an ordeal to have or treat. It can just be another childhood milestone.