Ringworm

What is ringworm?

How did my toddler get ringworm?

How should I treat ringworm?

Can I do anything to make sure my child doesn't get ringworm again?

Should I keep my toddler home from nursery?

What is ringworm?

Ringworm is a contagious fungal infection of the skin that has nothing to do with worms. It can be itchy, but it's not painful or dangerous. It's the same fungus that causes athlete's foot. In young children it usually affects only the torso or scalp.

If your child has ringworm on his torso, he'll have a rash of one or several red rings on his chest, stomach, thighs, or back. The rings are usually crusty or scaly on the outside and smooth in the middle. As the fungus grows, the rings get larger. When the fungus affects the scalp it usually appears as dandruff or bald spots. It can be dry and crusty, or moist and filled with pus. It's easy to confuse ringworm of the scalp with dandruff or cradle cap. Since toddlers are usually too young for dandruff and too old for cradle cap, the chances are that these symptoms are ringworm. If you aren't sure what your toddler has, consult your doctor.

How did my toddler get ringworm?

Your child probably got ringworm from an infected person or pet. The fungus is often spread through person-to-person contact or from cats and dogs to people. A person can also catch it from hairbrushes, combs, hats, or any article worn or used on the head.

How should I treat ringworm?

In most cases ringworm will clear up if you treat it with an over-the-counter antifungal cream, like the kind adults use for athlete's foot. Look for a product with one or two per cent of clotrimazole. Some children are sensitive to these creams, so try using a little bit of the cream first to see how your child's skin reacts. If a secondary rash develops, talk to your doctor about alternatives. Otherwise, smooth a small amount of the cream over the infected area twice a day for a week to 10 days. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. If the rash doesn't look considerably better after about a week, take your child to the doctor.

Ringworm of the scalp can be more difficult to treat and can take longer to clear up. If creams fail, your doctor will probably prescribe an oral antifungal medicine or a medicated shampoo.

Can I do anything to make sure my child doesn't get ringworm again?

It's hard to protect your toddler from ringworm, but there are a few things you can do to keep it from spreading further. Once your child is infected, alert friends and family so they can see whether they have been affected and get treatment. Also check your pets for crusty bald patches of skin, which are signs of ringworm. If you find any, talk to your vet. (In fact, even if they don't show symptoms, it's a good idea to take your pets for a check-up if your child keeps getting re-infected, since animals can carry the fungus without showing any signs of it.) Infected children shouldn't share pillows, hairbrushes, combs, hats, or towels with others. These items should be washed thoroughly or thrown away.

Should I keep my toddler home from nursery?

Normally with ringworm you don't need to keep your toddler away from his usual activities or nursery, since scalp-to-scalp or torso-to-torso contact is rare. But it's best to check first with your childcare provider.

Reviewed March 2006.

Related topics
Go to our Health area.

Related links
Cradle cap
Eczema
Pets and babies - can they get along?

Reader comments
Got a question, or want to talk with others about this topic? Visit our Community

I am very curious about this whole ringworm thing. A friend of mine has it on his arm, and im very cautious about it. Some say its mildy contagious , and some say its highly contagious. I really would like to now. I already booked an appt with my doctor. Cause i cant take the chance, bu is there anyone who has a detailed onformation about this topic. Im 25 weeks pregnant and extremely worried. If i do get it, is it harmful to my child. How do i treat it? Is the treatment harmful. I would really love to get answers to my questions, its constently on my mind now that i got the heads up that he was infected. Thank you.
13 Jun, 2007 - chc

Not happy with this comment? Let us know

Health Dimensions ©2004