Ringworm in Children

As a nurse, I've had lots of experience dealing with ringworm in children. Ringworm in kids is very common especially among elementary school aged children. It seems that children this age are particularly adept at catching any random virus, bacteria, or fungus that comes their way.

When it comes to explaining ringworm to young children, just the mere mention of the word “ringworm” is scary! First of all, school aged kids are very concrete thinkers. It's difficult for them to understand that ringworm has nothing to do with actual worms.

Dealing with ringworm in children requires lots of teaching and redirection. It's important to emphasize to them the importance of hand washing and good hygiene. It's also imperative that you arm yourself with knowledge about ringworm treatment and prevention.

How Did My Child Get Ringworm?

This is a common question I hear from parents. I have found that many parents mistakenly believe that only dirty or unclean kids get ringworm. This is simply not true. Anyone can get ringworm.

Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin caused by dermatophytes. Dermatophytes dwell on and fest off of superficial layers of skin, hair, and nails. Dermatophytes thrive in warm conditions. That's why ringworm is more common in humid tropical climates.

Different dermatophytes cause varying signs and symptoms. Trichophyon tonsurans and Microsporum canis are two forms of dermatophytes that can cause ringworm. T. tonsurans is a known source of scalp ringworm in kids. In general, M. canis comes from animals.

Ringworm in children is spread a number of ways. Kids love sharing clothes, combs, hair barrettes, and toys. Kids can easily pass ringworm to each other. School can be a breeding ground for not only ringworm, but other bacterial and viral infections. Close contact is key here. Lots of kids equals lots of germs!

Ringworm and PetsPets can also transmit ringworm to kids. What kid doesn't enjoy hugging and cuddling their favorite feline or canine buddy?

Ringworm can become an issue particularly with puppies and kittens. Have you gotten at new kitten or puppy recently?

Just like young children, young animals can serve as hosts for ringworm. Petting zoos are another source of ringworm. Petting unknown animals and livestock is perfect way to get ringworm.

Soil can also be source or ringworm. Most kids love playing on the playground, making pretend mud pies, and playing in sandboxes.

Why are kids so prone to getting ringworm? It all stems from having an undeveloped immune system. This is why it seems like young children catch every cold and flu virus that comes around each year. A child's immune system does not fully develop until early adolescence.

A healthy adult may be exposed to dermatophytes. However, their body is in a much better position to fight off a dermatophyte exposure.

Body Ringworm in Children

When most people think about ringworm, body ringworm (tinea corporis) is what comes to mind. In tinea corporis, dermatophytes infect the top dead layer of skin (the epidermis). In kids, I've seen body ringworm primarily on the arms, legs, and chest. The classic characteristics of body ringworm are red, raised spots with defined borders.

Sometimes, the middle of spot is a bit clearer than the outer ring. You may see a lesion with flaky, dry looking skin or even slight swelling and oozing discharge. Body ringworm in children is fairly easy to treat in most cases. Topical anti-fungal creams work well to quell the infection. You can get these over the counter or from your doctor.

Most parents are looking for the most natural, least harmful remedy possible. For simple ringworm, there are gentle natural treatments available. Read my page on healing ringworm the natural way.

With kids, the challenge is to get them to not scratch lesions. Scratching lesions can cause bacterial infections in addition to dealing with ringworm. I've found that covering individual lesions with a light breathable gauze along with anti-fungal cream works well. Just put tape on the ends to keep the gauze in place.

Extensive body ringworm in children will need oral anti-fungal medications. Your doctor has to prescribe these medications and will adjust the dosage based upon your child's weight and history of known allergens.

Once your kid begins treatment for ringworm, they usually can go back to school. Just keep the lesions covered.

Scalp Ringworm in Children

Scalp ringworm is a serious problem. Not only is it unsightly. It can lead to permanent hair loss. With scalp ringworm or tinea capitis, dermatophytes infect the hair and hair follicles.

In the United States, African American school aged boys are quite prone to developing scalp ringworm.

But, any kids can get ringworm of the scalp. The difficulty with this type ringworm is that it looks like so many other skin conditions. It can mimic dandruff, dermatitis, or even psoriasis. There may also be signs like swollen glands and inflamed infected lesions on the scalp.

Black dot ringworm simply refers to the appearance of hairs that have broken off at the surface of the scalp. These partial hairs beneath the surface resemble black dots. Dermatophytes have so damaged individual hairs and follicles that the hair just breaks apart.

Scalp Ringworm in KidsMost scalp ringworm infections cannot be treated topically. Most topical medication cannot penetrate deeply enough to reach dermatophytes in the hair follicles. Griseofulvin is an older liquid-based medication used for scalp ringworm in kids.

Griseofulvin is taken for 6 to 8 weeks and is best ingested with a fatty meal. Fats help the medication work more effectively. I've given it to kids with peanut butter or whole milk. Both foods work very well to make the medication more tolerable in terms of taste as well.

A newer option for treating kids with tinea capitis is terbinafine. It comes in the form of sprinkles that you can add to your child's food. It works a bit faster than griseofulvin and should be taken for 6 weeks. As with any medication, both griseofulvin and terbinafine have side effects you should keep in mind.

Shampoos are good complementary treatments for scalp lesions. Selenium sulfide and ketoconazole 2% are solid choices when it comes eliminating scalp ringworm in children.

Stopping Ringworm Before It Starts...

Ringworm and kids doesn't have to be synonymous. Not all children get ringworm. What separates those who get ringworm from those who do not? Following these simple steps...

  1. Teach your kids to never share personal grooming items with other kids
  2. Regularly cleaning and disinfecting hair tools
  3. Keeping your child's skin and scalp clean and dry
  4. Instruct your kids on basic hand washing

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