Ringworm in Kids

Pediatric Basics

A classic case of ringworm
A classic case of ringworm. Photo courtesy of the CDC

Ringworm is typically a mild fungal infection of the skin. Children can get ringworm on various parts of your body, including their:

Has your child ever had ringworm?

Ringworm Symptoms

Ringworm isn't hard to recognize, although it can be confused with other skin rashes.

The classic ringworm rash on the body looks like a red circular lesion with a scaly border and these areas may be itchy.

And while tinea capitis can cause dandruff-like scaling and/or hair loss, athlete's foot usually causes an itchy, patchy rash with fissuring and scaling between the toes.

Ringworm Diagnosis

Diagnosis is usually made based on the appearance of the typical ringworm rash. Cultures, especially scalp cultures for tinea capitis, can be done, though.

Your pediatrician might also look at skin scrapings under a microscope using a potassium hydroxide (KOH) stain to try and identify fungal hyphae.

Since topical steroids can change the appearance of ringworm, be sure to mention to your pediatrician if you have been applying any topical creams to your child's rash.

Ringworm Treatments

An over-the-counter antifungal cream, ointment, or powder, etc., is the usual treatment for ringworm, except for tinea capitis, which is much more difficult to treat and often requires several months of an oral medication, like Griseofulvin.

Non-prescription, over-the-counter anti-fungal treatments include Clotrimazole (Lotrimin), Miconazole (Desenex), Terbinafine (Lamisil), and Ketoconazole (Xolegel).

Prescription topical creams, suspensions, and lotions are also available, like Loprox, Spectazole, and Oxistat.

What You Need To Know About Ringworm in Kids

Other things to know about ringworm include that:

  • Other conditions are sometimes misdiagnosed as ringworm, especially granuloma annular, nummular eczema, and pityriasis rosea.
  • Remember that athlete's foot is unusual in preteen children. These children often have Juvenile Plantar Dermatosis (sweaty socks syndrome) or a contact dermatitis when they have an itchy red rash on their feet.
  • Ringworm is only mildly contagious, so children undergoing treatment may continue to attend school or daycare, especially if you can cover the ringworm for the first 48 hours of treatment. In addition to infected people, you can get ringworm from infected cats and dogs. So examine your pets if someone in your family develops ringworm.
  • Tinea capitis is difficult to treat and the fungi that cause it have become resistant to Griseofulvin, so higher doses are now used. Be sure to take this medicine with a fatty meal or glass of milk to increase absorption. You might also use a shampoo with selenium sulfide so that your child is less contagious.

And understand that ringworm is not actually caused by worms.

This common skin infection gets its name because of the characteristic ring-shaped rash the fungus causes.



Crawford F, Hollis S. Topical treatments for fungal infections of the skin and nails of the foot. Cochrane Database Syst. Rev. 2007(3):CD001434.

Zinder, Steven M., Ph.D., ATC. National Athletic Trainers' Association Position Statement: Skin Diseases. J Athl Train. 2010 Jul-Aug; 45(4): 411–428.

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