Fungal Skin Infection (Tinea) (Child)

A fungal infection happens when too much fungus grows on or in the body. Fungus normally lives on the skin in small amounts and does not cause harm. But when too much grows on the skin, it causes an infection. This is also known as tinea. Fungal skin infections are common in children and usually not serious.

The infection often starts as a small, flat, pink circle the width of a pea. The skin may turn dry and flaky. The area may itch. As the fungus grows, it spreads out into a wider red ring. Because of how it looks, fungal skin infection is often called ringworm. But it's not caused by a worm. Fungal skin infections can occur on many parts of the body. These include the head, chest, arms, buttocks, or legs. On the feet, fungal infection is known as athlete’s foot. It causes itchy, sometimes painful sores between the toes and on the bottom or sides of the feet.

In babies and children, a fungal skin infection is often caused by contact with a person or animal that's infected. A child who's been on antibiotics can get the infection more easily. A child with a weak immune system can also get fungal infections more easily. Children who have diabetes or are overweight also are more likely to get a fungal infection.

In most cases, treatment is done with antifungal cream or ointment. If the infection is on your child’s scalp, your child will need to take oral medicine. In some cases, the healthcare provider may take a tiny piece of the skin to be tested in a lab.

Home care

Follow all instructions when using antifungal cream or ointment on your child. For diaper areas, the healthcare provider may advise using petroleum jelly to provide a barrier. Don’t use talcum powder. It can harm the lungs.

General care

  • Expose the affected skin to the air so that it dries completely. Don't use a hair dryer on the skin. Carefully dry the feet and between the toes after bathing.

  • Dress your child in loose-fitting cotton clothing.

  • Make sure your child does not scratch the affected area. This can delay healing and may spread the infection. It can also cause a bacterial infection. You may need to use “scratch mittens” that cover your child’s hands.

  • Keep your child’s skin clean, but don’t wash the skin too much. This can irritate the skin.

For children in diapers:

  • Keep your child’s skin dry by changing wet or soiled diapers right away.

  • If using disposable wipes, use a product free of alcohol and fragrance. You may also cleanse the skin using warm water and a mild soap to clean urine and stool off the skin. Pat gently and allow skin to air dry.

  • Use mineral oil on a cotton ball to gently remove soiled ointment. Keep clean ointment on the skin. Apply more ointment after each diaper change.

  • Use superabsorbent disposable diapers to help keep your child's skin dry. If you use cloth diapers, change them as soon as they are wet and use overwraps that breathe. Don't use rubber pants over the diaper.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider as advised.

Special note to parents

Wash your hands well with soap and clean, running water before and after caring for your child. This is to help prevent spreading the infection.

When to get medical care

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever (see "Fever and children" below)

  • Redness or swelling that gets worse

  • Pain that gets worse

  • Bad-smelling fluid leaking from the skin

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years old, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don’t use a thermometer in your child’s mouth until they are at least 4 years old.

Use the rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it’s not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child’s fever, tell them which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your young child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child. Follow your provider’s specific instructions.

Fever readings for a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

Fever readings for a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Fever of 100.4° (38°C) or higher in baby younger than 3 months

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

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