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 red area the size of a pea. The skin may turn dry and flaky. The area may itch. As the fungus grows, it spreads out in a red circle. Because of how it looks, fungal skin infection is often called ringworm, but it is not caused by a worm. Fungal skin infections can occur on many parts of the body such as 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 is infected. A child who has 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.

  • Use cold cream on a cotton ball to wipe urine off the skin. Use warm water and a mild soap to clean stool off the skin.

  • 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, use overwraps that breathe. Don't use rubber pants over the diaper.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or 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 seek medical advice

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

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your child's healthcare provider

  • Redness or swelling that gets worse

  • Pain that gets worse

  • Foul-smelling fluid leaking from the skin

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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