Skin Ringworm (Child)

Ringworm is a skin infection caused by a fungus. It is not caused by a worm. Ringworm is contagious. It can be spread by contact with people or animals infected with the fungus. It can also be spread by contact with an object that is contaminated by an infected person or animal.

A ringworm infection causes a red, ring-shaped patch on the skin. The rash may be small or a couple of inches across. The ring is often clear in the center with a scaly, red border. The area is dry, scaly, itchy, and flaky. There may also be blisters. These can ooze clear or cloudy fluid (pus). It can be diagnosed by the appearance of the rash. Or a scraping may be taken for testing.

Ringworm is most often treated with antifungal cream. It may take a week before the infection starts to go away. It may take a few weeks to clear completely. When the infection is gone, the skin may have scarring.

Home care

Your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe a cream to kill the fungus. Or you may be told to buy a cream at the drugstore. Some creams are available without a prescription. You may also be advised to use medicine to help ease itching. Follow all instructions for using any medicine on your child.

General care

  • If your child was prescribed a cream, apply it exactly as directed. Be sure to avoid direct contact with the rash. Wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after applying the cream. This is to help prevent spreading the fungus.

  • 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 his or her fingernails trimmed short.

  • If there are blisters, apply a clean compress dipped in Burow’s solution (aluminum acetate solution). This is available in stores without a prescription.

  • Wash any items such as clothing, blankets, bedding, or toys that may have touched the infection.

  • Apply wet compresses to the rash to help relieve itching.

  • Check your child’s skin every day for the signs listed below.

Special note to parents

Ringworm of the skin is very contagious. Keep your child from close contact with others and out of day care or school until treatment has been started unless the rash can be covered completely. Any child with ringworm should not take part in gym, swimming, and other close contact activities that are likely to expose others until after treatment has begun or the rash can be completely covered. Athletes should follow their healthcare provider's recommendations and the specific sports league rules for returning to practice and competition. Wash your hands well with soap and warm water before and after caring for your child. This is to help help prevent spreading the infection.

Follow-up care

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

When to seek medical advice

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

  • Your child has a fever (see “Fever and children” below)

  • Rash that does not improve after 10 days of treatment

  • Rash that spreads to other areas of the body

  • Redness or swelling that gets worse

  • Fussiness or crying that can’t be soothed

  • Bad-smelling fluid leaking from the skin 

Fever and children

Always use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Never use a mercury thermometer.

For infants and toddlers, be sure to use a rectal thermometer correctly. A rectal thermometer may accidentally poke a hole in (perforate) the rectum. It may also pass on germs from the stool. Always follow the product maker’s directions for proper use. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a rectal temperature, use another method. When you talk to your child’s healthcare provider, tell him or her which method you used to take your child’s temperature.

Here are guidelines for fever temperature. Ear temperatures aren’t accurate before 6 months of age. Don’t take an oral temperature until your child is at least 4 years old.

Infant under 3 months old:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead (temporal artery) temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider.

  • Armpit (axillary) temperature of 99°F (37.2°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider.

Child age 3 to 36 months:

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear temperature of 102°F (38.9°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider.

  • Armpit temperature of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider.

Child of any age:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher, or as directed by the provider.

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old. Or a fever that lasts for 3 days in a child 2 years or older.

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