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Ringworm

  • Overview

    Ringworm is a skin condition characterized by a ring-shaped red, scaly rash or patches with clearing centers. "Ringworm" is a misleading term that refers to the circular appearance of the fungal lesion. There are no worms involved.

    • Different fungi, depending on their location on the child's body, can cause ringworm.
    • The most common types of ringworm include athlete's foot, jock itch and ringworm of the scalp, nails and body.
    • Because the fungi can live indefinitely on the skin, recurrences of ringworm are likely. Treatment may need to be repeated.

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    Children's Hospital Boston
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115

     617-355-7181


  • In-Depth

    What are tinea infections (ringworm)?

    Different fungi, depending on their location on the child's body, can cause ringworm, a condition characterized by a ring-shaped red, scaly rash or patches with clearing centers. "Ringworm" is a misleading term that refers to the circular appearance of the fungal lesion. There are no worms involved.     

    There is an increased risk of contracting ringworm if your child:

    • is malnourished
    • has poor hygiene
    • lives in a warm climate
    • has contact with other children or pets that have ringworm
    • is immunocompromised by disease or medication

    What are the most common types of ringworm?

    The most common types of ringworm include:

    Athlete's foot (tinea pedis or foot ringworm)

    • This common condition mostly affects teen and adult males.
    • It less frequently affects children before puberty.
    • Contributing causes include sweating, not drying the feet well after swimming or bathing, wearing tight socks and shoes, and warm weather conditions.
    • Symptoms of athlete's foot may include:
      • whitening of the skin between the toes
      • scaling of the feet
      • itchy rash on the feet
      • blisters on the feet

    Jock itch (tinea cruris or groin ringworm)

    • This condition is also more common in males and occurs more often during warm weather conditions.
    • It is very rare in females.
    • Symptoms of jock itch may include:
      • red, ring-like patches in the groin area
      • itching in the groin area
      • pain in the groin area
      • does not usually involve the scrotum

    Scalp ringworm (tinea capitis)

    • Scalp ringworm is highly contagious, especially among children.
    • It occurs mainly in children between the ages of 2 to 10.
    • It rarely occurs in adults.
    • Symptoms of scalp ringworm may include:
      • red, scaly rash on the scalp
      • itching of the scalp
      • hair loss on the scalp
      • rash elsewhere on the body
    • Ringworm of the scalp can also develop into a kerion, a large, tender lesion over the area of the initial ringworm.
    • This is caused by a hypersensitivity to the ringworm and my be associated with a rash elsewhere and tender lymph nodes in the neck.

    Nail ringworm (tinea unguium)

    • An infection of the fingernail or toenail, characterized by a thickened, deformed nail.
    • This condition more often affects the toenails than the fingernails.
    • This occurs more often in adolescents and adults rather than young children.
    • Symptoms of nail ringworm may include:
      • thickening of the ends of the nails
      • yellow color to the nails

    Body ringworm (tinea corporis)

    • This skin infection is characterized by a ring-like rash anywhere on the body or the face.
    • It occurs in all ages but is seen more frequently in children. It is more common in warmer climates.
    • The symptoms of body ringworm may include:
      • red, circular lesion with raised edges
      • the middle of the lesion may become less red as the lesion grows
      • itching of the affected area

    The symptoms of ringworm may resemble other skin conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

  • Tests

    How is ringworm diagnosed?

    Ringworm is usually diagnosed based on a medical history and physical examination of your child. Because ringworm lesions are unique, your child's physician can typically make a diagnosis based on a simple physical examination. Your child's physician may also order a culture or skin scraping of the lesion to confirm the diagnosis.

  • Because the fungi can live indefinitely on the skin, recurrences of ringworm are likely. Treatment may need to be repeated.

    Treatment for scalp ringworm (tinea capitis) may include:

    • oral anti-fungal medication, which is usually prescribed for four to eight weeks; some children require longer treatment
    • use of a special shampoo to help eliminate the fungus

    If a kerion — a large, tender, swollen lesion — is present, your child's physician may order additional medications such as steroids to help reduce the swelling.

    Treatment for ringworm of the body, groin and foot is usually a topical anti-fungal agent or an oral antifungal medication. The length of the treatment depends on the location of the ringworm.

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