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What is ringworm?

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.

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 may be associated with a rash elsewhere and tender lymph nodes in the neck.

Nail ringworm (tinea unguium)

  • It is 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.

Ringworm | Diagnosis & Treatments

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.

How we treat ringworm

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.

Ringworm | Programs & Services