All About Ringworm in Babies and Children

You might have heard about ringworm before, but don’t let the name mislead you – it has nothing to with worms. The name refers to the ring-shaped rash caused by a fungal infection.

Read on to learn what ringworm is, what ringworm looks like, what treatments are available and how you can try to prevent your baby or toddler from getting ringworm in the first place.

What Is Ringworm?

Ringworm is a common fungal skin infection that can happen to anybody – not just babies and toddlers – although it is more common in children than in adults.

It’s infectious, spreading easily through direct contact with infected people, animals or surfaces.

In fact, you may be more familiar with ringworm than you think. It can appear anywhere on the body, including between the toes (athlete’s foot), the scalp (tinea capitis) and the groin (when it’s also known as ‘jock itch’).

In Summary

Ringworm is a contagious fungal skin infection that can happen to anyone, not just babies. It can appear anywhere on the body.

What are the Symptoms of Ringworm?

The main ringworm symptom is a rash. The rash is usually shaped like a ring, which is where the infection gets its name from, but not always – when it appears on the face, neck or scalp it can look different, for example it could be blotchy.

The colour of the rash depends on your baby’s skin tone, but is usually red, silver or darker than the surrounding skin.

The ringworm rash can be dry, scaly, swollen or itchy, and in some cases it can grow or spread. Keep in mind that hair may be lost if the ringworm rash is on the scalp. In some severe cases the infection can cause scarring and permanent hair loss.

If you’re not sure whether your child’s rash is caused by ringworm or another skin condition such as eczema, see your child’s doctor for a firm diagnosis.

In Summary

The main symptom of ringworm is a usually ring-shaped rash that might be dry, scaly, swollen or itchy. It may grow or spread.

How Does a Baby Get Ringworm?

Ringworm can spread to babies and toddlers in three different ways:

  • Contact with someone who is infected

  • Contact with items that have been handled by or used by an infected person, such as combs, towels, clothing or bedding

  • Contact with a ringworm-infected pet.

In Summary

Ringworm can spread through contact with infected people, animals or surfaces.




How Do You Treat Ringworm in Babies?

If the ringworm is on your child’s scalp, your baby’s doctor will probably need to prescribe ringworm treatments such as an oral antifungal medicine and/or special shampoo.

In most other cases, your local pharmacist can recommend an antifungal medicine – such as a cream, gel or spray – that’s suitable for your baby or toddler. It’s important to use the medicine for as long as the instructions (or your pharmacist say), even if the rash goes away earlier.

Typically, this may involve applying the antifungal ringworm treatment daily for two or more weeks.

Other members of the household may also need to get treatment. While the infection is still circulating in your home, take preventive measures such as making sure that items like combs, hats, and towels aren’t shared. This can prevent the fungal infection associated with ringworm from spreading amongst members of your household.

It’s important to try and discourage or prevent your child from scratching the ringworm rash, as this may spread the infection to other parts of the body.

When to See the Doctor

Although ringworm can usually be treated at home with over-the-counter medicines, see your child’s doctor if

  • your pharmacist tells you to

  • the ringworm doesn’t improve after using the recommended antifungal medicine

  • the ringworm is on your child’s scalp

  • your child has a weakened immune system.

In Summary

Ringworm can usually be treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams. Avoid scratching. See a doctor if the ringworm is on your baby’s scalp or doesn’t respond to over-the-counter treatments.

Can Ringworm Go Away on its Own?

No. It’s important to start ringworm treatment as soon as possible, to stop the skin rash getting more serious and/or spreading to other parts of the body. Early treatment also helps lower the risk of infecting other people. The good news is that ringworm is easy to treat, often just with over-the-counter creams or gels.

In Summary

Ringworm is easy to treat, but it’s important to start as soon as possible. It won’t just clear up by itself and could get worse if neglected.

How Can Ringworm Be Prevented?

Ringworm can be prevented through simple measures including:

  • Keeping your baby’s skin clean and dry

  • Avoiding tight-fitting clothing

  • Using clean towels

  • Not sharing clothes, towels, combs, hairbrushes and hats, etc.

  • Dressing your baby in fresh, clean clothes every day

  • Ensuring your child’s hands are thoroughly washed after touching or playing with animals or soil

  • Taking your pet to the vet immediately if you notice any sings of ringworm (such as patches of missing fur)

  • Treating other family members with ringworm (or similar fungal infections, like athlete’s foot or jock itch) promptly, to prevent it spreading in your household

In Summary

Ringworm can be prevented with proper hygiene, including keeping your baby’s skin dry, always using clean towels, avoiding sharing personal items like combs, laundering clothing regularly and avoiding tight clothes.

Should You Keep Your Child at Home with Ringworm?

If your baby or older child attends daycare or nursery school, it’s usually OK to take him or her once ringworm treatment with an anti-fungal cream has started. Still, it’s important to notify the institution concerned and check their policy before deciding.

The Big Picture

Ringworm is a completely treatable condition. It’s best to catch it early before it spreads to other parts of your baby’s body or another member of the family. With plenty of TLC and the treatment recommended or prescribed by a pharmacist or doctor, your baby or toddler will heal from this infection. Before long you’ll be able to plant kisses on your little one’s adorably soft and smooth skin once again.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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