What is Ringworm?
First of all, the word “ringworm” is a misnomer. The condition is not caused by a worm but rather a fungal infection. Ringworm (dermatophytosis) can affect both humans and animals and is characterized as small to large patches of dry, red, and scaly skin surrounded by its characteristic “ring.” It can be localized to a particular area of the body or it can be found all over the body. It usually affects the scalp, feet, groin, arms, legs, and other places.
Ringworm is usually itchy and can become painful if the sufferer scratches the affected area enough that sores develop. If left untreated, ringworm can spread to more areas of the body and it can also be spread to others. Ringworm is very common among young children and those whom share a home with pet cats.
How do you catch ringworm?
Ringworm is very contagious. It can be spread by simple contact with the fungus that resides on people or animals or with a surface where the active fungus happens to be. The fungus that causes ringworm thrives in wet environments such as public showers, pools, and dressing rooms and coming into contact with the fungus if you have minor skin abrasions or injuries multiplies your risk of becoming infected with ringworm.
Those who go barefoot often are at a higher risk of getting ringworm as well as those who share hairbrushes or wear unwashed clothing. House cats also readily carry the fungus and can easily transfer the fungus to those who handle them.
So how do you know if your child has ringworm?
Ringworm infection usually results in the following conditions:
- Raised, red, scaly, itchy patches of skin
- These patches may have oozing blisters
- A characteristic “ring” of dry raised red skin encircles the scaly, dry patch
Ringworm that affects fingernails may result in discolored and cracked nails while infections on the scalp may result in bald or thinning patches on the head.
How does my pediatrician diagnose ringworm in children?
The ringworm fungus will glow under a blacklight. Your pediatrician may use a blacklight in a darkened room to inspect the infected areas on your child’s body. If glowing patches appear, your pediatrician may order additional tests to identify if indeed it is a fungal infection. Sometimes a biopsy or a skin cell sample may be collected and examined under a microscope.
A diagnosis is usually pretty accurate, especially if the infected areas on the skin are pronounced.
So my kid has been diagnosed with ringworm. Now what?
Once ringworm has be diagnosed, your pediatrician may prescribe medication designed to treat the infection based on the severity of the affected area. Typically, a skin cream or lotion is prescribed that is specially formulated to kill the fungus and soothe the infected area and decrease itchiness. There are multiple types of this lotion available so if one doesn’t work, another can be prescribed. The most common medication prescribed for ringworm is Ketoconazole. This treatment is applied to the affected area multiple times per day for up to 4 weeks at a time, or until the infection is gone.
In addition to medication, your pediatrician will also recommend lifestyle changes that are meant to reduce the exposure to common methods of infection. Also, behavior changes may be recommended to include:
- Avoiding tight or restrictive clothing that prevents the affected areas from drying out or excessively rubs the infection.
- Regularly washing bedding and clothing your child sleeps in and wears.
- Washing and drying your skin on a regular basis.
- Consider limiting contact with pets or avoiding them altogether.
How long does a ringworm infection last?
Left untreated, ringworm can last for years. With medical treatment, ringworm usually clears up anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks. Ringworm infections that persist may require an oral antifungal medication to be prescribed. Most children respond well to treatment.
What do I do if I suspect my child has ringworm?
Call your pediatrician if over-the-counter medications fail to reduce and eliminate the infection. The office visit to diagnose a ringworm infection involves a quick check of the infected areas and is non-invasive. The Pediatric Center in Idaho Falls is a great place to bring your children for a ringworm checkup. Our pediatricians are very experienced in diagnosing and treating ringworm infection and are available to answer any questions you may have.