What is ringworm?

Ringworm in children: Overview

Ringworm is a fungus infection of the skin. It is not caused by a worm. Ringworm causes a round, scaly rash that may crack and itch. The rash can spread over a wide area. One type of fungus that causes ringworm is often found in locker rooms and swimming pools. It grows well in warm, moist areas of the skin, such as in skin folds. Your child can get ringworm by sharing towels, clothing, and sports equipment. Your child can also get it by touching someone who has ringworm.

Ringworm is treated with cream that kills the fungus. If the rash is widespread, your child may need pills to get rid of it. Ringworm often comes back after treatment. If the rash becomes infected with bacteria, your child may need antibiotics.


Ringworm is an infection on the skin, hair, or nails. It's caused by a fungus. The infection usually causes a rash made up of round patches with raised, red edges. The rash spreads from the edges, often leaving the center clear. This ring shape is why it's called ringworm.

There are different types of ringworm. Depending on the type, it may be treated with prescription or over-the-counter antifungal medicine.

What happens when you have ringworm?

Ringworm of the skin can start as a small patch of itchy, red, or scaling skin. The rash can spread and cover a large area.

Clothing that rubs the skin can irritate the rash. Sweat, heat, or moisture in the air (humidity) can make the itching and infection worse.

As the infection becomes worse, the ring-shaped pattern and red-brown color may become more visible. If not treated, the skin can become irritated and painful. Skin blisters and cracks can become infected with bacteria and require antibiotics.

Ringworm can also spread to other parts of the body, including the feet, nails, scalp, or beard.

After treatment, the rash will go away. But ringworm can return unless you follow steps to prevent it. The tendency to get fungal skin infections or to have them return after treatment seems to run in families.

What are the symptoms of ringworm?

Ringworm usually causes an itchy rash. It often makes a pattern in the shape of a ring, but not always. The rash may be peeling, cracking, scaling, and red. It can affect the face, groin, hands, and other parts of the body.

How is ringworm treated?

Most cases of ringworm can be treated with skin creams or ointments that kill fungi. These are called topical antifungals. You can get many of them without a prescription.

You may need to take antifungal pills if ringworm doesn't go away after you've tried topical antifungals or if the infection is widespread.

Your rash may start to heal soon after you start treatment. But use the medicine exactly as the label or your doctor says. This helps keep the infection from coming back. You will probably need to continue treatment for 2 to 4 weeks or longer.

How can you prevent ringworm?

To help prevent ringworm, keep your skin clean and dry, wear slippers or sandals in locker rooms and public bathing areas, and change your socks and underwear at least once a day. And don't share clothing, sports gear, towels, or sheets.

How is ringworm diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine your skin and the rash. The doctor may diagnose ringworm based on this exam. He or she may look at a scraping from the rash under a microscope to check for the ringworm fungus.

How can you care for ringworm in children?

  • Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if your child has any problems with a medicine.
  • Wash the rash with soap and water, remove flaky skin, and dry thoroughly.
  • Try an over-the-counter antifungal cream. Spread the cream beyond the edge or border of your child's rash. Follow the directions on the package. Do not stop using the medicine just because your child's skin clears up. Your child will probably need to continue treatment for 2 to 4 weeks or longer.
  • To avoid spreading it, wash your hands well after treating or touching the rash.
  • To keep from getting another infection:
    • Do not let your child go barefoot in public places such as gyms or locker rooms. Avoid sharing towels and clothes. Have your child wear flip-flops or some other type of shoe in the shower.
    • Do not dress your child in tight clothes or let the skin stay damp for long periods, such as by staying in a wet bathing suit or sweaty clothes.

How does ringworm spread?

Ringworm is contagious. It spreads when you have skin-to-skin contact with a person or animal that has it. It can also spread when you share things like towels, clothing, or sports gear.

What causes ringworm?

Ringworm is caused by a fungus. It's not caused by a worm. The kinds of fungi that cause ringworm live and spread on the top layer of the skin and on the hair. They grow best in warm, moist areas, such as locker rooms and swimming pools, and in skin folds.

What is ringworm?

Ringworm is an infection caused by a fungus. It causes a rash that can appear on many different parts of the body. It is called ringworm because it sometimes looks like a ring.

Ringworm in children: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • The rash appears to be spreading, even after treatment.
  • Your child has signs of infection such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks near a wound in the skin.
    • Pus draining from the rash on the skin.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child's ringworm has not gone away after 2 weeks of treatment.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.