Ringworms In Children

What is a ringworm?

A ring worm is a fungal infection of the skin, hair and nails. It commonly affects the scalp of children between the ages of 3-11 years. Contrary to popular beliefs, ringworms are NOT intestinal worms and are thereby NOT treated by deworming.

What are the symptoms of ringworms?

Your child will have a red, scaly patch or bump that itches. Overtime it will turn into a circle-shaped patch hence the term `ring`. It is popularly known as mashilingi in Kenya.  You may notice one or several patches on your child`s scalp or other parts of the skin. The affected skin area may be flaky (peeling) with hair loss (balding) in the area. The skin may be darker or lighter than the surrounding area. Left untreated the ring will continue to expand and get bigger.

How did my child get a ringworm?

Ringworms are commonly spread by contact that means touch. Children will acquire ringworms from:-

  • Their schoolmates, playmates or siblings. Children will always touch each other during play or in their interaction.
  • From their pets or other animals. Dogs, cats, cows, horses among other animals also get fungal skin infections that they may pass on to children.
  • Touching objects that are infected with the fungi like combs, brushes, shaving machines, clothes, towels or pillows.
  • From infected soil. Moulds may be found anywhere including surfaces and soil that is moist. Children love to play with soil and may get infected.

How can I confirm that my child has ringworms?

The skin lesion may be obvious to you, but many skin conditions may look like ringworms. If you are concerned you may consult your general paediatrician or dermatologist. They may make a more informed diagnosis from observation or decide to conduct a skin test. This is done by scraping some of the itchy, scaly area and taking it to the laboratory where it is examined under a microscope for confirmation.

How are ringworms treated?

This will depend on the location on the skin surface and their severity. Antifungal medication is prescribed in various forms.  This may be a skin cream that is applied to the affected area, tablets that are swallowed or shampoos for hair.

Antibiotics do not treat ringworms unless they are also infected by bacteria.

Topical creams should be applied for 4-6weeks if the skin or hair is involved. If the nails are infected this may be much longer. Do not stop applying the cream even after the `ringworm` disappears in your naked eye as fungal infections may persist. For treatment to be successful it should be consistent and for a minimum of 4 weeks.

The ringworms may still recur after successful treatment because of re-infection.

Does my daughter have to shave her hair for treatment for ringworms?

No, there are anti-fungal tablets that can be swallowed safely and shampoos that contain the medication. She may be required to shampoo her hair three times a week.

How can I prevent ringworms?

You may not be able to completely prevent your child from getting ringworms as these fungi are found in many places in the environment and among your child`s friends and classmates.  They also take quite long to treat and may not warrant isolation of the infected child. All the same, there are a few things you can do to help your child. These include:-

Keeping your child`s skin clean, well dried and properly moisturised all the time. This is especially after games.

Avoid sharing clothes, towels, pillows, hats, combs and brushes with infected children.

Encourage your child to wash their hands after touching pets or playing with soil.

Encourage your child`s contacts that may be infected to seek medical attention. (Dermatology clinic)

Take your pets to the Vet if they have signs of ringworms.

What is the worst that could happen if I do not treat my child`s ringworms?

  • They may pass it on to other children continuously
  • They may get hair loss
  • It may continue to extend/ expand outwards and your child may be ridiculed by his/her friends.