In a 2009 report, CNN listed pinworm, ringworm, lice and scabies as the four “grossest kid’s health problems.” But when all the facts are laid on the table, ringworm is probably the one that ranks lowest on the gross scale, mostly because it’s not actually a worm, mite or parasitic insect.
What is Ringworm?
Ringworm is a fungus that is similar to athlete’s foot and jock itch. The only thing that lumps it in the same category as CNN’s other gross childhood maladies is that it is very contagious. Even animals with ringworm can pass it on to humans.
In the early days of medicine, signs of tinea – ringworm’s less squirmy name – were noted by physicians to be similar to internal larvae that left a scaly red line as they traveled through the body. Tinea’s marks were circular, so physicians assumed the larvae moved or settled in a circle. It wasn’t until the late 1830s that a Polish physician determined that ringworm was actually caused by a fungus, not a worm. The name changed, but the condition still created ring-like marks so, to this day, we give a worm credit for your child being sent home from school.
The most obvious symptom of ringworm is an itchy, ring-like rash. But a general rough, scaly rash (similar to an athlete’s foot rash) can also be ringworm. Ringworm can also affect fingernails and toenails, turning them thick and yellow.
Treatment for Ringworm
In order to confirm ringworm and start effective treatment, the best course of action is to visit your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible. Rashes (not just ringworm) can be incredibly itchy; and an itchy child is a restless child. Although you can treat ringworm with over-the-counter anti-fungal medications like Tinactin, a professional diagnosis could be the quickest route to a good night’s sleep for everyone involved.
To prevent the spread of ringworm to other members of your family or guests, be sure to wash the afflicted child’s bedding (including mattress pads), security blankets, favorite plush toys and towels right away. Adding bleach to the wash load usually isn’t necessary, but may be recommended by your pediatrician.
Does your child ever share a bed with you or a sibling? Does he or she have a favorite pillow while watching television? A complete laundry blitz probably isn’t required, but you may decide that it’s easier than trying to determine what was in the line of the fungi’s fire. Remember that fungi thrive in warm, damp places, so towels should be placed on the daily laundry list.
Ringworm treatment is usually complete within two weeks, although your child may not be contagious the entire time. Do your best to avoid touching the affected area. If anyone else in your household is affected, you should see signs within two or three days of exposure. Ask your pediatrician when your child can return to school.