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Ringworm — which has nothing to do with worms — is a contagious skin infection caused by a fungus. It can be itchy and unpleasant, but it's not painful or dangerous. When the fungus affects the scalp, the condition is called tinea capitis, and when it affects the body it's called tinea corporis. If your child has ringworm on his body, he'll have one or more scaly patches. While the patches don't always start out round, by the time they're about half an inch across, they usually form a scaly ring around a smoother center.

It may look like a worm in the shape of a ring — that's where the name ringworm comes from. The patches can appear anywhere on the body. If your child has ringworm on the scalp, the rash usually has less of a ring-like appearance. Instead, you might notice scaly patches or bald spots on your child's head. You may also see stubs of broken hairs off in the middle of the bald spots. It's easy to confuse ringworm of the scalp with a much more common infant condition called cradle cap.

If you aren't sure what your child has, ask your doctor to take a look. Your child might also develop an area of inflammation, called a kerion, in response to the fungus. It'll appear as a moist, swollen area on the scalp, with pustules little pimple-like bumps. It will clear up when you treat your child's scalp for the ringworm. The doctor will take a painless skin scraping or hair sample and examine it under a microscope or send it for a culture. For ringworm on the body, the doctor will probably suggest an over-the-counter antifungal cream. Apply it twice a day to the rash area and about an inch beyond its borders.

Wash your hands well afterward. It usually takes about three to four weeks to get rid of ringworm. Continue to apply the cream for a week after the rash is gone. Some children are sensitive to anti-fungal creams, so try using just a little bit at first to see how your child's skin reacts. Consult your doctor for alternatives if the rash gets worse instead of better.

If your child has a stubborn case of ringworm, the doctor may prescribe something stronger than an over-the-counter cream. In rare cases, an oral medication is also necessary. Ringworm of the scalp can be tougher to treat and can take six to eight weeks to clear up. Most likely, your doctor will prescribe an oral antifungal medicine as well as a medicated shampoo.

Warning: Don't use a steroid cream to treat a rash that may be ringworm. Your child could develop a bacterial infection from scratching his skin, so it's a good idea to keep his nails short and watch him closely. If you notice that he's scratching, you may want to put little mittens or socks on his hands while he sleeps.

Talk with your child's doctor if the rash doesn't look much better after about a week of treatment. Ringworm is no longer contagious after 48 hours of treatment, so your child should be clear to go back by then. Ask your daycare provider or school what their policy is. It's hard to completely protect your child from ringworm, but there are a few things you can do to minimize his chances:. Make sure that they don't have any scaly, hairless patches. If they do, take them to the vet for treatment. In fact, even if pets don't show symptoms, it's a good idea to bring them in for a checkup if your child gets re-infected.

Bathe and shampoo your child often and wash and dry between her toes. Also, make sure she wears clean socks and underwear every day. Shower shoes and sandals are especially important in public pool areas and gym locker rooms. Tell your children these are things they shouldn't share -- even with their siblings: towels, combs, hairbrushes, hats, pillows, bows, clothing, or similar items. Wash bedding, towels, and clothing that come in contact with ringworm with hot water. Especially where pets have been.

Ringworm can be killed with common disinfectants or detergents. Be careful not to mix cleaning products. Get them treatment immediately if needed. Visual guide to children's rashes and skin conditions. BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world.

When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

August 6, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Harvard Health. March Ringworm Tinea. KidsDoc Symptom Checker. Michaels, B. Tinea capitis in infants: recognition, evaluation, and management suggestions. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 5 2 , 49— now to personalize. What are the symptoms of ringworm? How did my child get ringworm? How is ringworm diagnosed? How should I treat ringworm? Are there possible complications from ringworm? Should I keep my child home from daycare? Can I do anything to make sure my child doesn't get ringworm again? Photo credit: instagram.

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What you need to know about ringworm