While anyone can catch ringworm, this fungal infection is more common in children as they are more likely to come into close contact with someone who is infectious at school, or in childcare settings like nursery and daycare.
"The good news is that ringworm can usually be treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams and isn't serious," reassures NHS GP Dr Saniyya Mahmood, one of the doctors we consulted for this article. "It is however important to start the treatment as soon as possible to stop it from spreading to other parts of the body."
As well as GP Dr Saniyya Mahmood, we also consulted Dr Stuart Sanders, GP at The London General Practice, and Consultant Practitioner Dr Hussain Ahmad, for their advice on what to do if your child gets ringworm. The doctors also shared with us how to minimise the risk of the infection spreading throughout your household and answered some of the most frequently asked questions about this common childhood infection.
What is ringworm?
"Despite the name ringworm, it actually has nothing to do with worms," says Dr Saniyya Mahmood. "Ringworm is a common fungal infection, and it can affect adults, children and babies."
Dr Stuart Sanders explains, "Ringworm, scientifically known as Tinea Corporis, is a fungus infection of the skin caused by a number of different fungus strains."
"It can occur on the skin, groin or scalp. In the skin, it starts with a patch which slowly grows in size while the centre heals, so it looks like a ring, hence the name 'ringworm'. It can also look like a scaly solid patch."
Dr Mahmood describes the ringworm rash as, "very distinctive" and says, "it can appear anywhere on the body and the rash usually is dry, scaly, swollen and itchy, it can be either red or silver coloured depending on your child's skin tone, and it is usually ring shaped."
The NHS has this helpful guide to rashes that covers some of the common rashes in babies and children as well as showing what ringworm looks like. However, if you're worried about your child's rash and you're not sure what to do, or you think your child has got ringworm, always make an appointment to speak to your GP immediately. "If you are feeling unsure if your child has ringworm or another rash, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible," Dr Mahmood cautions.
What should you do if your child contracts ringworm?
"You need to see a doctor as soon as possible for an accurate diagnosis to get the right treatment, depending on where on the body you have the rash," Dr Ahmad advises.
Dr Sanders agrees explaining, "The sooner you start treatment, the better. This would be antifungal cream which your pharmacist will advise and supply. After a month, should this treatment not have worked, your doctor could prescribe tablets."
Dr Mahmood adds, "See a GP if ringworm is on your child's scalp or hasn't improved after using anti-fungal medicine, or your baby has other symptoms."
Try not to let your child scratch their ringworm rash as this could cause it to spread to other parts of their body and make sure to keep your child's skin clean. If your child has ringworm you should also check your skin and any family member’s skin for signs of infection - especially if they may have also been in contact with an infected person or animal.
If you think your child has ringworm, or you have a diagnosis from the doctor confirming that your child has ringworm, Dr Sanders recommends that, "the family pet should also be checked for fungus infection at the same time" because "domestic animals can have the infection and infect humans."
Is ringworm contagious and can adults catch ringworm from their child?
Yes, ringworm is contagious and yes, adults can catch ringworm too.
"Ringworm is very contagious," Dr Ahmad explains. "It spreads through contact with someone with the condition or something they have recently come into contact with."
Dr Sanders explains, "It is passed by touch and remember that animals can have ringworm so family members can catch it from their pets." Make sure you take your pet to the vet if you think they might have ringworm.
Dr Sanders also advises that parents should, "be mindful of activities that may expose others to the fungus such as sharing gym equipment or communal swimming pools," so it’s probably best to postpone any swimming lessons and avoid places like soft play until your child has started their ringworm treatment and the infection has cleared up.
Does ringworm require contact precautions with other family members?
Yes, it is sensible to observe contact precautions with other family members if your child contracts ringworm and these might include keeping the infected child away from their siblings or vulnerable members of the household. Dr Ahmad advises, "take precaution with anyone you see and try to minimise contact as much as possible."
Make sure you wash the towels and bedsheets being used by the child that has ringworm regularly and wash your hands often.
"Family members should not touch the ringworm lesions and avoid sharing personal items such as towels, combs, brushes, bed linen etc.," advises Dr Sanders. He also recommends that the whole household wash their hands regularly, "Personal hygiene (hand washing etc.) are very important in reducing the risk of the infection being spread."
You should also be especially careful if your child has ringworm and anyone in your household has a weakened immune system, is going through chemotherapy, is on steroids or has diabetes. Keep your child away from anyone who may be vulnerable and if you or someone in your household has a weakened immune system and catches ringworm, make an appointment to see your GP straightaway.
Important steps to take to try and minimise the risk of spreading ringworm throughout your household:
- Minimise contact between the infected person and other family members as much as possible
- Wash towels, bedsheets and clothes regularly and at a high temperature
- Wash your hands often
- Do not touch the ringworm lesions
- Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, combs, brushes, bed linen and clothes between family members
- Use an antibacterial cleaner on all hard surfaces
- Wash/disinfect anything that may have come into contact with an infected child such as cushions, stuffed animals and toys
How long are children infectious after catching ringworm
Ringworm usually lasts at least a couple of weeks and Dr Ahmad explains that your child will likely be infectious until, "after you start effectively treating" the ringworm infection.
Your GP will be able to advise you regarding at what stage in your child’s treatment they may no longer be infectious, but Dr Sanders reiterates that, "it will remain infectious until the condition is treated."
Does my child need to stay off school with ringworm and what is the guidance for ringworm in schools?
Yes, your child should stay off school or nursery and be kept home from daycare if you discover they have ringworm. However, once you have seen your GP and your child has started the prescribed or recommended treatment for ringworm, then it should be fine for them to return.
Current advice from the UK Health Security Agency states that when it comes to ringworm in children and young people settings, including education, it is "recommended" that any infected individuals should stay away from the setting until treatment for the ringworm infection has started. The guidance states, "Once treatment has started, individuals can return to their setting."
NHS advice states: "It's fine for your child to go to school or nursery once they've started treatment. Let your child's teachers know they have ringworm."
Dr Ahmad told us that, "once they have started treatment, children can return to school," but also advised that when sending your child back to school or nursery you ensure that, "the infected area is covered to reduce the risk of passing it on to someone else." This means ensuring for example that your child wears socks and shoes to nursery or daycare if the ringworm infection is on their feet.
How do you soothe a child with ringworm?
"There are very few symptoms associated with ringworm," explains Dr Sanders. "Children occasionally may experience itching; should this happen an antifungal with steroid cream should help."
Dr Ahmad echoes this advice saying, "Antifungal creams are the best way to treat ringworm cheek, but they take time to work." He adds, "in the meantime, you should keep the area clean and avoid covering it with anything. You can also apply aloe vera gel to reduce itchiness and inflammation."
How long does ringworm last?
The sooner your child starts treatment for their ringworm infection, the better. Dr Sanders says, "Ringworm does not usually disappear of its own accord. After starting treatment however, it should disappear in two to four weeks."
Dr Ahmed also explains that, "scalp ringworm can take longer to fully clear" and if your child does have ringworm on their scalp you will need to make an appointment with your GP as usually this will be treated with prescription antifungal tablets and shampoo.
If your child's ringworm infection has not improved after using antifungal medicine, or you are worried about your child and how long it is taking them to get better, make an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible.
Do you need to take extra precautions if you are pregnant?
"Ringworm is not any more dangerous for pregnant women than those who aren't," says Dr Ahmed. He adds that you should still try and avoid ringworm and pregnancy if you can, "you should still take precautions to avoid coming into contact with someone suffering with ringworm."
Dr Sanders adds that if you are pregnant you should be, "aware of possible pregnancy-adverse effects of medicines taken by mouth by the mother and her unborn child." If you are pregnant and catch ringworm, or someone in your household or you have been in close contact with has ringworm, speak to your GP.
Doctors answer your frequently asked questions about ringworm
Can you get ringworm twice?
Yes, you can catch ringworm twice.
Dr Sanders explains that you can also, “have several patches at the same time” and Dr Ahmad emphasises the importance of treatment if someone has ringworm, to stop the infection circulating, “ringworm infections can return at any point, so it's important to treat everyone in your household if it has spread.”
Can a child with ringworm go swimming?
No, a child with ringworm should not go swimming.
"Given it is a close contact activity and will be at risk of exposing others to the ringworm lesions," Dr Sanders states that a child with ringworm should avoid swimming.
Dr Ahmad advises that as "ringworm can be spread from contact with surfaces" it’s important that your child, "avoids swimming until [the] infection has cleared."
How do I clean my house after a child has ringworm?
Wash all towels, bedsheets and clothes used by the infected child at a high temperature and clean surfaces with an antibacterial cleaner.
"Make sure that all possibly infected bed linen and the patient's clothes are laundered and wash/disinfect anything that may have come into contact with an infected child such as cushions and fabric toys and stuffed animals," advises Dr Sanders.
Dr Ahmed agrees stating, "Wash all bedding, toys and clothes in a hot wash if possible and use an antibacterial cleaner on all hard surfaces."
GoodtoKnow consults a range of medical experts to create and fact-check content. Please note, this is general information only - for more personalised medical advice, always speak to your GP or seek urgent medical attention if needed.
Dr Sanders is a registered medical practitioner who graduated at the University of Leeds where he was awarded the Medical School prize in paediatrics. He subsequently gained diplomas in child health and obstetrics and has been presented with the Huntarian Society and The Independent Doctors Federation medals. Dr Sanders has considerable experience in family medicine and has been awarded the Fellowship of the Royal College of General Practitioners by Assessment.
Dr Hussain Ahmad (MUDr/MD) has over 10 years of experience working with patients across Europe and, most recently, in the North of England. He is an experienced hospital doctor working primarily in A&E in the North West.
Dr Saniyya Mahmood is a GP with over eight years experience. Dr Mahmood graduated from the University of Liverpool and iscurrently working as a GP and in specialist dermatology clinics in the NHS. She is also the founder and medical director of Aesthetica Medical Clinic based in Leeds.
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An internationally published digital journalist and editor, Rachael has worked for both news and lifestyle websites in the UK and abroad. Rachael's published work covers a broad spectrum of topics and she has written about everything from the future of sustainable travel, to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the world we live in, to the psychology of colour.
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