How to treat ringworm

First of all, the word “ringworm” is a misnomer. The condition is not caused by a worm but rather a fungal infection. Ringworm (dermatophytosis) can affect both humans and animals and is characterized as small to large patches of dry, red, and scaly skin surrounded by its characteristic “ring.” It can be localized to a particular area of the body or it can be found all over the body. It usually affects the scalp, feet, groin, arms, legs, and other places.

Ringworm is usually itchy and can become painful if the sufferer scratches the affected area enough that sores develop. If left untreated, ringworm can spread to more areas of the body and it can also be spread to others. Ringworm is very common among young children and those whom share a home with pet cats.

How do you catch ringworm?

Ringworm is very contagious. It can be spread by simple contact with the fungus that resides on people or animals or with a surface where the active fungus happens to be. The fungus that causes ringworm thrives in wet environments such as public showers, pools, and dressing rooms and coming into contact with the fungus if you have minor skin abrasions or injuries multiplies your risk of becoming infected with ringworm.

Those who go barefoot often are at a higher risk of getting ringworm as well as those who share hairbrushes or wear unwashed clothing. House cats also readily carry the fungus and can easily transfer the fungus to those who handle them.

So how do you know if your child has ringworm?

Ringworm infection usually results in the following conditions:

  • Raised, red, scaly, itchy patches of skin
  • These patches may have oozing blisters
  • A characteristic “ring” of dry raised red skin encircles the scaly, dry patch

Ringworm that affects fingernails may result in discolored and cracked nails while infections on the scalp may result in bald or thinning patches on the head.

How does my pediatrician diagnose ringworm in children?

The ringworm fungus will glow under a blacklight. Your pediatrician may use a blacklight in a darkened room to inspect the infected areas on your child’s body. If glowing patches appear, your pediatrician may order additional tests to identify if indeed it is a fungal infection. Sometimes a biopsy or a skin cell sample may be collected and examined under a microscope.

A diagnosis is usually pretty accurate, especially if the infected areas on the skin are pronounced.

So my kid has been diagnosed with ringworm. Now what?

Once ringworm has be diagnosed, your pediatrician may prescribe medication designed to treat the infection based on the severity of the affected area. Typically, a skin cream or lotion is prescribed that is specially formulated to kill the fungus and soothe the infected area and decrease itchiness. There are multiple types of this lotion available so if one doesn’t work, another can be prescribed. The most common medication prescribed for ringworm is Ketoconazole. This treatment is applied to the affected area multiple times per day for up to 4 weeks at a time, or until the infection is gone.

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In addition to medication, your pediatrician will also recommend lifestyle changes that are meant to reduce the exposure to common methods of infection. Also, behavior changes may be recommended to include:

  • Avoiding tight or restrictive clothing that prevents the affected areas from drying out or excessively rubs the infection.
  • Regularly washing bedding and clothing your child sleeps in and wears.
  • Washing and drying your skin on a regular basis.
  • Consider limiting contact with pets or avoiding them altogether.

How long does a ringworm infection last?

Left untreated, ringworm can last for years. With medical treatment, ringworm usually clears up anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks. Ringworm infections that persist may require an oral antifungal medication to be prescribed. Most children respond well to treatment.

What do I do if I suspect my child has ringworm?

Call your pediatrician if over-the-counter medications fail to reduce and eliminate the infection. The office visit to diagnose a ringworm infection involves a quick check of the infected areas and is non-invasive. The Pediatric Center in Idaho Falls is a great place to bring your children for a ringworm checkup. Our pediatricians are very experienced in diagnosing and treating ringworm infection and are available to answer any questions you may have.

Image Credit: By James Heilman, MD – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

What is ringworm?

Despite its name, ringworm is not caused by a worm! It’s a fungal infection also known as tinea (tinea comes from a mould-like group of fungi called dermatophytes). Ringworm gets its name because it appears as a circle or oval shape – on either the scalp or the body.

Because ringworm is very contagious it needs prompt treatment. The infected child’s towels, combs, brushes and bed linen need to be kept separate from others in the family. Other family members also need to be checked regularly to see if they have ringworm. Outbreaks of ringworm will often happen at a school or childcare centre.

Ringworm most commonly occurs in children between the ages of 3 – 7 years old ,and more commonly in boys than girls. Ringworm is caught from contact with a person already infected, from living in crowded conditions, from cats and dogs, or from touching something an infected person or animal has touched. Though it’s rare, ringworm can also be picked up from the soil.

Ringworm appears around 1 to 2 weeks after first contact with the fungus. It should clear up within a month of being treated.

Tinea, or ringworm, also causes ‘jock itch’ in the groin of adolescent boys and men, as well as athletes foot, which traditionally shows up between the toes.

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What is ringworm

What are the symptoms of ringworm?

  • Small round/oval scaly patches in the hair or on the body – may first look like a pimple
  • Rough, reddened borders to the circle with white patch inside
  • The outer rim of circle is made up of little bumps
  • On the scalp the hair over the ringworm may be missing, broken or short
  • In severe cases the ringworm patch can be inflamed and crusted

Risks and complications of ringworm in kids

  • If you have a pet in your household, your children are at increased risk of contracting ringworm.
  • If ringworm is not properly treated it can persist and cause an infection that is hard to get rid of
  • It can easily be spread to other parts of the body and to other people
  • Development of secondary skin infections, which will need to be treated by your doctor

How do I prevent my child getting ringworm?

  • Teach your child good hygiene – regular hand washing, not sharing clothes or combs
  • Ensure your pet receives treatment for ringworm
  • Keep your child away from the pet while both are being treated
  • Teach your children to always wash their hands after touching animals
  • Teach your child not to kiss pets and never to handle animal faeces
  • Keep animals healthy
  • Keep animals out of bedrooms and off beds and furniture
  • Tea tree oil is a good all-round preventative for fungal type conditions – add it to bathwater, to the clothes wash and use it when washing animals

Animals that can pass ringworm to humans include

  • Cats – especially kittens
  • Dogs – especially puppies
  • Horses
  • Goats
  • Pigs
  • Cows

Now you know a little more about how to treat ringworm in kids. You may want to know about 3 more, very common, children’s conditions often picked up from school. Find out about how to prevent and treat these conditions in our School sores, Warts and Head lice articles. Or, for more expert health advice check out Health and wellbeing section.

How Is Ringworm in Dogs Spread?

Ringworm in dogs spreads through direct contact with the fungus. This can happen when a dog comes in direct contact with an infected animal or person or touches a contaminated object like a couch, comb, food bowls, bedding, or carpet. The fungal spores responsible for the spread can remain viable for up to 18 months and typically spread through shedding or breaking of infected hairs.two dogs

Symptoms of Ringworm in Dogs

Ringworm is not a life-threatening disease, but it is very contagious and does require the intervention of a veterinarian. Knowing the symptoms of ringworm in dogs can help you catch the disease before it passes to humans or other pets.

In dogs, ringworm usually presents as circular areas of hair loss throughout the body. These lesions may start to heal in the center as they enlarge, creating a patchy appearance, and may become inflamed or scabbed.

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Ringworm usually does not itch. The affected hair follicles are brittle and break easily, which helps spread the disease throughout your home. In some cases the fungus infects the claws, making them brittle and rough.

Contact your veterinarian if your dog experiences any or all of these symptoms:

  • Circular areas of hair loss
  • Dry, brittle hair
  • Scabby, inflamed skin
  • Rough, brittle claws

Hair loss, changes in coat appearance, or inflamed skin could be a sign of another condition. Skin problems are associated with many serious underlying conditions in dogs, like Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, a nutrient imbalance, or could simply be symptoms of other skin conditions like allergies, a different parasite, or an infection.

Learn more about the causes of dry skin on dogs

Can Other Animals Get Ringworm?

Cats can get ringworm, too, and the fungus responsible for most cases of ringworm in dogs, Microsporum canis, is also responsible for 98 percent of ringworm in cats. Since many dog owners also have cats in the home, this means that the risk of the fungus spreading from cats to dogs and dogs to cats is relatively high.

Most species of domestic animals can get ringworm, including livestock, so talk to your vet about the risk of spreading ringworm between your pets and other and dog

Treatment of Ringworm in Dogs

Your vet will diagnose your dog with ringworm by performing a diagnostic test, as well as a physical exam. He will probably take a sample of hair or skin cells for a fungal culture or examine infected hairs under a special ultraviolet light called a Wood’s lamp.

Once ringworm is diagnosed, your vet will discuss a treatment plan for your dog. This treatment plan depends on the severity of the case, the number of pets in the household, and whether or not there are children or immunocompromised adults in the home.

Treating ringworm in dogs usually consists of three steps:

  1. Topical therapy
  2. Oral medications
  3. Environmental decontamination

Environmental Decontamination

The spores that live inside the hair follicles remain contagious for months at a time, surviving on couches, grooming tools, bedding, furniture, and clothing. Cleaning up all this hair is a part of treatment, but as many dog owners know, also a bit of a challenge.


Some owners keep their dogs in rooms that are easy to clean during the time they are infected with ringworm. This makes it easier to eliminate stray hairs and to mop with a disinfectant recommended by your veterinarian. If you can’t contain your dog to hard floors, daily vacuuming and removal of hair from furniture and surfaces can help prevent ringworm from spreading.

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