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What parents should know about ringworm

It’s a diagnosis that can make parents cringe: ringworm. But the good news is that it isn’t a worm at all and it is a condition that can be treated easily in most cases.

Ringworm is actually caused by a fungus.

“It can cause a rash that can be circular,” said Robert Saul, medical director of general pediatrics at the Greenville Health System’s Children's Hospital.

The rash spots do somewhat take the shape of a worm. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the patches look red or pink on people with lighter skin tones and tend to look brown or gray on the skin of people of color. The patches can cause intense itching.

“They are flat in the middle and have heaped-up margins,” Saul said.

Saul said some parents mistakenly believe that having ringworm means a person is not clean. In fact, it’s everywhere.

“You can get it from fellow humans, from animals and from the soil,” he said. “To me, it’s a disease of being human. It crosses all socio-economic boundaries. The good news is that it’s fairly straightforward.”

Ringworm is typically treated with over-the-counter anti-fungal cream.

“Usually in about a week or two, you see improvement,” Saul said.

In that case, the cream is simply continued until the rash clears up. Saul said in cases where the rash is on the scalp or if it doesn’t respond to over-the-counter medication, an oral medication may be necessary.

Ringworm can be contracted at any age.

“If it’s small, like a dime or a nickel, and they try the medicine and it goes away, great,” Saul said.

But first, parents may want their child’s pediatrician to determine that the rash really is ringworm.

“Like everything in medicine, not everything that looks like ringworm is ringworm,” Saul said. “If you look online, you’ll see a list of four or five other things that it could be.”

Saul said the rash typically will not be cultured by the child’s doctor because the culture could take weeks. The rash is usually resolved within that time.

Parents may also be concerned about spreading the rash to others. Saul said it can spread, but he doesn’t consider it highly contagious. He sees cases where one child has it and siblings do not.

“It is sort of a horrible name, but it is fairly straightforward,” he said.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you will increase your chances of getting ringworm if you:

•Spend time in hot, humid weather

•Sweat heavily

•Play a contact sport, such as wrestling or football

•Have contact with an infected pet

•Live in close contact with others, such as in military housing or college dorm rooms

•Share personal belongings, such as towels, clothes, razors and other things without disinfecting or washing them

•Wear clothing that chafes your skin

•Use a locker room or pool without washing and drying your feet before putting on your socks and shoes

•Are obese

•Have diabetes

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of ringworm at