It’s back-to-school season, which means millions of children are heading into classrooms to learn, make new friends and grow as individuals. Unfortunately, back to school also means that your child will potentially be exposed to many more infections and diseases due to their fast-spreading nature in school environments.
One of the most common infections spread throughout schools is ringworm, a skin infection caused by a fungus. Ringworm spreads through direct human contact and through contact with infected items, which is how most children get the infection. Ringworm of the scalp is particularly common in children because of the tendency to share combs, hats and other potentially-infected accessories.
If you discover your child has been infected with ringworm, there’s no need to panic. Treating ringworm is easy—you just want to make sure to pay attention to the infection until it’s completely cleared.
What is ringworm?
Despite what the name implies, ringworm is not caused by a parasitic worm. Also known as tinea, ringworm is a very common skin infection that is caused by an overgrowth of a keratin-eating fungus on the skin and scalp. The infection often affects multiple areas of the body at once, such as ringworm of the scalp, ringworm of the groin and ringworm of the feet (also known as athlete’s foot).
The infection-causing fungus thrives in moist areas like pools and locker rooms. The infection spreads through contact with an infected person, and by contact with objects or surfaces contaminated with the fungus, which could be anything from a hat to a stapler. It can also be transmitted to children from pets like dogs and cats. Ringworm is very contagious as long as the rash is present, so you should avoid all contact with infected areas.
Without treatment, ringworm can continue to spread to other body parts. However, the infection rarely goes below the surface of the skin and is not known to cause major illnesses.
Signs your child has ringworm
It’s pretty easy to tell if you or your child gets ringworm because of ringworm’s tell-tale signs. Most obvious will be a ring-shaped rash, either pink or red in color, which is usually around a half-inch to one inch in diameter. The center of the ring is usually clearer than the outer portion, which is often bumpy and scaly-looking. The ring generally grows in size over time.
These rashes may become tender and inflamed, blister or ooze pus. They will sometimes be itchy, but not severely so.
When dealing with ringworm of the scalp, the rings may not be as apparent, but there will usually be patches of red and scaly skin and skin flakes similar to dandruff.
Best treatments for ringworm
When you discover ringworm on your or your child’s body, you’ll want to have it treated as soon as possible so it doesn’t spread and so you are no longer contagious. The best treatment will depend on what type of ringworm you have.
Antifungal medications are popular for clearing up ringworm, either in the form of creams, oral medications or shampoos. Some medications are over-the-counter, but others need to be prescribed by a physician.
There are also lots of natural remedies with antifungal properties that are effective at combating ringworm.
- Apple cider vinegar: The numerous acids and probiotics in apple cider vinegar make it a good topical treatment for clearing up the ringworm fungus.
- Essential oils: Certain essential oils like tea tree oil and coconut oil have antifungal properties. Apply tea tree oil topically for ringworm on the body or mix coconut oil into hair treatments for scalp ringworm.
- Black walnut hulls: The extract of black walnut hulls can provide powerful antifungal compounds that clear up ringworm infections. This supplement can be taken orally.
- Aloe vera: Aloe vera is a long-time treatment for bacterial and fungal infections and may also help soothe inflamed and itchy skin rashes. Apply aloe vera directly to the infected area.
- Neem: Extracts from the seed and leaf of neem are well-known for treating psoriasis, infections and other skin and scalp conditions. Some herbal supplements like neem can be taken orally or applied topically as a ringworm treatment.
While treatment is being administered, it’s important to take care of the affected skin areas by washing them with mild soap and water and patting them dry. Also, wear loose-fitting clothing that covers the rash.
Fortunately, most experts think it’s okay for your child to attend school while their ringworm infection is being treated. However, the rashes should be covered, and your child should refrain from any sports activities where direct skin contact could be made or the infection could be passed through towels, helmets or mats.