If your kids are active, chances are that locker-room showers and heaps of sweaty clothing are part of their everyday lives. It’s important to take the proper precautions so that your child doesn’t develop fungal skin infections that can be itchy and uncomfortable.
Jock itch, athlete’s foot, and ringworm are all types of fungal skin infections known collectively as tinea. They are caused by fungi called dermatophytes that live on skin, hair, and nails and thrive in warm, moist areas.
Symptoms of these infections can vary depending on where they are on the body. The source of the fungus is usually the soil, an animal (usually a cat, dog, or rodent), or most often, another person. Minor trauma to the skin (for instance, scratches) and poor skin hygiene increase the potential for infection.
It’s important to learn some of the signs and symptoms of these infections so that you can get the proper treatment for your child. Many of these infections can be treated with over-the-counter medication, but some of them may require treatment from your child’s doctor.
Ringworm isn’t a worm, but a fungal infection of the scalp or skin that got its name from the ring or series of rings that it can produce. Ringworm may first appear on your child as a red, scaly patch or bump on the skin that becomes very itchy. It may cause your child to experience dandruff-like scaling and hair loss (with broken stubbles of hair).
Symptoms of Ringworm
Ringworm of the scalp may start as a small sore that resembles a pimple before becoming patchy, flaky, or scaly. These flakes may be confused with dandruff. It may cause some hair to fall out or break into stubbles. It can also cause the scalp to become swollen, tender, and red.
Sometimes, there may be a swollen, inflamed mass known as a kerion, which oozes fluid. These symptoms can be confused with impetigo or cellulitis. The distinctive features of ringworm are itching, redness on the skin, and a circular patchy lesion that spreads along its borders and clears at the center.
Ringworm of the nails may affect one or more nails on your child’s hands or feet. The nails may become thick, white or yellowish, and brittle.
If you suspect that your child has ringworm, you may want to call your child’s doctor.
Ringworm is fairly easy to diagnose and treat. Most of the time, the doctor can diagnose it by looking at it or by scraping off a small sample of the flaky infected skin to test for the fungus. The doctor may recommend an antifungal ointment for ringworm of the skin or an oral medication for ringworm of the scalp and nails.
A child usually gets ringworm from another infected person, so it’s important to encourage your child to avoid sharing combs, brushes, pillows, and hats with others.
Jock itch, an infection of the groin and upper thighs, got its name because cases are commonly seen in active kids who sweat a lot while playing sports. But the fungus that causes the jock itch infection can thrive on the skin of any kids who spend time in hot and humid weather, wear tight clothing like bathing suits that cause friction, share towels and clothing, and don’t completely dry off their skin. It can last for weeks or months if it goes untreated.
Symptoms of Jock Itch
The symptoms of jock itch may include:
- itching, chafing, or burning in the groin, thigh, or anal area
- skin redness in the groin, thigh, or anal area
- flaking, peeling, or cracking skin
Treating Jock Itch
Jock itch can usually be treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams and sprays. If you are using one of these substances, make sure that your child takes the following steps so that the treatment is as effective as possible:
- Wash and then dry the area using a clean towel.
- Apply the antifungal cream, powder, or spray as directed on the label.
- Change clothing, especially the underwear, every day.
- Continue this treatment for 2 weeks, even if symptoms disappear, to prevent the infection from recurring.
If the ointment or spray is not effective, you may want to call your child’s doctor, who can prescribe other treatment.
Preventing Jock Itch
Jock itch can be prevented by keeping the groin area clean and dry, particularly after showering, swimming, and performing sweaty activities.
Athlete’s foot typically affects the soles of the feet, the areas between the toes, and sometimes the toenails. It can also spread to the palms of the hands, the groin, or the underarms if your child touches the affected foot and then touches another body part. The condition got its name because it affects people whose feet tend to be damp and sweaty, which is often the case with athletes.
Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot
The symptoms of athlete’s foot may include itching, burning, redness, and stinging on the soles of the feet. The skin may flake, peel, blister, or crack.
Treating Athlete’s Foot
A doctor can often diagnose athlete’s foot simply by examining your child’s foot or by taking a small scraping of the affected skin to detect the presence of the fungus that causes athlete’s foot.
Over-the-counter antifungal creams and sprays may effectively treat mild cases of athlete’s foot within a few weeks. Athlete’s foot can recur or be more serious. If that’s the case, you may want to call your child’s doctor who may prescribe a stronger treatment.
Preventing Athlete’s Foot
Because the fungus that causes athlete’s foot thrives in warm, moist areas, infections can be prevented by keeping your child’s feet and the space between the toes clean and dry.
Athlete’s foot is contagious and can be spread in damp areas, such as public showers or pool areas, so you may want take some extra precautions with the feet. You may want to encourage your child to:
- wear waterproof shoes or flip-flops in public showers, like those in locker rooms
- alternate shoes or sneakers to prevent moisture buildup and fungus growth
- avoid socks that trap moisture or make the feet sweat and instead choose cotton or wool socks or socks made of fabric that wicks away the moisture
- choose sneakers that are well ventilated with small holes to keep the feet dry
By taking the proper precautions and teaching them to your child, you can prevent these uncomfortable skin infections from putting a crimp in your active child’s lifestyle.
Reviewed by: Patrice Hyde, MD
Date reviewed: May 2005
“Tinea” refers to a skin infection with a dermatophyte (ringworm) fungus.
Depending on which part of the body is affected, it is given a specific name.
Sometimes, the name gives a different meaning.
- Tinea versicolor, also more accurately called Pityriasis versicolor, a common yeast infection on the trunk
- Tinea incognito when the clinical appearance has changed because of inappropriate treatment
- Tinea nigra affects the palms orsoles which appear brown (on white skin) or black (on dark skin)