In much of the United States, spring is just around the corner, and spring is the time of year children get ringworm. Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about this common fungal condition.

Q. What are ringworms?

A. Actually, ringworms aren’t worms, and the noun isn’t used as a plural. Ringworm (known in the medical literature as Tinea captis) is a fungal infection of the skin, related to athlete’s foot, that causes a characteristic round rash. It usually starts as a pimple and grows outward. It can make the skin scaly and the hair brittle, brittle enough to break off leaving a temporary bald spot. There are many strains of ringworm, and the species causing infections in the United States (T. tonsurans) is the most likely to leave a bald spot.

The ringworm fungus gets it start on dead skin. Simply exfoliating with a gentle cleanser and warm water every day cuts down on ringworm infection.

Q. What about raw vinegar for ringworm?

A. The thing about raw vinegar for ringworm is, it goes on you, not in you. Dilute a quarter-cup (60 ml) of vinegar in three-quarters cup (180 ml) of warm water and dab on the affected area three times a day. If you don’t want to smell like pickles, be sure to rinse the vinegar off your skin after it’s been allowed to set for about 5 minutes. Improvement should be visible in 2-3 days.

Q. How often do people get ringworm?

A. Less than 1% of the population in developed countries has ringworm at any given time, although some areas of Southeast Asia have local infection rates of up to 14%. In North America, ringworm outbreaks mostly occur among children aged 6 to 10 and is passed around at school. The strains of ringworm that occur in the Middle East are passed between family members of all ages.

Q. What can you tell me about ringworm medication? Diabetes is my main health problem.

A. When it comes to ringworm medication, diabetes is a concern primarily because it is associated with dry skin. But you’d need skin moisturizers no matter what. In diabetic children, the natural remedies for healing ringworm are the same as for non-diabetic children.

About medications, the thing about prescription medication is that it’s for use in you, not on you, the opposite of natural remedies of healing ringworm. If you have chronic hair loss, a medication your physician prescribes, like griseofulvin, will hold the fungus at bay inside the hair shaft long enough for new keratin to grow around the hair follicle.

If you don’t have hair loss yet, herbal remedies may actually be more effective. Tea tree oil, in an 8-20% cream, rubbed on the skin three times a day may stop the progression of ringworm into the hair follicle.

What you need to know about tea tree oil is, it does more to improve symptoms than to kill ringworm at the source–but if the fungus is just munching away on dead skin that’s flaking off, you don’t care. Clinical trials have shown that tea tree oil is superior to at least one medication (tolnaftate) in controlling itching, inflammation, scaling, and redness, while the prescription Rx is better at killing the fungus. It is possible to use both.

Q. How do you treat ringworm on children?

A. Natural remedies for healing ringworm are the same for children and adults, except you do want to be very sure not use pure tea tree oil with children. (Creams are always preferable.) Additionally, it’s a good idea to make sure children don’t share combs or bed linens, and that you wash you hands every time you help your child wash or groom.

Q. What’s the difference between ringworm and impetigo?

A. Ringworm itches, impetigo hurts. Hair falls out in ringworm, but hair stays put in impetigo.

Ringworm is never fatal, and is usually easily controlled. Just be sure to avoid reinfection by washing hands, clothes, towels, bed lines, and children frequently to stop the spread of the infection.