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Icky skin conditions kids get and how to deal with them


Kids get some pretty gross things. Ringworm, lice, scabies and more are enough to turn any parent’s stomach. But chances are every kid will get at least one of these somewhat gruesome skin conditions at some point. All you can do is deal with it.

Little boy having lice treatment

If your kid comes home from school or day care with ringworm, lice or scabies, don’t freak out. These are highly contagious conditions that are simply going to get passed around when people, especially children, are in such a large group setting for so many hours a week. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore it. We’ve got the deets on what to do when your kid comes home with one of these icky conditions.


A lot of us are taught that only dirty people get lice. That’s simply not true. Lice don’t care how clean your hair is or when you last washed your pillowcase. Lice can spread by jumping from an infected person to another during close contact.

A louse is a tiny wingless parasite that lives in the hair and feeds off very small amounts of blood from the scalp. While they’re tiny little buggers, they can be seen with the human eye.

Signs your child has lice:

  • They complain of a moving or tingling sensation on their heads.
  • They incessantly scratch or have little red bumps or irritation on their scalp.

If you need to inspect your child for lice, you should be looking for the eggs (called nits) that are small yellow, tan or brown dots that will appear near the scalp. You may also see the live lice, which are about the size of a sesame seed and are grayish-white or brown.

How to treat lice:

If your child has lice, keep them home. Even if they show no signs of infestation, everyone else in the house should also be treated, so it may be easiest to keep them home, as well. Any officials at schools or day care (or other places your child frequents) should be notified.

If your child is more than 2 years old, you should first try an over-the-counter medicated lice shampoo or cream. Follow the directions carefully and treat everyone at the same time. Don’t send your child back to school until you’re sure the infestation is gone. If the medication doesn’t work in the time indicated on the packaging, you’ll need to go to the doctor for a more aggressive oral treatment.

If your child is less than 2 years old, do not use medicated treatments. You’ll have to pull the lice and eggs out by hand. Just use a fine-tooth comb on wet, conditioned hair (which temporarily immobilizes the lice and makes it easier to comb through) every three or four days for at least two weeks since the last live louse was seen.

While head lice don’t survive long outside the body, you should still wash all the clothing and any bed linens recently used in very hot water (at least 130 degrees F) and put them in the dryer on the hottest cycle for at least 20 minutes. Dry-clean anything else (like plush toys) that can’t be put in the washer.

Vacuum the carpets, furniture and the inside of your vehicle, and soak any hair care items (combs, brushes, barrettes, etc.) in alcohol or the medicated shampoo for an hour (or just throw them away).


Much like lice, scabies are tiny parasites, but unlike lice, they are generally too small to be seen with the naked eye and they burrow under the skin. Scabies are passed through close contact with an infected person or by sharing towels or other items.

Signs your child has scabies:

  • Severe itching that gets worse at night and after bathing
  • A rash with tiny blisters or sores

How to treat scabies:

If your child has scabies, keep them home. Until you’ve seen a doctor, you should keep other children (and yourself) home, too, as it can take up to two weeks to show symptoms of infestation. As with lice, contact the officials or supervisors at any public place your child frequents.

There are no OTC treatments for scabies; you’ll have to take your child to the doctor. They’ll prescribe a cream that must be rubbed on from head to toe (including inside the ears), avoiding only the eyes and mucus membranes of the nose. The doctor may recommend two treatments per person even if the scabies appear to be gone and may recommend that all people in the house be treated. Don’t simply treat others in the house without the doctor’s instructions, as some scabies medications are dangerous for children, pregnant women and the elderly.

In this case, the cure can seem worse than the problem. It can cause severe itching; the doctor may also prescribe a second cream to help with that. The doctor may also prescribe an antihistamine to help with the itching. This is because humans are naturally allergic to scabies, so until the scabies are completely gone, you can still experience itching. Persistent itching for a couple weeks after treatment shouldn’t be taken as a sign the scabies aren’t gone. Don’t send your children back to school until the doctor says it’s OK.

As with lice, you’ll need to clean any linens, clothing, stuffed animals, and the carpet and floors well. But scabies also don’t live long outside the body.


Ringworm is an infection of the skin, groin (also called “jock itch”) or hands that’s caused by a fungus. It spreads by skin-to-skin contact or by contact with things like towels, clothing or sports gear. You can also get it from an infected dog or cat.

Signs your child has ringworm:

  • A red, very itchy rash forms; it may have a ring shape, but not always.
  • If it’s on your child’s hands, it may look like athlete’s foot, with thick, dry and scaly skin on the palm.

How to treat ringworm:

While ringworm doesn’t necessarily mean your child should stay home, you should advise teachers and caregivers of the condition so they can help ensure your child doesn’t scratch, touch others and otherwise risk spreading the infection. You may be tempted to cover the area with a bandage to keep kids from scratching, but this inhibits healing.

Most mild cases of ringworm don’t require professional treatment. You can purchase OTC creams without a prescription. The rash may begin to clear up quickly after treatment, but keep using the cream as long as the label (or your doctor) recommends to keep it from coming back. If you can’t get rid of the infection with creams, you’ll need to see a doctor.


The best thing to do is to keep your kids from getting these conditions in the first place. Teach your kids to keep their hands to themselves at school and don’t let them share clothes, towels or other personal items.

More on kids’ health

Recurrent ear infections and daycare
Overuse injuries in youth sports
Help your kids have their healthiest school year yet

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