One of the joys of parenting is dealing with worms in kids. Most kids will pick up worms from daycare or school at some point, which can often lead to infection of the whole family!
Worms are often fairly harmless for most people, other than causing some unpleasant symptoms. But others can experience chronic infections if they are vulnerable to worms. If your child is experiencing worm infestations more than once every 12-18 months, there might be an underlying cause that you’ll want to explore further.
Watch the video or keep reading below to learn more about treating worms in kids.
Threadworms, or pinworms, are the most common worms to infect humans. Most people have experienced a threadworm infection before. Other worm infections do occur on occasion, but they are typically picked up overseas while on holidays.
What are the symptoms of worms in kids?
The most common signs and symptoms of worms in kids include:
- An itchy bottom – particularly 2-3 hours after they go to bed, as this is when the worms become active
- Itchiness and redness around the vulva and vagina for girls. This is because the anus and vagina are very close together, so the worms can lay eggs around both. Girls can also experience UTI-like symptoms if the worms enter the vagina or urethra.
- Behavioural changes – this can range from general irritability to mood swings.
- Restless sleep – due to itchiness and activity of worms. They may wake with their bedding all over the place, grind their teeth, and feel unrefreshed in the morning. It can also include calling out at night, nightmares, night terrors and bedwetting.
- Sudden lack of appetite
However, it is possible to have worms without experiencing any symptoms.
How do worms spread?
A common misconception is that kids will pick up worms from pets and other animals. But humans are the only known hosts for threadworms. That means that kids are picking it up from others, or by reinfecting themselves.
The most common way for worms to spread is via the hands. Worms lay their eggs on the surface of the skin around the anus, which can cause kids to itch around the area. The eggs get under their fingernails, and re-enter through the mouth, or are transferred onto surfaces. Eggs can live for 2-3 weeks outside of the body. In some cases, worms can even be contracted by breathing in airborne eggs.
Because it is so easy for the worms to spread, it is common for them to be picked up in the classroom or at daycare. Worms will spread through the family as well, which is why it’s best to treat the whole family, even if someone isn’t experiencing symptoms.
Although worms are typically a digestive infection, you can have worms anywhere with a wet orifice. There are cases of worms infecting the nose, ears, salivary glands, vagina and urinary tract. One of the main causes of recurrent infection is that standard worming medication only target the digestive tract, and cannot treat any other infection areas.
The upsides of worms in kids
Believe it or not, there are some benefits associated with having worms!
Some research suggests that worms can be protective for the immune system, particularly for autoimmune conditions. People with worm infections are less likely to develop an autoimmune condition.
Worms could also be protective against allergies and atopic conditions such as eczema, at least in the short term. Chronic worm infections can suppress immunity, but short-term infections seem to modulate or balance the immune system.
There are some links between worm infections and the diversity of bacteria in the gut. In studies, a gut that has not had a worm infection has low diversity, but when threadworm is present, the diversity increased. After treating the threadworm infection, the gut diversity increased even more! The more diverse the gut bacteria, the healthier the immune system and gut.
On top of that, worms seem to emit substances that can reduce gut inflammation. One study showed that a worm infection leads to higher levels of short-chain fatty acids that protect the gut.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t treat worms in kids, but it does show that worm infections aren’t as scary as we might think.
How do you treat worms?
Start with standard pharmacy medication
The first port of call is over-the-counter medicine for worms – pyrantel, or Combantrin, is the most common here in Australia.
Why? Unlike many other medications, there are few side effects for these medications. They are low toxicity, and most of it is not absorbed into the system. These medications paralyse the worms so the body can excrete them. Worming medications for kids are in little chocolate squares, which makes them easy to give to kids.
The one downside of medications such as Combrantin is that you generally need two courses for it to be effective. Combratin only attacks live worms in the gut, not the eggs. Doing one dose immediately and following up with a second dose 1-2 weeks later can be more effective.
After using worming medication, I recommend following up with some probiotics to boost overall gut health and the gut bacteria levels.
Anti-parasitic herbs can be useful for chronic infections
Herbs are not usually my first choice when it comes to worms in kids, as they taste quite awful! But they can be indicated for chronic worm infections. Unlike worming medications, these herbs aren’t taken in one dose – they need to be taken for 2-6 weeks for the best outcome. If your kids can swallow tablets, that is the best way to take anti-parasitic herbs.
Not all anti-parasitic herbs are effective against worms. I tend to use wormwood, myrrh and pomegranate, along with cloves and black walnut for some clients.
As with any herbal supplements, the best option is to seek personalised advice from a qualified naturopath.
A novel approach to chronic worms
Another naturopath, Rachel Arthur, is taking a different approach with chronic worm infections. As she was seeing people who were experiencing severe mood swings, sleep disorders and more due to worms, she started looking into why certain people are prone to longer and more severe infections.
What she found was a vet science study exploring why some animals can rid themselves of worms, and others are prone to infections. What it found was that the more prone animals had a lower level of chondroitin sulfate. Why is this significant? The white blood cells that are involved in worm infections, basophils, secrete chondroitin sulfate! It somehow creates an unhealthy environment for worms.
Chondroitin is a generally safe supplement, and is easy to give to kids. Although there are more studies needed to confirm its benefits, I’ve found it has good results with chronic infections. As chondroitin supports the basophils, it is more systemic and is likely more beneficial for worm infections throughout the body, not just the gut.
Consider the gut environment
Whenever there is recurrent worm infection, it’s important to look at what is going on in the gut that contributes to that. Gut health plays a role in preventing worms, particularly when it comes to gut bacteria.
Some strains of bacteria have been found to clear worms in the gut and protect against infection. Research show that some microbes in the gut affect the severity and recurrence of worm infestations.
The healthier the balance of gut bacteria, the greater protection you have against worms.
How to prevent recurrent worms in kids
Treating worms is often just the first step! What you really want is to prevent ongoing infections. These tips will help you avoid reinfestations:
- Make sure kids are showering daily, especially in the morning. They need to be washing around the bottom and genitals to ensure they’re getting rid of any eggs laid.
- Change linen, PJs and underwear regularly – washing them in hot water is thought to be most effective
- Trim your child’s fingernails to minimise spread of eggs from under the nails
- Ensure your child is washing their hands with soap and water regularly, including when they first wake up
- Wipe any surfaces that are regularly touched with hot water and a cloth – think light switches, taps, door handles and the toilet flusher
- Don’t forget to treat the whole family, even if only one child is showing symptoms
If your child is dealing with recurrent worm infections, I’m here to help. For personalised advice, book an express Skype consultation here.
Improving gut health is an important step for reducing your child’s susceptibility to worms. To get started, download my free Kids Gut Health ebook here.