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Brace yourself: We’re going to talk about pinworms now

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These parasitic worms set up shop in the rectum and create a whole world of itchiness. Here’s what you need to know to spot pinworms, especially in kids, and how to get rid of them for good.
Written by Amy Schlinger
Updated on November 16, 2021

You’ve probably heard of ringworm and tapeworms. But you may not be too familiar with pinworms. Well, you should be: Pinworm infection, also known as enterobiasis, is the most common worm infection in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It occurs worldwide and can affect people of all ages.

If you’re dealing with pinworms, don’t panic. Yes, they’re unpleasant, and they may trigger your freak-out reflex. But they’re common, treatable and harmless. So here’s how to banish the parasites from your home.

And remember: If you end up with a prescription for your itch, our free discount card can help you save on your medication.

What is pinworm infection?

A pinworm is a small, thin white roundworm that sometimes lives in a person’s colon. “Pinworms are a parasitic infection predominantly found in warm or humid climates — and in sand,” says Daniel Kollwitz. He’s an advanced practice registered nurse who specializes in pediatric gastroenterology at KIDZ Medical Services in Hollywood, Florida.

Pinworms can affect people of any age. But they’re most common in school-age children, according to University of Florida Health. They’re harmless, but they can be irritating. (Ringworm can also be annoying, but did you know that it isn’t even a worm?)

How do you get pinworms?

Pinworms are transmitted through direct contact with their eggs. For kids, this often happens in sandboxes at playgrounds or preschools. “When kids play in the sandbox, they can unknowingly get infective pinworm eggs on their hands, which then end up in the mouth,” says Kollwitz.

Even though pinworms aren’t dangerous, they should be treated. Otherwise, everybody in the house might soon be itchy. “A child who scratches their tushie might get eggs on their fingers and infect others in the household,” explains Kollwitz. “This is the fecal-oral transmission.”

What are the signs that you may have pinworms?

An itchy butt is generally the first clue. “The first sign of pinworm is usually itching and redness around the rectum and general discomfort,” explains Abe Malkin, MD. He’s the founder of Concierge MD in Los Angeles.

If you’re the one with pinworms, you’ll likely feel itchiness. If it’s your child, you’ll probably see him or her scratching. These are good indications that something might be wrong. (Related: Here are 3 itchy conditions you can catch from your kids.)

To confirm a pinworm infection, you have a couple of options. The first is to shine a flashlight into the area at night, just before bed. This is when pinworms most likely will be outside the anus laying eggs, according to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

The next option is what doctors call a “tape test.” The Mayo Clinic recommends doing this test first thing in the morning, just as your child is waking up. To do it, press a 1-inch piece of clear tape on the area around the anus. Hold it for a few seconds and then remove. You can then place this tape in a plastic bag to take to the doctor, who can look at it under a microscope to check for eggs.

Kollwitz also recommends another version of the tape test. If you do it in the middle of the night, you’ll be more likely to catch the actual worms.

“The parent or guardian should go into the child’s room while the child is sleeping and press a piece of tape against the child’s anus,” he says. “The adhesive will capture the head of the worm, which comes out at night.”

With this method, you may be able to confirm pinworms before going to the doctor. “While small, the head is visible and will stick to the tape,” Kollwitz says. This is similar to how teenagers remove blackheads using pore strips, he adds.

Will this whole process wake up your kid? Probably. But a chance to confirm a pinworm invasion is worth it.

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How do you get rid of pinworm infection?

“There is a class of medication called anthelmintics, which can be taken in a single dose or repeated 2 weeks after the first dose,” explains Dr. Malkin. The most common of these is albendazole (Albenza®), he says. “This is 90% effective at removing pinworms.”

Other medications for treating pinworms are mebendazole (Emverm®) and an over-the-counter medication called pyrantel pamoate (commonly sold as Reese’s Pinworm Medicine®), according to the CDC.

But in addition to medication, it’s also important to clean the bedroom of the infected person — especially if it’s a child, says Kollwitz. Otherwise she or he may ingest more eggs as soon as you kill off the old worms.

“Sanitize the child’s bedroom and other favorite spots, as pinworm eggs can survive 2 to 3 weeks on clothing, bedding, backpacks and other surfaces,” he says.

And once the pinworms are gone, take steps to prevent them from coming back. “Generally speaking, good hygiene is helpful for preventing pinworms,” says Dr. Malkin. “Encouraging hand-washing and discouraging biting nails, thumb sucking and scratching can help prevent the infection.”

From time to time, kids will get sick. But you can help keep the outbreaks to a minimum. To help, download the Optum Perks mobile app. You can use it to search for discounts of up to 80% off on medication for you and your children.

Additional sources
Pinworms are the most common infection in the U.S.
: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Pinworms are most common in school-age children: University of Florida Health
Tape test instructions: Mount Sinai
Pinworm medication: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention