Some species of parasitic fungi are pathogenic or cause disease. These are classified as Dermatophytes. They are different from green plants because they don’t contain chlorophyll.
So these fungi can’t get their food through photosynthesis but have to absorb it from either dead or living organic matter. Dermatophytes feed on keratin (what our skin is made of). Therefore usually infect just the stratum corneum’s keratinized epithelial skin layers.
Tinea is a term given to skin, hair or nail infections caused by dermatophytes. Redness, itching and scaly patches are symptoms of tinea.
Disclaimer: This website is for informational purposes and not for diagnosis. More details.
What are Common Fungal Infections?
Fungi live all around us. Some are edible and others can be extremely dangerous and cause a life threatening disease (aspergillus). Fungal infections can affect anyone and these can develop on several areas of the body.
Usually these microscopic organisms on our skin don’t harm us. Certain kinds of fungi can cause fungal infections.
Normally on or inside your body they can reproduce faster than normal or penetrate your skin via a cut or lesion.
Fungi love warm, moist areas. Infections are seen in sweaty or damp locations such as feet, groin and other folds of the skin.
These infections cause itchy skin and appear as a scaly rash. Fungal skin infections are somewhat common. Normally they are not serious however extremely annoying and uncomfortable.
Typically spread through direct contact from one person to another so these are contagious. This may be through clothing or other items or from an affected person or animal.
Fungi release spores as they reproduce which are picked up directly or inhaled. That’s why fungal infections mainly affect your skin, nails or lungs.
Also penetrating your skin, fungi affect organs and can cause an entire body system infection (yicks).
7 Common Fungal Infections
Ringworm on Body
Ringworm on body (tinea corporis, dermatophytosis, dermatophyte infection) actually, is not a worm that causes this but a fungus. And can also affect a beard. It can appear on torso and limbs with a different name like Athlete’s Foot and Jock Itch.
Three different kinds of fungi can cause ringworm: Trichophyton, Microsporum and Epidermophyton.
A symptom of ringworm is its ring shaped rash that has slightly raised edges. The rash can spread and be very itchy. Ringworm is common and very contagious. It’s not serious and usually can be treated with an antifungal cream.
Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) hence the name common among athlete’s. You could become infected by a contaminated surface such as public shower or locker room floor.
This fungal infection affects the skin of your feet. Usually between or the webs of your toes. Athlete’s foot is rare in children.
Symptoms of athlete’s foot are:
- Extreme itching or burning
- Stinging sensation between toes or the soles of your feet
- Skin looks red, scaly, dry or flaky
- Cracked, blistered and sore
Sometimes the infection can spread to other areas of the body. These can be your nails, groin or hands (tinea manuum).
Jock itch (tinea cruris) is a fungal skin infection that usually begins in the area of your groin or near the inner upper thighs. This is more common in men and teenage males. It has a connection to athlete’s foot.
It mainly appears as an itchy red rash. Physical activities like exercising can make the rash worse. Jock itch can spread to the buttocks or abdomen.
The affected skin can also be scaly, flaky or cracked. Along the outer border it can appear a bit raised and darker.
Ringworm on Scalp
Ringworm on scalp (tinea capitis) this type of ringworm affects the skin of the scalp and its hair shafts. This is seen more in young children and treatment consist of a prescription taken orally along with antifungal shampoo.
Symptoms of ringworm on the scalp are:
- Appearance of scaly or red bald patches
- Along with scaling and itching
- Accompanied with tenderness or pain in these patches
Pityriasis versicolor (tinea versicolor) a combination fungal and yeast skin infection. It results in small oval discolored patches developing on the skin.
Pityriasis versicolor is caused by an overgrowth of malassezia (certain type of fungus normally found on skin of adults).
These discolored skin patches are usually found on the back, chest and upper arms. They can appear lighter or darker on your skin and can be red, pink, tan or brown in color. These patches can also be itchy, flaky or scaly.
It is seen more during the summer or if you are in a climate which is warm and wet. This condition can occasionally return after treatment.
Cutaneous candidiasis is a skin infection caused by Candida fungus normally found on and inside your body. An infection happens when the fungi overgrows.
Candida skin infections develop in warm, moist and poorly ventilated areas. Typically areas affected are under the breast and in the folds of the buttocks (diaper rash).
Candida skin infections symptoms are:
- A red rash
- Small red pustules
Onychomycosis (tinea unguium) is a fungal infection affecting your fingernails or your toenails but more commonly, the toenails. The infection typically starts at the tip of toenails.
The fungi can grow between your nail and nail bed. Athlete's foot affects one or more toenails at a time.
Diabetes can increase your risk of fungal infection here because of poor circulation of your feet.
With age your nails become dry making them more likely to crack. This allows that fungus to move into the nail bed.
Onychomycosis symptoms are:
- Toenails discolored, usually yellowish, brown or white
- Brittle prone to break easily
- Thicker nail
- Bad smell from toes
- Change in shape of toenails
A prescription medication is usually needed to treat. In severe cases, some or the entire affected nail may be removed by your doctor.
What are Risk Factors?
Several factors may put you at higher risk for getting a fungal skin infection:
- Living in a warm or wet climate
- Heavy sweating
- Not keeping your skin clean and dry
- Sharing clothing, shoes, towels or bedding
- Wearing tight clothing or footwear preventing air circulation
- Participating in activities that include frequent skin to skin contact (sports)
- Contact with animals that can be infected (boarding kennels)
- Immunosuppressant drugs, cancer treatment, or conditions like HIV have weakened your immune system
When should you see your Doctor?
Over the counter fungal treatments can be used. But if these don’t work see your doctor:
- Fungal skin infection doesn’t improve, gets worse or comes back after OTC treatment
- If you see patches of hair loss including itchy or scaly scalp
- You have a weak immune system and think you have a fungal infection
- You are diabetic and may have athlete’s foot or onychomycosis
Treatment for Fungal Skin Infections
If you suspect a fungal infection you may try an OTC to see if it clears up first. But if this doesn’t work your doctor will prescribe something stronger.
Antifungal medications will work in treating fungal infections. Either they kill fungi or stop them from growing and thriving.
Antifungals come in a variety of forms from creams (equate a generic brand) or ointments, pills, powders (Terbinafine Hydrochloride is the active ingredient), Lamisil spray and shampoos.
There are a number of products containing tea tree oil as well body wash, shampoo, feet products for its antifungal properties. This may cause allergic reactions.
Other essential oils if you want to try this route: Citronella, geranium, lemon grass, eucalyptus and peppermint may be considered.
Along with using OTC or prescription antifungals, you might do some other things at home to help clear up the fungal infection.
- Keep the affected area clean as well as dry
- Wear loose fitting clothes or shoes that give your skin a chance to breathe
How to Prevent Fungal Skin Infections
To help keep fungal skin infections from developing:
- Practice good hygiene
- Don’t share clothing, towels or other personal items
- Wear clean clothes every day, especially socks and underwear
- Wear clothing and shoes that breathe well that aren’t too tight or restricting in any way
- Allow footwear to dry out before wearing again
- After showering, bathing or swimming take care to dry off entirely using a clean, dry towel
- When using public locker rooms don’t go barefoot, wear your flip flops or sandals
- Wipe off and disinfect shared surfaces like gym equipment or mats
- Avoid animals that may have a fungal infection like missing fur or constant scratching
Wrapping it up
Fungal skin infections are common. The infections aren’t considered serious they can be downright uncomfortable and annoying to have. There is irritation because you are scratching the itchy or scaly red skin. Scratching only makes it angrier. If not treated, it can spread to other areas.
There are many different over the counter products available at your local pharmacy that can assist in treating the fungal skin infection. But if this doesn’t clear up using OTC medicines within a couple weeks, visit your doctor. You may need a stronger prescription medication.
Be aware of steps to prevent a fungal skin infection. These are good habits to practice.
Fungal Disease Awareness Week is September 20-24 (mark your calendar).
Have you ever had a fungal skin infection? What cleared it up?
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