COMMON FUNGAL INFECTIONS OF THE SKIN (AND HOW TO AVOID THEM)

OVERVIEW

Fungal infections are pesky, annoying, difficult to treat and hence, very resilient. As the name suggests, they arise from different kinds of fungus, which are primitive organisms that can be consumed, as well as can make life difficult when they choose to infect.

Fungi live in air, in soil, on plants and in water. Some live in the human body. Only about half of all types of fungi are harmful.

Some fungi reproduce through tiny spores in the air. You can inhale the spores or they can land on you. As a result, fungal infections often start in the lungs or on the skin. You are more likely to get a fungal infection if you have a weakened immune system or take antibiotics.

We address a few of these infections in this article, along with how to prevent them and when to seek your doctor’s opinion.

Athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot is a common infection caused by a fungus. It most often affects the space between the toes. Symptoms include itching, burning, and cracked, scaly skin between your toes.

You can get athlete’s foot from damp surfaces, such as showers, swimming pools, and locker room floors.

To prevent it:

Keep your feet clean, dry, and cool
Wear clean socks
Don’t walk barefoot in public areas
Wear flip-flops in locker room showers
Keep your toenails clean and clipped short

Treatments include over-the-counter anti-fungal creams for most cases and prescription medicines for more serious infections, which need to be prescribed by your GP.

Candida (yeast infection)

Yeast infections affect different parts of the body in different ways:

Thrush is a yeast infection that causes white patches in your mouth
Candida esophagitis is thrush that spreads to your esophagus, the tube that takes food from your mouth to your stomach. It can make it hard or painful to swallow.
Women can get vaginal yeast infections, causing vaginitis
Yeast infections of the skin cause itching and rashes
Yeast infections in your bloodstream can be life-threatening

 

Jock itch

Tinea cruris, commonly known as jock itch, is another common fungal skin infection.

These fungi love warm and damp environments, and thrive in moist areas of the body, such as the groin, buttocks, and inner thighs. Jock itch may be more common in summer or in warm, humid areas. Treating jock itch usually involves topical antifungal ointments and proper hygiene. Many cases of jock itch are improved by over-the-counter medications, though some require prescription medications. Cleaning the affected area and keeping it dry can also help kill the fungus.

Ringworm

Ringworm is a skin infection that causes jock itch and athlete’s foot.
Tinea corporis or ringworm is a skin infection caused by a fungus that lives on dead tissues, such as the skin, hair, and nails. Ringworm is the fungus that causes both jock itch and athlete’s foot. When it appears anywhere else on the body, the infection is just called ringworm.

Ringworm is usually easy to notice because of its shape. A red patch that may itch or be scaly will often turn into a raised, ring-shaped patch of skin over time. It may even spread out into several rings. Ringworm is highly contagious, and it can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, or from contact with pets, such as dogs. The fungus may also survive on objects, such as towels, clothes, and brushes. The ringworm fungus also infects soil and mud, so people who play or work in infected dirt may catch ringworm as well.

 

After their diagnosis is confirmed, doctors will recommend a treatment based on the severity of the case. Over-the-counter creams and medicated ointments are often sufficient to treat many cases of ringworm. Ringworm of the scalp or severe ringworm may require a prescription.

 

Dr. Annie

Physician, mom and wife

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