Fungi are single or multi-cellular organisms that cause skin infections. There are different types of fungal infections, and each can appear in different areas of the body. A common type of fungus is yeast, which is already present in the human body, but when levels increase, can result in infection. Dematophytes are fungal organisms that grow on the human body and infect the top layer of skin as well as nails or hair. Some symptoms include: rash, itchy blisters, cracking of the skin, and skin irritation.
- Tinea Pedis ("Athletes Foot"):
Tinea pedis affects over 10% of the United State’s population each year, and 75% will contract it at some point in their lives. The fungus appears on the bottom of the feet making the skin red, dry and flaky, and/or in between toes, characterized by skin becoming white, moist, and easily rubbed off. Tinea pedis generally occurs with hot, moist conditions, or if shoes are worn often and without socks.
Fungal infection of the toenails. There are several types of fungal infections of the toenail. Some can be treated topically, although more often these infections require systemic treatment as the infection can affect the nail bed (under the nail). A toenail clipping is often tested to diagnose this and make sure there is not another condition affecting the appearance of the nail.
- Tinea Cruris ("Jock Itch"):
Moist, warm conditions around the groin leads to fungal infection in this area. It may spread from the feet if someone has tinea pedis. Intense itching and burning are the usual symptoms. Redness, flaking and peeling on the inner thighs and scrotum may occur.
- Tinea Corporis (Ringworm):
Tinea corporis starts as a small central point that spreads out slowly, creating a slightly raised, scaly red ring, often with clearing in the center. It can be itchy. This "ring" gives the infection its nickname.
- Tinea Capitis:
More common in children than adults, tinea capitis is a fungal infection of the scalp. It often requires systemic treatment as the infection can involve the hair follicle. A few hairs may be plucked and tested if this condition is suspected.
This infection is characterized by brown-red itchy discoloration on the skin, generally occurring where there are folds in the skin such as under the arms, in the rectal area, and beneath the breasts. It is increased in people with diabetes or on systemic steroid treatment.
Fungal infections can often be diagnosed clinically. However, a skin scraping for examination under the microscope or by culture may be needed. When the infection is in the scalp, we may sample some of the hairs for culture. When the infection is suspected in the toenails, we often test a toenail clipping to ensure we have the right diagnosis before sending in an oral treatment.
Treatment for fungal infections is generally antifungal creams. They are usually applied to the affect areas several times daily, and can take many weeks before all signs of the fungus vanish. For some cases, or when the scalp or toenails are involved, oral medication may be useful.
There are some measures you can take to prevent a fungal skin infection. Always keep clothes dry and clean, alternate shoes, and wear loose-fitting clothes as much as possible. Allow the skin between the toes to dry completely before putting on socks/shoes. Avoid sharing hairbrushes, combs, and towels.