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There are many different kinds of skin fungus infections and they can be difficult to distinguish from other forms of dermatitis or skin allergies. All are brought about by warmth, humidity, sweating and poor air circulation. Correct diagnosis can only be made by examining the cells under a microscope, which is why it is important to see a doctor when you suspect you might have a skin fungal infection that doesn’t clear within a week or two. Prescription medications formulated for these conditions will usually clear them effectively and quickly.
Common Dermatological Fungal Infections
Athlete’s Foot (tinea pedis)
Most people will get this very common fungus at some point in their life, with more than 10% of the U.S. population suffering this problem each year. Most often it occurs between your third, fourth, and fifth toes, sometimes spreading to the sole. The skin between the toes becomes white, moist, and easily rubbed off; the tops of the toes may be red, dry and flaky. Also, there is intense itching and burning. Athlete’s foot usually occurs with hot, moist conditions and mostly affects teen and adult males. It less frequently affects children before puberty. Contributing causes include sweating, not drying the feet well after swimming or bathing, wearing tight socks and shoes and warm weather conditions.
Jock Itch (tinea cruris)
As with athlete’s foot, heat, moisture (sweat) and poor air circulation can also cause a fungus infection of the groin — or jock itch. Again, intense itching and burning are experienced, along with redness, flaking and peeling on the inner thighs, pubic area and scrotum.
Ringworm (tinea corpora)
This is caused by a microscopic fungus, not a worm. The infected area spreads out slowly from its central starting point, creating a slightly raised, intensely red ring surrounding a less red, flaky, itchy area. This ring slowly enlarges over a period of several weeks. It can occur anywhere on the body and in more than one location on the body at once.
There is no worm involved with ringworm – the name refers to the circular appearance of the fungal lesion. Factors that can increase risk for ringworm infection include:
- Poor hygiene
- Living in a warm climate
- Contact with other people or pets that have ringworm
- Lowered immunity from disease or medication
Also, another form of ringworm, called “scalp ringworm” is highly contagious, especially among children between the ages of 2 to 10. It rarely occurs in adults. Symptoms of scalp ringworm may include:
- Red, scaly rash on the scalp
- Itching of the scalp
- Hair loss on the scalp
- Rash elsewhere on the body
This brownish-red, itchy discoloration affects the underarms, corners of the mouth, rectal area and beneath the breasts. The same type of fungus causes vaginal yeast infections (candida albicans). Although yeast is normally a harmless inhabitant of the digestive system and vaginal area, it often causes an infection when conditions are warm and humid, or when a person has a depressed immune system. Antibiotics can also cause yeast to grow, because the normal bacteria in tissues are killed off, letting the yeast grow unhampered. A medical examination will usually indicate candidias, which is confirmed with a skin sample examined under a microscope.
Candidiasis is easily treated with medicated ointments. Yeast infections in the vagina or anus can be treated with medicated suppositories. Thrush may be treated with a medicated mouthwash or lozenge that dissolves in the mouth.
This fungus actually changes the color of the skin it infects; the patches may be lighter or darker than your normal surrounding skin. This spotted pattern and the fine scaly flakes at the margins make this fungal infection the easiest to identify. Since itching and irritation are mild, it’s also the least bothersome. Other common characteristics of the rash include the following:
- White, pink, or brown patches
- Infection only on the top layers of the skin
- Rash usually occurs on the trunk
- Rash does not usually occur on the face
- Rashes worsen in the heat, humidity or if you are on steroid therapy or have a weakened immune system
- Increased visibility in the summer
Do Over-the-Counter Treatments Work?
Sometimes, an over-the-counter treatment is all you need to clear up a dermatological fungal infection. If, after several weeks, you notice no improvement, or the condition has worsened, please call and schedule a visit. It is important to use the treatment appropriate for your condition. Here is a list of some effective OTC treatments:
Tolnaftate is the only OTC medicine approved for both prevention and treatment of athlete’s foot. Be patient, though. It could take a month or more of daily treatment for it to completely clear. Consider preventive use if the condition recurs.
Selenium sulfide shampoo (Selsun Blue) is an effective OTC remedy for tinea versicolor. Since it often affects large areas of the trunk, applying this shampoo once a day for five minutes, then washing off, is easier and cheaper than using a whole tube of anti-fungal cream twice daily. Tinea versicolor also tends to recur easily, but this shampoo can prevent it if used once a week after the initial 2-4 week treatment cycle.
Miconazole or clotrimazole are quickly effective (1-2 weeks) for each one of these conditions, and come in cream, lotion or spray. Avoid alcohol-based products since they can sting chafed and delicate skin.
Dermisil AF. This soothing all-natural product is excellent for the treatment of athlete’s foot fungus.
Dermisil J has shown excellent results for the treatment of jock itch.
Dermisil R. This breakthrough product has a high cure rate for skin fungus infections like ringworm.
When Should I Seek Treatment from a Doctor?
- Athlete’s foot spreads into the toenail beds (toenails can’t be successfully treated with OTC products)
- Bacterial secondary infections of athlete’s foot (indicated by spreading redness or swelling from the original site, extreme tenderness, foul odor and yellow or cloudy drainage from a weeping area between the toes)
- Large areas impractical to treat with topical creams (prescription tablets treat the entire body)
- Recurrent infections despite appropriate treatment (other underlying medical problems or medication side-effects could be the real culprits)