Treating Common Types Of Fungal Skin Infection

Written by Neil Farnsworth, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on September 19, 2022 No Comments

woman examining skin

Fungus is literally everywhere. There are type of fungi that live on plants, in the dirt, on food and indoor surfaces. While there are millions of types of fungus, only a few hundred have the ability to infect your skin. Fungal skin infection may lead to redness, scaling, swelling or blisters and causes itching or irritation.

While most fungal infections resolve on their own without any form of intervention, some infections may require professional treatment. In this post, we’ll discuss common types of fungal skin infections, along with ways to prevent and treat serious cases.

8 Common Types of Fungal Skin Infection

Ringworm of the Body

Ringworm of the body, tinea corporis, is not caused by a worm but a fungus. The name comes from the swollen or scaly red rings the fungus causes. Ringworm is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, or by contact with infected objects such as shower surfaces, unclean clothing or even dogs, cats and other domestic animals.

Ringworm of the Scalp

Ringworm of the scalp, tinea capitis, is a fungal infection of the scalp and hair follicles. It’s most common in young children, although anyone can get it. Symptoms include scaly or red bald patches. The patches may itch or feel tender or painful.

Athlete’s Foot

Athlete’s Foot, tinea pedis, is sometimes referred to as ringworm of the foot. The fungal skin infection may be the most common. It’s transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, animals, or contact with contaminated objects such as locker room floors, wet or dirty socks, or shared towels.

Symptoms include red or white itchy patches between or around the toes. Left untreated, these patches may crack and bleed, developing into a more severe infection. Athlete’s foot can lead to fungal infection of the toenails, which is more difficult to treat.

Jock Itch

Jock Itch, tinea cruris, is a fungal skin infection of the groin area. In severe cases it may spread to the thighs or lower abdomen. Jock itch is transmitted to the groin from other areas of the body, such as an athlete’s foot infection. It’s also more common in those who share towels or spend prolonged time in tight, sweaty clothes.

Symptoms include redness, burning and itching. Skin may peel, flake off or crack. If persistent itching does not respond to anti-itch cream, it’s most likely a fungal infection.

Yeast Infection

Yeast infection, candidiasis, is caused by a common yeast (a type of fungus) that is found in the mucous membranes of the vagina or mouth. In most cases, this fungus doesn’t cause any problems and is kept in check by good bacteria. It can multiply when the immune system is weakened, with prolonged use of antibiotics or steroids, or in damp, unclean environments.

Symptoms may include burning, swelling, redness and persistent itching. In the case of a vaginal yeast infection, you may notice a thick vaginal discharge, or burning during urination. Symptoms of oral thrush (yeast infection of the mouth) include raised, white sores on the mouth or tongue.

Cutaneous Candidiasis

The yeast candida not only causes mucosal infections, but can lead to skin infections, too. The yeast typically overgrows in areas of the skin that are warm and damp, such as skin folds under the buttocks, the breasts, armpits or groin area. Diaper rash is one example of a candida skin infection. Symptoms may include redness, small red pustules or itching.

Tinea Versicolor

Tinea versicolor is also a yeast infection of the skin. This one is caused by overgrowth of the fungus malassezia. It’s most likely to occur during the sweaty summer months, or when skin is kept in warm, wet conditions. Symptoms occur primarily on the chest, upper arms and back. They include pink, red, tan or brown patches of skin that look lighter or darker than normal. Patches may be itchy and can flake or scale.

Nail Fungus

Nail fungus, onychomycosis, can affect the fingernails or toenails, although it’s more likely to appear on the toes, which are often kept in warmer, wetter conditions. It may be transmitted by the same fungus that causes ringworm, jock itch or athlete’s foot. It can also spread by coming into contact with unsanitary objects, especially if you have a cut on your toes or feet. Symptoms include thick, brittle and discolored nails, usually white, yellow or brown.

Factors That Increase Risk Of Fungal Infection

Fungus thrives in environments that are warm and moist. Objects and surfaces in bathrooms, locker rooms and spas are susceptible to harboring fungus. Wearing wet, sweaty clothing for long periods of time also increases risk. People who are obese, diabetic or have a compromised immune system may be more prone to fungal infections.

Ways To Prevent Fungal Infections 

You can minimize your risk for fungal and yeast infections with the following tips:

  • Keep bathroom surfaces clean and disinfected
  • Wash towels and bedsheets frequently
  • Wear clean, dry sandals in public locker rooms
  • Change out of sweaty clothing as soon as possible
  • Keep your skin, especially body fold areas, clean and dry
  • If you have diabetes, maintain proper blood sugar levels

Over The Counter (At-Home) Treatment Options

Many fungal skin infections can be treated at home. Topical antifungals are often suggested as the first line of therapy. These include creams, lotions and sprays with the following active ingredients:

  • Clotrimazole
  • Miconazole
  • Terbinafine
  • Tolnaftate
  • Butenafine

Creams should be used 2-3 times daily for 1-2 weeks, or as instructed on the label.

When Should You See a Doctor?

If your over-the-counter medication is not working, and it’s been 2 weeks, it’s time to see a Board Certified Dermatologist. In addition, call your doctor immediately if any of the following apply:

  • You’re diabetic or you have a compromised immune system
  • You observe hair loss in addition to itchy, scaly skin
  • Your fungal infection gets worse or returns after at-home treatment

A dermatologist can prescribe stronger medication, or a combination of OTC and prescription products. Serious infections may need to be treated with oral antifungal medication.

Neil Farnsworth, MD

Dr. Neil Farnsworth is a board-certified dermatologist with longstanding ties to the Houston area. Dr. Farnsworth believes in a comprehensive approach to dermatology, with a special emphasis on regular maintenance of the skin’s health through sun-protection, use of the proper personal care products, and vigilance against potential assaults such as infections, skin cancers, and autoimmune disease. Dr. Farnsworth sees patients at our River Oaks location.

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