Medical & Surgical Dermatology

Fungal Infections of the Skin

It is easy to get a fungal infection. Fungi (plural of fungus) spread easily from person to person. Many people get a fungal infection through close personal contact with someone who has a fungal infection. Sharing an infected object such as a towel or comb, or walking barefoot on an infected floor is another way to get a fungal infection. Some people get fungal infections by touching infected soil or an animal that has fungi on its fur. Many fungal infections develop on the skin, but a fungal infection also can affect the nails.

People increase their risk of getting a fungal infection when their skin stays wet for long periods. Fungi grow quickly in warm, moist areas. Underclothes, shower tiles, and pool decks are common places for fungi to grow.

For most people, a fungal infection causes a mild rash or itching. If a person has a weak immune system due to a medical condition such as HIV or cancer, a fungal infection may be more severe.
The following describes some of the more common fungal infections that people get.
 

Athlete's Foot (Tinea Pedis)

Most people catch athlete's foot by walking barefoot through a public place such as a locker room or deck of a swimming pool. Athlete's foot usually starts between the toes, where the skin itches, peels, and flakes. Without treatment, athlete's foot can worsen. Some people even get itchy water blisters on their feet. 

Before treating athlete's foot, a Water’s Edge Dermatology practitioner will first make sure that the patient has athlete's foot. Sometimes a dermatologist can be certain by looking at the skin. Other times a medical test is necessary. Athlete's foot can look like another skin condition such as contact dermatitis or psoriasis. These skin conditions also can cause a rash. Using an anti-fungal cream on one of these skin conditions will not help.

If the patient has a mild case of athlete's foot, an anti-fungal cream often works well to relieve the burning and itching, and to clear the skin. When the infection is more severe, a dermatologist may write a prescription for anti-fungal pills. Athlete's foot is contagious. To prevent getting athlete's foot again, or for the first time, here are some things you can do:

Do not walk barefoot in gyms, shower or locker areas, pools, or hotel rooms. The fungus that causes athlete's foot may be on the floor. To protect your feet, wear shower shoes, "flip-flops," or sandals.
During the hot summer months, wear sandals or "flip-flops." If this is not possible, sprinkle an anti-fungal powder on your feet and inside your shoes or boots.

Do not wear other people's shoes.
Wash your feet daily with soap, and completely dry your feet.
Wear socks made of a fabric that dries quickly or keeps moisture away from the skin. Be sure to change your socks every day, and sooner if the socks get wet.
 

Nail Fungus (Onychomycosis, Tinea Unguium)

This toenail fungal infection often affects the big toe. It can cause the nail to thicken and turn yellow. Sometimes the affected nail crumbles. Toenail fungus tends to be more common in people who have had athlete's foot for a while or have injured a nail.

A fungal infection also can affect a fingernail, but this is less common. Whether the fungus affects the fingernails or toenails, it can be hard to treat. Prescription anti-fungal pills may be necessary to clear a fungal nail infection. Some people find that the nail infection returns frequently.

Jock Itch (Tinea Cruris)

Jock itch is a rash that begins in the groin area. This rash is itchy, has a red border, and can spread. Jock itch affects both men and women. Individuals who sweat a lot may be more likely to develop jock itch. Anti-fungal creams that are available without a prescription are helpful, but prescription creams may work faster.

Ringworm (Tinea Corporis)

Ringworm causes a red, itchy, flaky patch that looks more like a ring as it grows. Your dermatologist may treat this rash with a prescription anti-fungal cream or anti-fungal pill.

Scalp Ringworm (Tinea Capitis)

Scalp ringworm is most common in children. It can cause flaking on the scalp and hair loss. It is important to see a dermatologist for treatment. With the right treatment, the hair will grow back in time.