Fungal skin infections are caused by certain types of fungus, or excessive growth of normally harmless types. Fungal skin infections usually affect your skin because they live off keratin, a protein that makes up your skin, hair and nails. Most fungal skin infections can be treated effectively.
Fungal skin infections are divided into groups, depending on what type of organism is involved. The full name depends on where the infection is found on your body. Some common fungal skin infections are listed below.
Most basic fungal skin infections are caused by dermatophytes — types of fungi that cause skin, nail and hair infections. They are very common. Dermatophyte infections include the following:
Yeast infections include the following:
You're more at risk of getting a fungal skin infection if you:
Moist skin encourages fungal skin infections. This means you're more likely to pick one up if you don't dry your skin properly after sweating or bathing, or if you wear tight clothes that don't allow sweat to evaporate. Damage to the surface of your skin, such as a cut or graze, can also encourage fungi to grow.
Fungal infections inside your body can cause more serious health problems than those on your skin. These infections only affect people whose immune systems aren't working properly — either as a result of an illness such as HIV/AIDS, or because you're taking medicines that suppress your immune system.
Fungal skin infections can be spread from person to person. For example, athlete's foot is thought to be spread in communal areas, such as gyms and swimming pools. Contact with bed sheets or towels and personal items such as hairbrushes can also spread fungal infections. It's also possible to catch some fungal infections from animals such as cats or dogs, and, more rarely, cattle. Ringworm is occasionally caught this way.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she will look at the appearance and location of your rash. They may also take a skin scraping, or a fragment of your nail or hair, and send it to a laboratory for testing, to confirm the diagnosis.
As most fungal skin infections are on the surface of your skin, you’ll usually be able to apply topical antifungal treatments directly onto your skin in the infected area.
There are a variety of treatments available in the form of creams, lotions and medicated powders. Some treatments are available over-the-counter from pharmacists. For example, there are sprays available for treating athlete's foot and antifungal shampoos for scalp infections. Ask your pharmacist for advice.
However, if the infection covers quite a large area of your skin, or affects your nails or scalp, your GP may give you a prescription for a stronger medication, which is often in tablet form.
These treatments are usually effective. They can occasionally cause side effects which may include skin irritation for topical treatments or an upset stomach for oral medicines. It isn't unusual for your infection to return, even when it seems to have been treated. You’ll usually be advised to keep using topical treatments for two weeks after symptoms have disappeared. You may need to take some treatments for a few weeks, or up to 18 months for toenail infections.
If you're buying an over-the-counter antifungal treatment, you need to be sure that you have a fungal infection. Sometimes a new rash may look like a previously diagnosed fungal infection. But if there is any doubt about your diagnosis, or if over-the-counter treatments don't work, contact your GP.
There are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting a fungal skin infection, such as:
If you have diabetes, you need to keep your blood sugar levels under control, as high blood sugar levels can increased your risk of developing bacterial and fungal skin infections.
Australasian College of Dermatologists
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Last published: 30 July 2011
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