What is skin fungus?
A skin fungus is an infection of the skin by a fungus, a microorganism that usually consumes dead material. The outer skin is made up of dead skin cells that form a barrier to the outside environment. This barrier is usually able to maintain its own health but if damaged (especially by breaks or a cut in the skin), it can be prone to infections. There are certain types of fungi — dermatophytes (molds) and yeasts – which can quickly invade and establish itself on the skin surface in the optimal settings.
The symptoms of skin fungus vary between infections but will normally involve itchy skin. Most will cause a rash, which can be red in appearance or may look like dry skin. Hair infections may cause rash on the scalp, resulting in hair loss. Several of the most common skin fungus symptoms are:
- Ringworm causes ring-shaped, slightly itchy, red or pink raised patches with a clear center.
- Jock itch appears as a ring-like red rash around the groin area. It is in the form of small, painful, extremely itchy blisters.
- Athlete’s foot appears as an itchy, scaly rash between the toes. There may be mild irritation or cracking and peeling of the skin.
- The skin becomes sore and susceptible to bacterial infection.
- Scalp ringworm is highly contagious among children and takes the form of scaly, itchy patches on the scalp.
- Nail ringworm affects toenails and makes the nails appear dull and thickened. The infected part of the nail may fall apart from the rest of the nail.
- Candida infection typically occurs in moist and warm areas of the body such as skin folds and diaper areas. Superficial candida skin infection appears as a red, flat rash with scalloped, sharp edges.
- Small patches appearing like a rash are known as satellite lesions. They can cause pain or itching.
- Sometimes, a fungal infection on one body part can cause a rash on another body part. This condition is known as an allergic reaction to fungus.
The best way to treat a fungal skin infection is to avoid having one altogether. Fungus needs dark, warm and moist areas to live. To prevent these infections, keep your skin dry and avoid applying oily products to it. Do not wear tight clothing that is not well ventilated. Also, keep your skin dry, especially the skin on your scalp, which is prone to fungal infections.
Fungus spreads easily from person to person, as it can live for a while on non-human surfaces. You can also avoid fungal skin infections by not sharing towels, combs, headgear, brushes or other personal care items with other people. Also, if you are showering, bathing or swimming in a public place, you should wear shower shoes or sandals to prevent contact with the fungus that causes athlete’s foot. Fungus can also be spread from animals to people. If you notice a pet with a bald spot, which could indicate a fungal infection, do not touch the animal.
Most fungal infections can be treated with a topical (cream, gel, lotion or solution) antifungal application that will be effective in killing the fungus and allowing the skin to heal. Any antifungal application should always be used for a minimum of 6 weeks to ensure that new fungal spores buried in the skin will not germinate to cause another infection at the same spot. In severe cases of a skin fungus that is not responding to antifungal applications, an antifungal tablet may be used for 10 to 30 days for better results. Secondary infections of a skin fungus by bacteria can cause severe damage to the tissue around and under the skin fungus. This requires immediate antibiotic medication and any dead skin may need o be physically removed (debridement) by your medical doctor.