Candida is a strain of fungus that can cause an infection in your skin, among other locations. In normal conditions, your skin may host small amounts of this fungus, but problems arise when it begins to multiply and creates an overgrowth. More than 150 species of candida exist, but the majority of infections are caused by a species called Candida albicans.
The outlook for Candida infection is often very good. Generally, the condition isn’t serious and can be easily treated. However, uncontrolled infections can lead to potentially life-threatening problems — especially in those with weakened immune systems. Quick treatment can help stop the spread of the fungus, while also improving (and potentially saving) your life.
Candida skin infections can occur on almost any area of the body, but they are more commonly found in intertriginous regions, where two skin areas may touch or rub together. Such areas include the armpits, groin, and skin folds, as well as the area between your fingers and toes. The fungus thrives in warm, moist, and sweaty conditions.
Normally, your skin acts as an effective barrier against infection, but any cuts or breakdown in the superficial layers of the skin may allow the fungus to cause infection. Candida becomes pathogenic (capable of causing disease) when conditions are favorable for it to multiply. These conditions may be produced by hot and humid weather, lack of hygiene, or restrictive clothing.
These aren’t the only risk factors to consider. Candida infections also tend to be more prevalent in:
- people who are overweight
- people with diabetes
- cases of iron or zinc deficiency
- people who have recently undergone antibiotic therapy
- people with underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroid)
- people with inflammatory disorders
- people with immunodeficiency
- people working in wet conditions
- pregnant women
Certain medications may also increase the risk for this type of fungal infection. Corticosteroids are the most problematic, but birth control pills and antibiotics are other possible causes. If you take these types of medications, you should monitor your skin regularly for signs of Candida infections.
Symptoms vary depending on body location, but include the following:
- rashes (area of reddening, usually itchy)
- red or purple patches (area with an altered surface)
- white substance over affected areas
- scaling (shedding of the skin with flakes)
- cracking (cracks in the skin)
- erythema (area of redness)
- maceration (appearance of soft white skin)
- creamy satellite pustules at margins of affected areas (pimples filled with pus)
- red and white lesions in your mouth (called oral thrush)
Diagnosis of Candida infections primarily relies on appearance and skin sampling. Your doctor will take skin scrapings, nail clippings, or plucked hair from the affected area and mount them on a slide for examination. Once a Candida infection is diagnosed, the first step is to address the underlying cause. This may include changing your lifestyle to become more hygienic, losing weight if you are overweight, or managing your diabetes.
Treatment for Candida skin infections is usually simple. You don’t need to be hospitalized unless you have problems with your immunity. Your doctor may prescribe drying agents or antifungal creams, ointments, or lotions to be applied to your skin.
You will most probably be prescribed over-the-counter drugs, such as ketoconazole or clotrimazole, both of which are from a class of antifungal drugs known as azoles. They don’t have serious side effects as compared to other antifungal agents like nystatin or amphotericin B. The infection should clear in about seven to 10 days.
If the infection persists or becomes more severe, your doctor may include some systemic antifungal medications (oral or injectable) in your therapy.
There are simple steps you may take to reduce your risk of developing Candida infections. For example:
- Wear “dri-fit” clothing that helps wick away moisture from your skin.
- Keep your armpits, groin area, and other areas that are prone to infection clean and dry.
- Always shower and dry yourself thoroughly after activities where you sweat.
- If you are overweight or obese, properly dry your skin folds.
- Wear sandals or other open-toe footwear when it’s warm.
- Change your socks and underwear regularly.
In healthy adults, candidiasis is often minor and is easily treated. The infection can be more problematic in older adults and young children, as well as other groups that have weaker immune systems. This can cause a spread of the infection to other parts of the body, especially in cases of oral thrush. The areas it can spread to include:
- heart valves
Preventive measures as well as early treatment can go a long way in preventing Candida growth. The sooner you seek treatment for suspected candidiasis, the better the outcome. Seek emergency care if your rash is accompanied by abdominal pain or a high fever.