If you were to take a swab of your skin and grow the cells on a petri dish, you’d likely find lots of bacteria and fungal organisms living and growing without hurting your health.
While some fungal infections are not harmful, the candida fungus can be. This is because too much candida causes an infection known as candidiasis. While most candidiasis cases can be treated with improved hygiene, fungal infections can be very dangerous for those with weak immune systems.
Candidiasis of the skin is also sometimes known as “cutaneous candidiasis.”
Candidiasis of the skin can occur anywhere on the skin, but it is most likely to occur on areas where the skin is folded. This includes areas in the armpits, in the groin, between your fingers, and under your breasts.
Rashes from candidiasis can appear either as white or red skin. Candidiasis between the fingers can appear moist, white in color, and peeling, and can be painful and irritating. The infection also may appear red and rash-like, which can cause you to feel itchy and hot. The skin infection can progress to cause cracking and soreness. Blisters and pustules can also occur.
A wide variety of candida fungi exist, but Candida albicans is the most common cause of candidiasis, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH, 20120). A small amount of the yeast may naturally live on your skin, but it thrives and grows in warm, moist conditions.
Contributing causes include:
- warm weather
- tight clothing
- poor hygiene
- taking antibiotics that kill normal flora
- infrequent undergarment changes
- affected immune system from diabetes, pregnancy, or other medical conditions as well as from medications, such as steroids
Babies can experience candidiasis, especially on the buttocks, where a diaper tends to provide a warm, moist environment.
Obesity also can be a contributing factor because candida can thrive among skin folds.
Frequent candida infections can be a sign of an underlying immunodeficiency disorder such as HIV.
The main complaint associated with candida infection is discomfort and itching from the rash. Controlling the lesions’ growth and treating the infection can help to reduce this effect.
Because most people have candida living naturally on their skin, the infection is not usually contagious. However, if a person who has a weakened immune system touches the candida infection, he or she may become infected.
Your physician will most likely diagnose a candida infection by viewing the location of the rash and appearance of your skin.
If your physician wants to confirm the candida infection diagnosis, he or she can take a swab of the affected area and send it to a laboratory. The lab can test the swab to determine if candida is present. Most tests only detect the presence of fungus, however, and may not definitively identify candidiasis. Very specific tests can be ordered if your physician wants to confirm the condition.
Proper hygiene is vital to keeping candida infections at bay. This includes washing the skin regularly and thoroughly drying it to prevent moisture.
Because poor blood sugar control can contribute to candida infections, maintaining optimal blood sugar levels can help. This may include reducing the amount of sugar in your diet, and, if you are diabetic, being careful to follow your doctor’s instructions to control your blood sugar.
Your physician may recommend using an antifungal cream or powder applied to your skin to reduce candida’s spread. In most instances, you will not need to take an oral antifungal medication to kill the yeast. However, if your candida infection is located inside your body, such as your throat, mouth, or vagina, you may need to take oral medication.
Cutaneous candidiasis usually goes away with treatment, but repeat infections are common. Complications include the following:
- infected nails may become misshapen and infection may occur around the nails
- repeat infections may occur
- widespread candidiasis may occur in individuals with weakened immune systems