Although there are millions of species of fungi, only
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most common fungal skin infections and the ways they can be treated and prevented.
Fungi live everywhere. They can be found in plants, soil, and even on your skin. These microscopic organisms on your skin typically don’t cause any problem, unless they multiply faster than normal or penetrate your skin through a cut or lesion.
Since fungi thrive in warm, moist environments, fungal skin infections can often develop in sweaty or damp areas that don’t get much airflow. Some examples include the feet, groin, and folds of skin.
Often, these infections appear as a scaly rash or discoloration of the skin that is often itchy.
Some fungal skin infections are very common. Although the infection can be annoying and uncomfortable, it’s typically not serious.
Fungal skin infections are often spread through direct contact. This can include coming into contact with fungi on clothing or other items, or on a person or animal.
Many common fungal infections can affect the skin. In addition to the skin, another common area for fungal infections is mucous membranes. Some examples of these are vaginal yeast infections and oral thrush.
Below, we’ll explore some of the most common types of fungal infections that can impact the skin.
Ringworm of the body (tinea corporis)
Contrary to its name, ringworm is caused by a fungus and not a worm. It typically occurs on the torso and limbs. Ringworm on other areas of the body can have different names, such as athlete’s foot and jock itch.
The main symptom of ringworm is a ring-shaped rash with slightly raised edges. The skin inside these circular rashes usually looks healthy. The rash can spread and is often itchy.
Ringworm is a common fungal skin infection and is highly contagious. It’s not serious, though, and can usually be treated with an antifungal cream.
Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis)
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that affects the skin on your feet, often between your toes. Typical symptoms of athlete’s foot include:
- itching, or a burning, stinging sensation between your toes or on the soles of your feet
- skin that appears red, scaly, dry, or flaky
- cracked or blistered skin
In some cases, the infection can also spread to other areas of your body. Examples include your nails, groin, or hands (tinea manuum).
Jock itch (tinea cruris)
The main symptom is an itchy red rash that typically starts in the groin area or around the upper inner thighs. The rash may get worse after exercise or other physical activity and can spread to the buttocks and abdomen.
The affected skin may also appear scaly, flaky, or cracked. The outer border of the rash can be slightly raised and darker.
Ringworm of the scalp (tinea capitis)
This fungal infection affects the skin of the scalp and the associated hair shafts. It’s most common in young children and needs to be treated with prescription oral medication as well as antifungal shampoo. The symptoms can include:
- localized bald patches that may appear scaly or red
- associated scaling and itching
- associated tenderness or pain in the patches
Tinea versicolor, sometimes called pityriasis versicolor, is a fungal/yeast skin infection that causes small oval discolored patches to develop on the skin. It’s caused by an overgrowth of a specific type of fungus called Malassezia, which is naturally present on the skin of about 90 percent of adults.
These discolored skin patches most often occur on the back, chest, and upper arms. They may look lighter or darker than the rest of your skin, and can be red, pink, tan, or brown. These patches can be itchy, flaky, or scaly.
Tinea versicolor is more likely during the summer or in areas with a warm, wet climate. The condition can sometimes return following treatment.
This is a skin infection that’s caused by Candida fungi. This type of fungi is naturally present on and inside our bodies. When it overgrows, an infection can happen.
Candida skin infections occur in areas that are warm, moist, and poorly ventilated. Some examples of typical areas that can be affected include under the breasts and in the folds of the buttocks, such as in diaper rash.
The symptoms of a Candida infection of the skin can include:
- a red rash
- small red pustules
Onychomycosis (tinea unguium)
Onychomycosis is a fungal infection of your nails. It can affect the fingernails or the toenails, although infections of the toenails are more common.
You may have onychomycosis if you have nails that are:
Prescription medications are often required to treat this type of infection. In severe cases, your doctor may remove some or all of an affected nail.
There are several factors that can put you at an increased risk of getting a fungal skin infection. These include:
- living in a warm or wet environment
- sweating heavily
- not keeping your skin clean and dry
- sharing items like clothing, shoes, towels, or bedding
- wearing tight clothing or footwear that doesn’t breathe well
- taking part in activities that involve frequent skin-to-skin contact
- coming into contact with animals that may be infected
- having a weakened immune system due to immunosuppressant drugs, cancer treatment, or conditions such as HIV
Many types of fungal skin infections eventually improve in response to over-the-counter (OTC) fungal treatments. However, call your doctor if you:
- have a fungal skin infection that doesn’t improve, gets worse, or returns after OTC treatment
- notice patches of hair loss along with itchiness or scaly skin
- have a weakened immune system and suspect a fungal infection
- have diabetes and think you have athlete’s foot or onychomycosis
Antifungal medications work to treat fungal infections. They can either kill fungi directly or prevent them from growing and thriving. Antifungal drugs are available as OTC treatments or prescription medications, and come in a variety of forms, including:
- creams or ointments
If you suspect you have a fungal skin infection, you may want to try an OTC product to see if it helps clear up the condition. In more persistent or severe cases, your doctor may prescribe a stronger antifungal drug to help treat your infection.
In addition to taking OTC or prescription antifungals, there are some things that you can do at home to help get rid of the fungal infection. These include:
- keeping the affected area clean and dry
- wearing loose-fitting clothing or shoes that allow your skin to breathe
Try to keep the following tips in mind to help prevent a fungal skin infection from developing:
- Be sure to practice good hygiene.
- Don’t share clothing, towels, or other personal items.
- Wear clean clothes every day, particularly socks and underwear.
- Choose clothing and shoes that breathe well. Avoid clothing or shoes that are too tight or have a restrictive fit.
- Make sure to dry off properly with a clean, dry, towel after showering, bathing, or swimming.
- Wear sandals or flip-flops in locker rooms instead of walking with bare feet.
- Wipe down shared surfaces, such as gym equipment or mats.
- Stay away from animals that have signs of a fungal infection, such as missing fur or frequent scratching.
Fungal skin infections are common. Although these infections aren’t usually serious, they can cause discomfort and irritation due to itchy or scaly red skin. If not treated, the rash may spread or become more irritated.
There are many types of OTC products that can help treat fungal skin infections. However, if you have an infection that doesn’t improve with OTC medications, see your doctor. You may need a prescription for more effective treatment.