Is It Psoriasis or a Fungal Infection?

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on June 23, 2017Written by Juliann Schaeffer on November 11, 2015

You may be wondering if you have psoriasis or a fungal infection if you’re dealing with red, itchy spots on your skin.

Psoriasis and fungal infections have some similar symptoms, but they’re very different conditions. Keep reading to learn more about their symptoms, causes, risk factors, and treatments.

Symptoms

Psoriasis and fungal infections have similar symptoms. It’s not always easy to figure out what you’re looking at with one glance.

Common symptoms of psoriasis include:

  • raised, reddish skin patches, called plaques
  • a silvery, white covering on the patches, called scales
  • itching, cracking skin, or bleeding

While psoriasis plaques can appear anywhere on your body, they’re commonly found on the:

  • scalp
  • elbows
  • knees
  • genitals

The symptoms of a fungal infection look like psoriasis in many ways. Fungal infections can also create raised, red patches of skin. These patches may also itch. Sometimes, they’ll itch a lot.

What’s the best way to distinguish between psoriasis and a fungal infection? Look closely at your plaques or red patches. Do they look like circles or rings? If so, it’s more likely a fungal infection. Is there a silvery look to them? If there is, it might be psoriasis.

Another clear sign of a fungal infection is if it continues to grow without treatment. This is especially true for fungal infections on the feet and scalp.

Causes and risk factors

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease. It’s the most common autoimmune disease in the United States and affects 125 million people worldwide, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.

While doctors have yet to identify the exact cause of psoriasis, genetics plays a role. Other risk factors include:

Fungal infections

Different types of fungi, called dermatophytes, commonly cause fungal infections. You may know this infection by its common name, ringworm. Despite the name, ringworm is caused by a fungus, not a worm.

Fungal infections are typically superficial and can affect your hair, skin, nails, or anywhere you come into contact with the fungus. They’re very contagious and usually picked up from direct contact with any of the following:

  • another person who has a fungal infection
  • public pools or bathrooms
  • an infected animal
  • an unwashed floor, clothes, or children’s toys

Because fungus spreads from contact, people who walk around barefoot are more likely to pick up a fungal infection on their feet.

Treatments

Your treatment will be different depending on whether you have psoriasis or a fungal infection. Because of this, you’ll want to see a doctor so that you can correctly identify the cause of your skin rash.

Fungal infection treatments

Fungal infections generally clear up pretty easily with antifungal topical creams and oral tablets. Some of these are available over the counter. Your doctor may suggest different hygiene or cleaning habits if fungal infections are a recurring problem.

Psoriasis treatments

There’s currently no cure for psoriasis, but there are many treatments available. Your doctor may prescribe one of the following:

  • topical creams, including coal tar extracts and steroids
  • narrow band ultraviolet light therapy
  • oral medications
  • biologic injections

When to see a doctor

Call your doctor for a stronger prescription if you’ve been using a topical, over-the-counter treatment and it’s not working. See your doctor if your itching is still undiagnosed, especially if it’s getting worse.

Your doctor may have trouble determining the cause of your condition by looking at it because these conditions look so similar. If this occurs, you may need to have a biopsy. Finding a clear cause will help you get the treatment you need sooner.

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