Common Fungal Skin Infections

Friday 29 January 2021
Infections

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Jubil Tom, MD
on 10 March 2021

Table of Contents


I. What are Fungi?

II. Why do Fungal Skin Infections Occur?

III. Athlete’s Foot

a. Symptoms of Athlete’s Feet

IV. Ringworm and Scalp Ringworm

a. Ringworm Symptoms

V. Jock Itch

a. Symptoms of Jock Itch

VI. Medications for Fungal Skin Infections


What are Fungi?

There are millions of fungal spores present in the air around us. The majority of spores that land on the skin do not cause infections, but some may enter the lungs or other moist areas of the body. The types of fungal infections include: 

Opportunistic infections: These infections take advantage of weakened immune systems. They are more common in people with AIDS or those undergoing cancer treatments. These infections can be very aggressive and spread quickly to other organs. 

Primary infections: Infections can occur in people with a normal immune system as well. In these infections, fungal spores are inhaled and occur more frequently in certain parts of the world, like South America and the southern United States. 

Localized infections: One area of the body is affected by a fungal infection with this type. It occurs in one part of the body when fungi levels become unbalanced. Localized infections usually occur on the skin, nails, vagina, mouth, or sinuses.

a person undergoing a surgery

This article will focus mostly on localized infections because they are more common and treated with simple antibiotics. Many people will experience a localized fungal infection during their life, so it is important to learn the signs of ringworm, athlete’s foot, and jock itch. Depending on your infection, you may be prescribed antibiotics like Lotriderm cream (clotrimazole/betamethasone), Diflucan (fluconazole), or Spectazole (econazole). Read on to learn more about common fungal infections. [1] 

Why do Fungal Skin Infections Occur?

As mentioned above, fungi live everywhere. Generally, fungi are harmless to the body and do not cause many long-term problems. If fungi enter the skin through a cut or lesion, infections may occur. Fungi also love warm, moist environments, so infections may occur in damp areas of the body, like the feet, groin, and folds of skin. 

These infections often spread through direct contact with fungi on clothing items, a person, or an animal. These infections are very common and cause unpleasant symptoms but are typically not serious. Mucous membranes of the body are also affected. Mucous membrane infections may cause vaginal yeast infections and oral thrush. [2]

Athlete’s Foot 

This is a common fungal infection that can affect everyone, not just athletes. This infection usually begins between the toes and can spread to the hands if you pick or scratch infected parts of the feet. Athlete's foot is a contagious condition and can spread through contaminated floors, towels, or clothing. Damp socks and warm shoes are the perfect environments for fungi to grow, which is why the toes become affected initially. You are at a higher risk of developing athlete's foot if: 

  • You are a man
  • You wear damp socks or tight-fitting shoes
  • You share mats, rugs, bed linens, clothes, or shoes with someone with a fungal infection
  • You frequently walk barefoot in public areas like swimming pools or communal showers [3]

a. Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot

Symptoms of this condition can vary from person to person. If you have itchy feet, it does not necessarily mean you are experiencing athlete’s foot. The most common symptoms include: 

  • Peeling or cracking skin
  • Redness or blisters on the affected area
  • Itching, stinging, or burning sensation in the infected area
  • Soft skin that breaks down easily in the infected area [4]

a locker room with metal numbered lockers

Ringworm and Scalp Ringworm

Contrary to its namesake, there is no worm involved with this fungal skin condition. Ringworm causes a red, itchy, circular rash on the skin. The skin inside the ring is typically clear. It is caused by common mold parasites that live on the cells on the skin's outer layer. Like athlete's foot, it is spread easily through skin-to-skin contact or contact with an infected person or animal. 

In some cases, ringworm can be passed to humans through objects or soil. Towels, bedding, combs, or brushes may play a part in the transmission of ringworm. Contact with infected soil may also cause the fungi to grow on the body. Living in a warm climate or having a weakened immune system may increase your risk of developing ringworm. [5]

Scalp ringworm is a variant of the condition that causes itchy, scaly, and bald patches on the head. This type is more common in toddlers and school-age children. Some cases may lead to scarring or permanent hair loss, so talk to your doctor if you think you are experiencing scalp ringworm. [6]

a. Ringworm Symptoms

Ringworm can occur in several areas of the body, and it is essential to talk to your doctor if your symptoms do not improve within two weeks. Common symptoms of ringworm include:

  • A scaly ring-shaped area on the buttocks, arms, trunk, or legs
  • Slightly raised, expanding rings on the skin
  • A round patch of itchy skin
  • Overlapping rings [5]

Symptoms of scalp ringworm include:

  • Patches that slowly expand or enlarge
  • Round patches of scaly skin where the hair just above the scalp
  • Tender or painful areas on the scalp
  • Brittle hair that easily pulls out
  • Patches with small black dots where the hair has broken off the scalp [6]

Jock Itch

This type of fungal infection also targets moist and warm areas of the body. Like athlete's foot, this type of infection garners its name for its common occurrence in athletes. A rash often develops on the groin and inner thighs and may be shaped like a ring. It may also occur in those who sweat profusely and overweight people with a lot of skin folds. 

This condition is typically not serious and clears up quickly with the proper medications and hygiene routine. Jock itch is spread from person to person through contaminated towels or clothing. It is caused by the same fungi that lead to athlete's foot. The fungi may start at the feet and travel on your hands to infect other areas of the body, like the groin. [7]

a. Symptoms of Jock Itch 

Symptoms of jock itch can vary in severity and location. If you notice any uncomfortable rashes in your groin or thigh region, you may want to change some of your lifestyle habits to improve your condition. Staying dry and wearing clean clothes are two easy strategies for avoiding jock itch. The affected area may have the following symptoms: 

  • Redness
  • Changes in skin color
  • Burning sensation
  • A rash that spreads or doesn’t improve
  • Flaking, peeling, or cracking skin
  • Persistent itching [8]

football players on a field

Medications for Fungal Infections 

Fungal skin infections are usually simple to treat. The treatment for your fungal infection depends on the area of the body affected and how severe the infection has become. Your doctor will likely recommend over-the-counter antifungal lotion, powder, spray, or ointment if it is mild. When applied regularly, it should clear up within two weeks. 

If over-the-counter methods are insufficient, your doctor may prescribe prescription-strength antifungal medications. Your doctor may ask about your symptoms when your rash began, if you participate in any communal activities, or if you have a pet or family member with a similar infection. [5]

If your doctor determines you need prescription-strength antifungal drugs, they may prescribe Lotriderm cream (clotrimazole/betamethasone), Diflucan (fluconazole), or Spectazole (econazole). Lotriderm cream is a potent corticosteroid that prevents inflammatory chemicals from being released in the skin, reducing redness and itchiness. [9] Spectazole and Diflucan work differently by targeting the fungi or yeast and preventing its growth. Your doctor will determine the right medication for you depending on your health condition. [10]  

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.