Fungal infections are caused by organisms called fungi. Most often they are passed on from close contact with the soil, animals and other people. Fungal infections are particularly common in warm, moist, parts of the body, and folds of the skin where it is difficult to keep the skin dry after bathing or perspiring, for example between the toes and under the breasts. Also, they can be found on the scalp, and under fingernails and toenails
You can catch fungal infections from other people by sharing clothes or footwear, or by direct skin contact with someone who has a fungal infection. You can also pick up fungal infections, especially on the feet, from using public showers and changing rooms.
Some common fungal infections
Athlete’s foot (or tinea) is the most common fungal infection and is usually seen between the toes. The skin is often soft and whitish and may have cracks and redness. Other signs may include itchiness, odour (bad smell), burning and stinging.
This is a red rash, like ringworm, which is often very itchy. It occurs more often in males and affects the groin and inner thigh - making it painful to walk. It can be made worse by wearing tight fitting underwear because of increasing perspiration and restriction of air circulation.
This fungal infection is a round rash with a clear centre and a red scaly edge, hence the name ringworm. Ringworm is not, as is commonly thought, a worm. You can get ringworm on your arms, legs, face, scalp, stomach and back. People get ringworm most commonly from contact with cats and dogs, and other people.
Tinea versicolor (or Ptyriasis versicolor)
A skin fungal infection with sharp, defined, borders. The skin has a mottled (blotchy) look. On dark-skinned people it may look like white patches and on fair-skinned people like red-brown patches. Common areas affected are the back, underarm, upper arm, chest and neck.
The skin may be scaly and itchy. It is seen more often in areas of high heat and humidity (due to increased sweating). Tinea versicolor is not contagious (catching) as the yeast causing it normally lives on our skin. Regular treatment may be required to control this skin infection.
Some cases of nappy rash may be caused by a fungal infection. Babies’ skin is very soft and absorbent, and is often more sensitive than adult skin. Fungi can be passed from the bowel and live in warm, wet, nappies. Changing nappies often when soiled will help prevent fungal infections.
This common fungal infection appears as creamy-white patches in the mouth. The mouth is often also red and irritated. Oral thrush is more common in babies, people who wear dentures, and in people who take medicines from inhaler devices (e.g. ‘puffers’) - particularly asthma preventer inhalers. If a baby with oral thrush is breastfeeding, both mother and baby need to be treated. Mother applies the medicine to her nipples.
Nail and scalp fungal infections
Fungal infections of the nails produce whitish areas, or thickened, yellowish and crumbly, nails. Toenails are infected more often than fingernails. In most cases, the nail infection occurs when people have athlete’s foot, where the infection spreads from the skin on the feet to the nails.
Scalp fungal infections occur more commonly in children. There may be patches of hair loss with some scaling and itching.
Fungal infections can be treated with anti-fungal medicines available from your Life pharmacist. These medicines come as creams, lotions, powders, shampoos, foaming solutions, sprays, oral gels and tinctures. Lotions and sprays often are useful where the skin has split, or where the area is particularly moist or hairy. Creams are best for drier areas of the skin. Powders prevent skin rubbing together and chafing. They absorb moisture, and help with fungal nail infections. Often they are used in shoes and socks when a person has athlete’s foot, as a preventative against the infection spreading.
Skin anti-fungal treatments should be used as often as directed, and for a minimum of one to two weeks. Most medicines should be used until the infection has gone, and then continued for at least one week after the infection has cleared, to prevent it coming back. Nail infections, which are more difficult to treat, require longer-term oral treatment with tablets.
Your Life pharmacist also may suggest an anti-inflammatory cream if your skin is very red and itchy.
Oral gels, suspensions and lozenges are used for thrush in the mouth. Selenium shampoo and anti-fungal foaming solutions are used for Tinea versicolor. Treatment is for 3 days and repeated after one month and again after three months.
- Avoid sharing towels, shoes and clothing with other people.
- Avoid using perfumed soaps and shampoos.
- Avoid scratching as this can help to spread the infection, or break the skin and cause a bacterial infection.
- Change your socks daily if the infection is athlete’s foot.
- Add to your shoes and socks an anti-fungal powder to help prevent re-infection.
- Wear cotton and other natural fabrics instead of synthetics to decrease perspiration and increase air circulation, e.g. cotton socks and underwear.
- Clean the bath and shower well so you don’t re-infect yourself and others.
- If you have athlete’s foot, wash your feet thoroughly and dry them well but do not rub the infection too hard. Allow feet as much exposure to air as possible. Allow any sweaty shoes to dry before using them.
Dry your body well after bathing, especially your groin area, between your toes, and under the breasts for women.
Wear sandals or other suitable footwear around swimming pools or public showers, so your feet are not in contact with possible sources of infection.
Wash and air sports shoes regularly. Alternate between two pairs if possible, AND avoid sharing shoes.
Use an antiperspirant if you perspire a lot. Ask your Life pharmacist for suggestions.
Take your pets to the vet if you think they may have fungal infections.
Brush teeth after using asthma preventer inhalers to avoid getting oral thrush.
Change babies’ nappies frequently, and use a barrier cream from your Self Care pharmacist to prevent nappy rash.
When to see a doctor
If the infection does not get better even after you have used medicines In the time frame suggested by your pharmacist.
If the infection becomes very red, swollen or crusted, weeps or smells.
For very widespread cases of Tinea versicolor, or nail and scalp fungal infections, you will need to see a doctor for prescription medicines.