A skin fungus is an infection of the skin by a fungus, a microorganism that usually consumes dead material. The outer skin is made up of dead skin cells that form a barrier to the outside environment. This barrier is usually able to maintain its own health but if damaged (especially by breaks or a cut in the skin), it can be prone to infections. There are certain types of fungi – dermatophytes (molds) and yeasts - which can quickly invade and establish itself on the skin surface in the optimal settings.
How does a fungal infection occur?
Causes of a Skin Fungus
The more common types of dermatophytes that infect the human skin is Trichophyton species and less commonly the Epidermophyton species. In terms of yeasts, it is the Candida species particularly Candida albicans, that tend to infect the skin. The skin can become quickly infected if fungi can establish itself on damaged skin, whether a cut, very dry skin or irritated and inflamed skin as is seen in certain rashes and skin diseases. This process where the skin is infected by a fungus is called mycosis. Fungal spores are present in the air and thrives in warm environments like tropical climates. These spores may also exist in public places that are moist like showers and toilets. If the fungal spore comes in contact with skin that is injured, the spore may hatch (germinate) and start to grow and live on your skin. Certain species of fungi, like Candida and Malassezia (previously known as Pitysporum), naturally occur on the skin surface but do not cause an infection unless there is damage to the skin and the body’s immune defenses cannot provide adequate protection.
What areas of the body are affected by a skin fungus?
Skin Fungal Infections – Affected Areas
Medically, a fungal infection of the skin is referred to as tinea. Tinea pedis is a fungal infection of the foot also known as athlete’s foot and is the most common fungal infection affecting the human skin. A fungal infection can affect any part of the body and is commonly referred to as a ringworm due to typical round rash (lesion) that is causes on the skin. Fungal infections predominantly occur in areas where the fungus can find its three life sustaining factors to thrive – warmth, darkness and moisture. Therefore fungal infections of the foot (tinea pedis), groin (tinea cruris or jock itch), breast fungus and armpits are more common than other more exposed areas like the hands and face.
What does a fungal infection look like?
Symptoms of a Skin Fungus
A fungal infection usually appears as a dry area of skin that is rough, cracking and even bleeding at times. A fungal infection may appear as a somewhat circular patch of varying sizes, hence the common name ringworm. However, fungal infections may not always cause round lesions but will cause redness or darkening of the skin with white peeling specks and flakes. Usually the affected area is itchy and may at times be moist with a musty odor.
A prolonged fungal infection will cause a dark discoloration of the skin and often spreads to surrounding skin over time. Scratching the affected area can cause cross infections of other uninfected areas of the body.
How is a fungal infection treated?
Treatment of Skin Fungus
In most cases of fungal infections of the skin, a topical (cream, gel, lotion or solution) antifungal application will be effective in killing the fungus and allowing the skin to heal. Any antifungal application should always be used for a minimum of 6 weeks to ensure that new fungal spores buried in the skin will not germinate to cause another infection at the same spot.
In severe cases of a skin fungus that is not responding to antifungal applications, an antifungal tablet may be used for 10 to 30 days for better results. Secondary infections of a skin fungus by bacteria can cause severe damage to the tissue around and under the skin fungus. This requires immediate antibiotic medication and any dead skin may need o be physically removed (debridement) by your medical doctor.
Managing your fungal infection and preventing a skin fungus is just as important as treating it. The affected area should always be dried thoroughly and open wounds should be treated with a disinfectant. If the skin fungus is in a ‘sweaty’ area, try to air out the affected area as much as possible or use an antifungal drying powder before covering up with clothes, underwear or socks. Be cautious when bathing in a public shower like the gym or locker room and always use a pair or rubber slippers in the shower to avoid making contact with the shower or toilet floor.