Fungal skin infection: symptoms, contagious and treatment

A fungal infection of the skin is a common complaint. There are many types of fungi and some of them live in and on the skin, called mycoses, including the ‘common’ fungal infection of the skin (tinea corporis or ringworm). This includes all fungal infections of the skin, except infections of the palms, soles, toes and groin. Ringworm is a fungal infection that causes an itchy, red, often ring-shaped rash, often on warm, moist areas of your body. A fungal infection of the skin can be treated with an antifungal medicine, in the form of creams, lotions or ointments. Sometimes pills are necessary.

  • What is ringworm?
  • Ringworm symptoms
  • Ringworm is contagious
  • Handover
  • Good hygiene
  • Risk factors fungal infection of the skin
  • Examination and diagnosis
  • Ringworm treatment
  • Prevention fungal infection of the skin
  • Stay dry
  • Wear clean clothes
  • Find the right fit
  • Do not share personal items
  • Treat athlete’s foot

What is ringworm?

Ringworm has nothing to do with a worm infection, as the name seems to suggest. It is a skin infection caused by dermatophytes. These live on the top layer of the skin, the so-called stratum corneum. These fungi cannot grow deep and cause a deep fungal infection of the skin, but they can penetrate the hair follicles. Ringworm is mainly caused by the fungus Trichophyton rubrum .

Ringworm on the arm caused by Trichophyton mentagrophytes / Source: Public domain, Wikimedia Commons (PD)

Ringworm symptoms

Characteristic of ringworm is the red, round spot that gradually increases in size. Its edge is red and flaky. Because the spot looks like a ring, the condition is called ‘ringworm’. The outside of the ring may be slightly raised and bumpy. The area may feel quite itchy and burning. Left untreated, the spots become increasingly larger.

Ringworm is contagious

Handover

Ringworm is contagious. You can get it in one of the following ways:

  • From another person. Ringworm often spreads through skin-to-skin contact.
  • Through direct contact with your pets or after a visit to a petting zoo.
  • By touching contaminated objects. The fungus that causes you to get ringworm can be present on surfaces, clothing, towels, and combs and brushes.
  • From the bottom. If you work in soil or stand barefoot in soil that is contaminated with the fungus that causes ringworm, you can also get it.

Good hygiene

By practicing good hygiene, such as washing your hands thoroughly after contact with (domestic) animals and avoiding contact with areas suspected of ringworm, infection can often be prevented.

Risk factors fungal infection of the skin

The organisms that cause ringworm thrive in warm and moist conditions. You have a greater risk of ringworm if you:

  • are a man;
  • are an adolescent or young adult;
  • Wears tight underwear or clothing;
  • are overweight;
  • Frequent or excessive sweating;
  • Have a weakened immune system; or
  • Have diabetes.

General practitioner with patient / Source: Istock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Examination and diagnosis

In many cases, the doctor can diagnose ringworm based on the clinical symptoms. If the diagnosis is not clear, the doctor may scrape some skin from the itchy, flaky areas and examine these skin scrapings under a microscope. To rule out other conditions, the doctor can send a sample of the results to a lab. This test is known as a culture. The material is grown for research in the laboratory. Occasionally a piece of tissue is removed, a skin biopsy, for further examination.

Ringworm treatment

Fungi can be treated with an antifungal drug, in the form of creams, lotions or ointments. There are also anti-fungal pills. Ringworm can often be effectively combated with a local antifungal cream, available with a prescription from your GP or dermatologist, or with an over-the-counter cream that is available without a prescription from a drugstore or pharmacy, such as Daktarin cream (miconazole cream). If a liniment does not provide sufficient relief or if you suffer from an extensive form of ringworm, the doctor can prescribe antifungal tablets, often itraconazole capsules, if necessary.

Prevention fungal infection of the skin

Reduce the risk of developing a fungal skin infection by taking the following measures:

Stay dry

Keep your groin area and other body folds dry. Dry your genital area and inner thighs thoroughly with a clean towel after showering or exercising. If necessary, use talcum powder around your groin area to prevent excess fluid.

Wear clean clothes

Put on clean underwear at least once a day or more often if you sweat a lot. Wash your clothes after use.

Never share a towel with someone else / Source: Pexels, Pixabay

Find the right fit

Make sure you wear well-fitting clothing, especially underwear. Avoid tight-fitting, tight clothing, which can rub and chafe against your skin and make you more susceptible to fungus. Try wearing boxer shorts instead of tight-fitting underwear.

Do not share personal items

Do not let others use your clothes, towels or other personal items.

Treat athlete’s foot

Treat athlete’s foot to prevent its spread to other parts of the body. If you are in damp public areas, such as a shower or changing room, wear slippers to prevent athlete’s foot.

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