Fungal infections of the skin are common dermatological problems throughout the world. Most skin fungal infections are superficial with the fungi never consuming more than a few layers of the outer skin (epidermis). Although it does not pose a serious health risk, a fungal infection of the skin can lead to significant discomfort, damage and scarring (mainly abnormal pigmentation) of the skin. Two of the common areas to be infected are the feet and groin region, known casually as athlete’s foot and jock itch.
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Types of Antifungals
Antifungal drugs can be divided broadly into medications for systemic and superficial fungal infections. Systemic drugs are used for deeper lying infections which can only be reached by drugs traveling in the bloodstream. There is no specific site that is targeted but rather the distribution is essentially through the whole body. Drugs for systemic (deep) fungal infections include :
- Amphotericin B
Drugs for superficial fungal infections include both oral and topical medication. These drugs are mainly developed for fungal infections of the skin and the tissue just underneath it (subcutaneous). Oral drugs are mainly in the form of tablets and capsules that are taken through the mouth, travel through the bloodstream and reach the skin to target these infections. Topical applications include creams, ointments, lotions and gels.
- Oral medications include drugs such as terbinafine and griseofulvin.
- Topical medications include nystatin, topical azoles, topical allylamines and other topical drugs.
What is tinea corporis?
Tinea corporis is a fungal infection of the skin anywhere on body except the areas such as the palms, soles, scalp and groin. Other terms may specifically refer to a fungal infection on these areas, such as tinea capitis (scalp), tinea cruris (groin), tinea barbae (mustache and beard area) and tinea pedis (feet). Tinea corporis is a dermatophyte infection and this type of infection is therefore known as dermatophytosis. All tinea infections are due to dermatophyte fungi, except tinea versicolor which is due to an yeast infection. Tinea corporis is also known as a ringworm of the body because the skin lesions that appear with these fungal infections are round (annular) with raised red borders. It does not involve any type of parasitic worm and the common term, ringworm, can therefore be misleading.
Fungal infections of the skin are common conditions that mainly affect the feet (athlete’s foot) and groin (jock itch). This occurs in both adults and children. Most of these fungal infections are caused by a type of skin fungus known as dermatophytes. These infection are referred to as tinea. Sometimes these infections are caused by yeasts in which case it is known as pityriasis or candidiasis, depending on the type of yeast that causes the infection. Yeasts are a different type of skin fungus from dermatophytes but cause a similar type of skin infection.
What is tinea capitis?
Tinea capitis is a superficial fungal infection of the scalp skin and hair that may also affect the eyebrows and eyelashes. It is caused by dermatophyte fungi. Commonly tinea capitis is known as scalp ringworm. The infection is commonly seen in children and sometimes infants as well but tinea capitis is rare in adults. Often there is hair loss at the affected area but in most cases this is temporary and will resolve with proper treatment of the infection. Tinea capitis is highly contagious and the fungi can be transmitted from person to person, and in some cases even from animal to person.
An armpit fungus is a ringworm infection which occurs on the skin of the axilla (armpit) causing itching, burning and darkening of the skin under the arms. Similar to fungal infections on other areas of the body, an armpit fungus can be persistent given the high moisture content (due to armpit sweat), low light (covered by clothing) and warmth (due to body heat).
What Causes an Armpit Fungus?
An armpit fungus is caused by skin fungi, usually skin molds or dermatophytes, that consume the superficial layers of the skin. Medically, a skin mold is referred to as a tinea infection and a fungal infection of the armpit is known as tinea axillaris. However most armpit fungal infections may extend beyond just the area of the armpit to surrounding skin and it is common to refer to the infection as tinea corporis (fungal infection on the body) involving the axillae. A skin yeast or cutaneous candidiasis may also be responsible.
Athlete’s Foot (Tinea Pedis, Ringworm of the Foot)
Athlete’s foot refers to infection of the foot by different fungi commonly called Tinea pedis. Skin between toes, on soles, sides or upper part of the foot is usually itchy, sore, reddened, damp, and may peel off and crack (Picture 1). Athlete’s foot is common in athletes but anyone can get it. People who constantly have wet feet due to occupation, humid environment, or wearing poorly ventilated shoes are commonly affected. One can contract Tinea pedis from a public shower or gym floor or by sharing contaminated shoes.
Picture 1. Athlete’s foot: a cracked and scaled skin due to a fungal infection.
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