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What Causes Fungal Skin Infections?

What Causes Fungal Skin Infections?

There are few health problems which are as irritating as fungal skin infections. Although people may suffer from much more serious or dangerous illnesses, fungal infections of the skin are especially difficult to deal with due to the embarrassment one might feel in discussing them with friends or even doctors.

Common Types of Skin Fungal Infections

Fungal infections of the skin are surprisingly common. The following are some of the most common types of skin fungal infections people in the UK suffer from:

  • Athlete’s foot – Did you know that almost one in six UK residents suffer from athlete’s foot?!  As the name implies, athlete’s foot occurs around your feet; usually in between the toes, but if you’re not careful it can spread to other parts including your groin or underarms.  It causes flaky, broken skin and also white patches at times. It is extremely itchy and can be a real nuisance when wearing shoes. You can get athlete’s foot if you walk around bare-foot in damp public places such as public showers, locker rooms, swimming pools, etc.
  • Ringworm – Ringworm can affect various parts of the body including the groin, the scalp, or the body as a whole. One of the most common types of ringworm is also known as the ‘jock itch’ which often occurs in young men who play a lot of sports.  Jock itch presents itself as a red, itchy rash in the groin area. It is often passed from one person to another other via physical contact, or even when using each other’s personal items such as combs, or clothing. If you have athlete’s foot and are not careful to wash your hands regularly, the same fungus can cause ringworm in your groin area.
  • Fungal Nail Infections – onychomycosis, or fungal nail infections, account for almost 50% of the nail problems people visit doctors for today. Fungal nail infections are those that occur in the toenails or even fingernails. They can cause nails to become brittle, hard, discolored and sometimes the nails even give off a smell.  As with athlete’s foot, fungal nail infections are often caused by walking around bare-foot in damp, unhygienic environments.
  • Yeast Infections–There are several types of yeast infections that people can develop on their skin.  Some of these include:
    • Thrush – This is caused by a fungus called C. albicans which is present in the human mouth, stomach and skin.  For women it is also present in the vagina. Under certain conditions such as illness, pregnancy, etc. this fungus multiplies causing ‘thrush’ symptoms.  The sufferer develops white patches on the skin, while a vaginal yeast infection causes a severe itch in the vaginal area as well as white discharge. Babies can develop oral thrush (i.e. mouth infection) which is often mistaken for milk patches on their tongue.  Babies with this infection will often refuse to feed.
    • Intertrigo – This type of yeast infection usually occurs in the folds of people’s skin, or when people’s skin rubs against itself due to conditions such as obesity, e.g. between the thighs. The moisture and constant rubbing causes the growth of this particular fungus which presents itself as pink or brown patches on the skin which sometimes give off an unpleasant odor.

Why do People Develop Fungal Skin Infections?

There are several causes for fungal skin infections.  Some of them include:

  • Poor hygiene – This is one of the main reasons for developing fungal skin infections.  If you walk around barefoot in public showers, pools, or locker rooms, you are much more likely to develop a fungal infection. If you use other people’s towels, or clothing, this can easily pass on infections from one person to another. Also, if you touch your feet or groin area, make sure and wash your hands thoroughly in order to prevent the infection from spreading to other body parts, or to your friends and family.
  • Immunodeficiency – Being ill causes your immune system to become weak which sometimes allows fungi which are naturally present in the skin to multiply beyond controllable limits.  If you’re ill, taking antibiotics, suffer from diabetes, or have HIV, these could all lead to fungal skin infections.
  • Obesity – Being overweight often causes folds of the skin where moisture is trapped.  These parts of the skin rub against one another often as well, generating a warm, moist environment, perfect for fungi.  Also, being overweight can cause one to often be ill, which can also aggravate fungal infections.
  • Pregnancy – Pregnancy causes all sorts of hormonal changes in women which can lead to fungal infections.  Pregnant women may suffer from a vaginal yeast infection.
  • Tight, non-breathable clothes – Wearing clothes or shoes that are very tight and retain sweat can create the perfect warm, moist environment for fungal skin infections.
  • Cuts and Injuries – If you get cut, make sure to apply a disinfectant as soon as possible in order to prevent a fungal infection.

To learn more about the causes for fungal infections and how to prevent them, read our article Top 10 Reasons People get Nail Fungus.

How to Treat Fungal Skin Infections

There are many treatments available for fungal skin infections including lotions, creams, shampoos and pills.  Some of these require prescriptions while others can be bought over the counter.  You should know that effective treatment might require an extended course, perhaps up to 12 weeks.  Furthermore, while most treatments are effective, they could have side effects, thus you should always consult a trained professional before opting for a fungal skin infection treatment.

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(Image Courtesy of Aleser)

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