Skin fungus: symptoms, recognize signs, treatment
Skin fungus (dermatomycosis) is a fungal infection of the skin or its appendages (hair, nails). Which symptoms occur in which part of the body depends on the pathogen in question. Skin fungus is usually treated with so-called antimycotics (antifungal agents). Home remedies such as vinegar or essential oils can support this drug therapy. Here you can read everything important about causes, symptoms, treatment and prognosis of skin fungus.
- What is skin fungus? Fungal infection of the skin and/or its appendages. Common forms are athlete’s foot (tinea pedis), ringworm (tinea corporis), nail mycosis (onychomycosis or tinea unguium), head fungus (tinea capitis), hand fungus (tinea manuum), cutaneous candidiasis and bran fungus lichen (pityriasis versicolor).
- Causes and risk factors: Dermatophytes (filamentous fungi), yeast fungi (shoot fungi) or moulds Infection from person to person, from animal to person or by touching contaminated objects is possible. People with circulatory disorders (such as diabetes, weakened immune systems or obesity) are particularly susceptible.
- Symptoms: Depending on the pathogen and affected body part, e.g. reddened, itchy skin areas on the trunk and extremities in the case of ringworm (Tinea corporis) or grey-white, swollen skin with small tears in the spaces between the toes in the case of athlete’s foot (T. pedis) or round, sharply defined skin changes on the head with broken or fallen hairs in the case of head fungus (T. capitis).
- Treatment: Anti-fungal agent (antimycotics) for external (and possibly also internal) use. Supporting home remedies such as vinegar and essential oils. Meticulous hygiene. Regularly change socks and shoes, wash clothes at at least 60 degrees Celsius. Fungal treatment of infested pets (can transmit certain skin fungi).
- Prognosis: With consequent treatment usually complete healing without permanent skin damage. Complications in people with weak immune systems and children: Fungal infestation of internal organs possible.
Skin fungus: symptoms
The skin fungus symptoms depend on which pathogen causes the infection, which part of the body is affected and how extensive the infection is. Among the most common pathogens are filamentous fungi (dermatophytes). They can affect skin, hair and nails. Other common pathogens are yeasts and moulds. In addition to the skin, they can also attack mucous membranes and internal organs. In the following you will learn typical symptoms of important types of skin fungus:
Symptoms of athlete’s foot (Tinea pedis)
Foot fungus is one of the most common infectious diseases and is caused by filamentous fungi. The fungi mainly settle in the spaces between the toes: The infested skin looks grey-white and swollen and shows small fissure marks. Bacteria can easily penetrate through these tiny skin lesions and cause an additional infection (superinfection).
The soles of the feet can also be affected by athlete’s foot. The sign of this is a dry, white flaking of the skin. Sometimes a more inflammatory infection with blisters and itching develops. The symptoms can also extend to the lateral edges of the foot. The back of the foot usually remains asymptomatic.
Athlete’s foot – one of the most common skin fungus diseases. The symptoms of athlete’s foot depend on the type of fungus
Symptoms of ringworm (Tinea corporis)
Tinea corporis (ringworm) is also a skin fungal infection caused by filamentous fungi. It affects the trunk and extremities. The affected skin areas show round, scaly redness, which is usually associated with distinct itching.
Along hairs, this superficial fungal infection can spread into deep layers of the skin. The result is an increased inflammatory reaction, which is accompanied by the formation of painful, fluid-filled nodes. Adjacent lymph nodes swell. In addition, patients may develop general symptoms of illness such as fever and fatigue.
You can learn more about ringworm in the article Tinea corporis.
Symptoms with head fungus (Tinea capitis)
Filamentous fungi can also attack the hairy scalp. The skin fungus symptoms occurring in this case are very diverse. In some patients the head fungus infection proceeds almost without symptoms (no signs of inflammation). Many others develop circular, sharply defined hairless areas of varying size. The scalp shows a greyish scaling in these areas. In other cases, the affected areas of the scalp resemble a stubble field – the fungal attack has caused the hair to break off at about the same height.
A special form of Tinea capitis is the rare Favus (hereditary grind). This form of fungal infection of the scalp only occurs today in countries such as Nigeria, China and India. Typical are scar-like changes on the scalp, which lead to hair loss.
Symptoms of facial fungus (Tinea faciei)
A thread fungus infection in the face shows itself in the form of scaly, itchy skin areas. The symptoms usually worsen when the facial skin is exposed to strong light. The Tinea faciei can also perform together with a Tinea corporis. If the symptoms are very pronounced, this can be a sign of a weakened immune system.
Symptoms of hand fungus (Tinea manuum)
Skin fungus symptoms on the hands can also be attributed to an infection with filamentous fungi. Usually only one hand is affected initially. Later, the fungal infection can spread to the other hand. Many patients with tinea manuum also suffer from athlete’s foot.
Doctors distinguish two forms of hand fungus:
- hyperkeratotic-squamous form: Most common. Typical symptoms are rapidly drying skin blisters, from which round, scaly foci of infection develop. Sometimes the whole palm of the hand is covered with fine scales along the skin lines “like flour dust”. Later, thick scales can form and spread over the whole palm of the hand. In addition, numerous fine, painful skin tears can occur. The hair follicles on the back of the hand can also be affected by the fungus. Then round, inflammatory centres of infection develop, which are partially covered by pustules.
- dyshidrosiform hand fungus: Occurs less frequently. Typical skin fungus symptoms here are itchy blisters in the palm of the hand, on the edges of the hand and/or on the sides of the fingers.
A special form of Tinea manuum is the “One hand/two feet” syndrome. It is also known as tinea palmoplantaris: The skin fungus symptoms appear on one palm of the hand and both soles of the feet. Diabetics are often affected, as they are particularly susceptible to infections.
Symptoms with nail fungus (Tinea unguium)
Also the nail fungus (Tinea unguium or Onychomykose) is mostly caused by filamentous fungi. More rarely, mould or yeast fungi are behind it. The toenails are most frequently affected. But it can also hit your fingernails. Sometimes the pathogens penetrate below the nail at the end of the nail. In other cases they attack the nail surface. The typical symptoms in both cases include dull nails and a thickened nail plate. In addition the nail edge discolours white or yellowish. Additionally, whitish, yellow or grey-brown spots appear in the nail. In advanced stages, pain may also occur.
Symptoms of inguinal mycosis (Tinea inguinalis)
Fungal infections in the groin region often affect men who sweat a lot. Typical symptoms are itchy, sharply defined skin redness with an accentuated edge and partial scaling. The infection usually starts on the skin between the thighs and the scrotum. Later it often spreads out towards the anus and buttocks. The scrotum itself is rarely directly involved.
Symptoms of Cutaneous Candidiasis
Cutaneous candidiasis is a skin fungal infection caused by yeast fungi of the genus Candida (especially C. albicans). It develops preferentially in moist and warm body regions. Mostly the so-called intertriginous regions are affected. These are parts of the body where adjacent, sometimes directly opposite skin areas frequently touch each other. Examples are armpits, groin region, gluteal fold, genital region, toe and finger gaps and the skin area under the female breast.
Cutaneous candidiasis initially manifests itself with nodular vesicles (papulopustules). This quickly results in large red, sometimes weeping plaques with a scaly edge, which are accompanied by small pustules.
In general, a yeast infection (candidiasis) can affect not only the skin but also the mucous membranes. If the fungal infestation affects the genital region, it is called genital candidiasis. It manifests itself in women as vaginal mycosis. Typical symptoms are severe itching, spotty redness, wipeable white deposits on the mucous membrane and an odourless, crumbly white discharge. Men are less frequently affected by genital yeast infections. If it does, it manifests itself as inflammation of the glans (penis fungus).
Symptoms of bran fungus lichen (Pityriasis versicolor)
The bran fungus lichen is a skin fungus infection with yeast fungi of the genus Malassezia. It develops mainly on the chest, back, shoulders and neck. Sometimes the infection spreads to the arms and the middle trunk.
This form of skin fungus starts with sharply defined, roundish spots, as big as lentils or cent pieces, which hardly itch. Over time, the stains combine to form larger, map-like herds with a smooth surface. If you stroke it with a spatula, the skin scales. The skin scales remind us of the bran that gave the name to the plant.
The skin spots are discolored compared to healthy skin. There is a difference in colour depending on the skin colour: in dark or tanned patients the spots look light. This is due to the dense mushroom carpet on the skin, which blocks UV rays. This means that the skin underneath can no longer produce any colour pigment (melanin). The consequences are white spots on dark skin. This appearance of the bran fungus lichen is called pityriasis versicolor alba.
In light-skinned patients, however, reddish-brownish spots are caused by pigments produced by the fungus itself. Doctors speak of pityriasis versicolor rubra.
Symptoms with microspores
This skin fungal disease is caused by filamentous fungi of the genus Microsporum (like M. canis). These fungi often infest pets such as dogs and cats. Through contact with such infected animals, a person can become infected with the fungus. This happens especially to children. They develop inflammatory, disc-shaped skin changes on the trunk and scalp. If the scalp is affected, the hair can break off in the affected areas.
Skin fungus: Treatment
Skin fungal infections are treated with antimycotics. These are drugs that act specifically against fungi. With general tips and home remedies, patients can support drug treatment.
Skin fungus treatment: Medicines
Antimycotics can either inhibit the growth and reproduction of fungi (fungistatic effect) or kill the fungi (fungicidal effect). They are almost always applied externally (topically) in the form of ointments, creams, powders, sprays, tinctures or shampoos. Only very rarely, in severe cases, is treatment with tablets necessary.
Many antimycotics are freely available. However, before you treat your skin fungus yourself, you should see a dermatologist. He can tell you which antimycotic is best suited in your case. The type of skin fungus and individual factors such as the age of the patient or a possible pregnancy play a role.
Antimycotics that are used externally include nystatin, clotrimazole, miconazole, isoconazole and amorolfin. For internal use, amphotericin B, itraconazl ketoconazole, terbinafine and flucytosine are used.
In case of severe itching or burning of the skin, anti-inflammatory glucocorticoids (“cortisone”) in cream or ointment form can be applied to the corresponding areas of skin in addition to the antimycotics.
Skin fungus treatment: General tips
As a patient, you can support the drug therapy by avoiding typical causes and risk factors of a fungal infection. With the widespread foot fungus, for example, this means
- If you have athlete’s foot, do not wear shoes that are not very breathable.
- Socks, stockings and underwear should be changed daily and washed at at least 60 degrees Celsius.
- During and immediately after athlete’s foot treatment it helps to disinfect stockings, socks and shoes with an antifungal agent.
- Always dry the spaces between your toes well after showering or bathing (use a separate towel!), as mushrooms love it moist and warm.
- In places with an increased risk of fungal infection (such as swimming pools, saunas, etc.), it is best to pay special attention to hygiene and not to walk barefoot.
Basically, it is important to always keep endangered or already affected parts of the body such as the armpits, genital area and feet dry. You should also always use a separate towel for drying. This will prevent the fungal infection from spreading to other parts of the body or to other people.
Another valuable tip: support your immune system in its fight against the fungi by getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, avoiding stress and getting regular fresh air.
Skin fungus: home remedy
As with many other diseases, various home remedies are also recommended for skin fungus. How effective these are in individual cases cannot be predicted. It is best to discuss with your doctor or pharmacist which household remedy against skin fungus is suitable for you. The expert can also advise you of possible side effects and interactions.
Extensive fungal infestation always requires medical treatment. Household remedies should only be used as an accompanying measure. An insufficiently treated skin fungus can become chronic and sometimes even spread to internal organs. Under certain circumstances this can lead to life-threatening complications!
Skin fungus treatment with vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is known as a household remedy against skin fungus. For example, vinegar socks are said to help with athlete’s foot: To do this, stir six tablespoons of cider vinegar into 200 millilitres of water, dip cotton socks into it and put them on before going to bed. You should wear a pair of dry woollen socks over it. If you do this several nights in a row, it should cure athlete’s foot.
Skin fungus treatment with essential oils
Various essential oils can kill fungi. They also have a regenerating effect on the skin and are anti-inflammatory. The most important essential oil for skin fungus treatment is tea tree oil. As this oil dries out the skin, you should also treat it with a nourishing oil or shea butter.
Skin fungus: causes and risk factors
Different types of fungi can cause skin fungus:
In most cases skin fungal infections are caused by filamentous fungi (dermatophytes). Experts then also speak of a dermatophytosis. The most common trigger in Central Europe is the filamentous fungus Trichophyton rubrum. It is mainly responsible for ringworm and nail fungus. Other filamentous fungi that often cause skin fungus are Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Microsporum canis (trigger of microsporesis) and Trichophyton verrucosum (especially in rural areas).
A fungal infection with trichophyton species is also called trichophytosis.
Skin and mucous membrane can also be attacked by yeast fungi (shoots). The best known yeast fungus is Candida albicans. It belongs to the natural flora of the mucous membranes. Under certain circumstances (such as immune deficiency) it can proliferate strongly and cause an infection, for example in the vaginal region (vaginal mycosis). Another known yeast infection of the skin is the bran fungus lichen (pityriasis versicolor).
Moulds only play a subordinate role as pathogens of skin fungus. However, they can – just like yeast fungi – also attack internal organs and thus trigger a severe systemic mycosis. This is a fungal infection that affects several organ systems or practically the whole body.
Skin fungus: transmission and infection
To the question “Is skin fungus contagious?” the definite answer is yes. Skin fungi can be transmitted directly from person to person, but also from animal to human. In addition, it is possible to become infected indirectly via contaminated objects, such as bath mats, clothing and shoes. Since mushrooms love it moist and warm, the risk of infection is particularly high in swimming pools, saunas, solariums and public toilets.
Skin fungus: risk factors
Various individual risk factors favour a skin fungus. These include diabetes mellitus and obesity. The latter causes increased sweat to form in the skin folds, which provides optimum living conditions for fungi.
The skin and mucous membranes of people with circulatory disorders are also susceptible to fungal infection.
Another risk factor is a weakened immune system. This immune deficiency can be caused by a serious illness (such as HIV) or drugs that suppress the immune system. Such immunosuppressants are prescribed, for example, after organ transplants and in the case of autoimmune diseases.
Skin fungus: examinations and diagnosis
If skin fungus is suspected, the family doctor or a dermatologist (dermatologist) is the right contact person. In case of skin fungus in the genital area, you can also consult a gynaecologist (gynaecologist) or urologist.
The attending physician first takes the patient’s medical history (anamnesis) in a detailed conversation: He asks the patient exactly about the type and duration of the complaints. He also inquires whether there are any underlying diseases (diabetes etc.) and whether the patient has recently had contact with people with rashes.
This is followed by a physical examination. The doctor carefully examines the skin changes. Usually he can already see with the naked eye whether it is really a skin fungus or not.
To confirm the diagnosis, the physician takes a smear from an affected area of skin and creates a fungal culture in a special nutrient medium. In this way, any fungi can be cultivated and identified under optimal growth conditions. This can take up to four weeks. Detection of the pathogen type is important for choosing the right treatment.
Certain types of fungi can also be identified directly on the skin under a microscope or under special UV light (wood light). This light has a wavelength of approximately 365 nanometers and is an important tool in the diagnosis of various skin diseases. For example, in the case of a bran fungus lichen (pityriasis versicolor), the affected skin areas show an orange coloration under wood light. Some dermatophytes, on the other hand, fluoresce yellow-green under wood light.
In individual cases, it may be useful to take a tissue sample for more detailed examination.
Skin fungus: course of disease and prognosis
Skin fungus does not heal by itself, but must be treated. Patience is required, because fungal infections are usually persistent. It is particularly important to use the anti-fungal drugs (antimycotics) as long as the doctor has prescribed. If the therapy is discontinued prematurely, the skin fungus can return. However, with correct treatment, the pizza infection almost always heals completely. The appearance of the skin normalizes, any hair that may have fallen out grows back.
However, complications are also possible, especially in people with a weakened immune system and in children. These patients have an increased risk of skin fungal infection spreading to organs inside the body.
In order to prevent a (renewed) skin fungus infection, you should follow some tips:
- Pay particular attention to hygiene in places with a high risk of infection (such as swimming pools, saunas, tanning salons).
- Change socks and underwear daily and wash them at at least 60 degrees Celsius.
- Avoid shoes that are not very breathable and always keep the skin on vulnerable parts of the body (skin folds, toe gaps, etc.) dry.
- Pets such as dogs, cats and horses can transmit skin fungus pathogens to humans. Therefore, you should have them examined by a vet for fungal skin infections and, if necessary, treated with appropriate antimycotics.