Fungal infections: Risk Factor, Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Outlook

Fungal infections occur when an invading fungus takes over an area of the body and is too much for the immune system to handle.

Updated: June 16, 2022

Fungal infections occur when an invading fungus takes over an area of the body and is too much for the immune system to handle. Fungi can live in the air, soil, water, plants and in the human body as well. Like bacteria, there are helpful fungi and harmful fungi. When harmful fungi invade the body, they can be difficult to kill, as they can survive in the environment and re-infect the person trying to get better.
Fungal infections of the skin are very common and include athlete's foot, jock itch, ringworm, and yeast infections.

Risk Factor for Fungal infections:

The following person are at greater risk of getting a fungal infection.

  • Anyone with a weakened immune system may be more likely to contract a fungal infection.
  • Cancer treatment and diabetes may also make a person more prone to fungal infections.
  • anyone who is taking antibiotics

Types of Fungal infections:

The common types of fungal infections are discussed below:

Athlete's foot:

Athlete's foot, also called tinea pedis, is a very common fungal infection that affects the foot. It causes peeling, redness, itching, burning, and sometimes blisters and sores. Although anyone can get Athlete's foot, but it is commonly associated with sports and athletes as the fungus grows best in a warm, moist environment such as shoes, socks, swimming pools, locker rooms, and the floors of public showers. It is most common in the summer and in warm, humid climates. It occurs more often in people who wear tight shoes and who use community baths and pools.

Symptoms of Athlete's Foot:

Signs and symptoms of athlete's foot vary from person to person. However, common symptoms include:

  • Peeling, cracking, and scaling of the feet
  • Redness, blisters, or softening and breaking down of the skin
  • Itching, stinging, or burning sensations in the infected area

Causes of Athlete's Foot:

A microscopic fungus that lives on dead tissue of the hair, toenails, and outer skin layers can cause Athlete's foot. There are at least four kinds of fungus that can cause athlete's foot. The most common of these fungi is trichophyton rubrum.

Types of Athlete's Foot:

  • Interdigital: This is the most common kind of athlete's foot which is also called as toe web infection. It usually occurs between the two smallest toes. It can cause itching, burning, and scaling and the infection can spread to the sole of the foot.
  • Moccasin: A moccasin-type infection of athlete's foot can begin with a minor irritation, dryness, itching, or scaly skin. The skin may thicken and crack as it develops. This infection can involve the entire sole of the foot and extend onto the sides of the foot.
  • Vesicular: This kind of athlete's foot usually begins with a sudden outbreak of fluid-filled blisters under the skin. Mostly the blisters develop on the underside of the foot. However, they can also can appear between the toes, on the heel, or on the top of the foot which are uncommon.

Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention of Athlete's Foot:

Not all itchy, scaly feet are the result of athlete's foot. Usually the diagnosis can be done by scraping scaling skin off of an individual and inspecting it under a microscope for evidence of any fungus. There are a few different fungi that can cause athlete's foot which can be found under a microscope. Depending on the specific fungus that is infecting the skin, the infection may behave differently. In most of the cases, Athlete's foot is treated with topical anti-fungal medication which are available to purchase over-the-counter. Severe cases may require oral drugs. Since the fungus thrives in moist environments, the feet must be kept clean and dry to help kill the fungus.
Prevention can be done by allowing the feet plenty of air to breathe and keeping them clean and dry. Wearing sandals in public showers or locker rooms, daily washing of the feet with soap and water and using a quality foot powder can also help prevent athlete's foot.

Jock Itch:

Jock itch, also called tinea cruris is another common fungal skin infection caused by a type of fungus called tinea. The fungus thrives in warm, moist areas of the body and as a result, infection can affect the genitals, inner thighs, and buttocks. Infections occur more frequently in the summer or in warm, humid climates.
It is mildly contagious and is often spread through direct contact with an infected person or an object that is carrying the fungus.

Symptoms of Jock Itch:

Jock itch appears as a red, itchy rash that is often ring-shaped. Symptoms of jock itch include:

  • Itching, chafing, or burning in the groin or thigh
  • A circular, red, raised rash with elevated edges
  • Redness in the groin, buttocks or thigh
  • Flaking, peeling, or cracking skin in the infected area

Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention Jock Itch:

Jock itch can be diagnosed based on the appearance and location of the rash in most of the cases. However, if you are not certain that the condition is jock itch, a physical examination and a microscopic examination of the scales of skin can be done by a doctor to confirm the diagnosis.
Treating jock itch usually involves topical anti-fungal ointments and proper hygiene. Most often it responds to over-the-counter anti-fungal creams and sprays. However, prescription anti-fungal creams are sometimes necessary. Cleaning the affected area and keeping it dry can also help kill the fungus.
Jock itch can be prevented by wearing loose fitting natural fibers, such as cotton underwear and changing it often. It is also important to avoid contact with others who have the infection. Avoiding shared items, such as towels and sporting equipment may also help.


Ringworm or tinea corporis is a skin infection caused by a fungus that lives on dead tissues, such as the skin, hair, and nails. Ringworm is the fungus that causes both jock itch and athlete's foot. When it appears anywhere else on the body, the infection is just called ringworm. It can appear anywhere on the body and it looks like a circular, red, flat sore, often accompanied by scaly skin. The outer part of the sore can be raised while the skin in the middle appears normal.
Ringworm is contagious and can spread by direct contact with infected people or animals. It also may be spread on clothing or furniture. Heat and humidity may help to spread the infection. As the ringworm fungus also infects soil and mud, people who play or work in infected dirt may catch ringworm as well.

Symptoms of Ringworm:

Ringworm appears as a red, circular, flat sore that is often accompanied by scaly skin. The outside of this ring is red and may appear raised or bumpy, while the inside of the ring will remain clear or become scaly. There may be more than one patch of ringworm on the skin, and patches or red rings of rash may overlap.
A ringworm without having the common red ring of rash is also possible.

Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention of Ringworm:

Based on the appearance of the rash and reported symptoms, a doctor can diagnose ringworm. He or she will ask about possible exposure to people or animals with ringworm. Skin scrapings or samples from the infected area will be taken by the doctor to look at them under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis.
A treatment based on the severity of the case will be recommended by the doctor after the diagnosis. Treatment for ringworm usually consists of anti-fungal medications that are applied to the skin. Mostly ringworm infections respond well to over-the-counter creams, such as Lamisil, Micatin, Monistat-Derm Lotrimin and Mycelex.
Prescription topical or oral drugs can be prescribed for more severe cases of ringworm. Maintaining hygiene can help treat and prevent ringworm as well. Keeping the skin clean and dry can help avoid infection. Wearing sandals into public showers or locker rooms and avoiding shared items and towels may help spreading.

Yeast infection:

Yeast infections or cutaneous candidiasis are caused by yeast-like fungi called candida. The overgrowth of candida caused by Candida albicans disrupts the normal balance of the bacteria and yeast in the vagina of a women. This imbalance of bacteria may be due to antibiotics, stress, and hormone imbalances, or poor eating habits.
Although yeast infections may affect any skin surface on the body, but are most likely to occur in warm, moist, creased areas including the armpits and the groin. It is especially common among people who are obese or who have diabetes. People taking antibiotics are also at greater risk.
They can cause a red, scaling, itchy rash on the skin. Candida infections can also commonly cause fungal toenail infections and diaper rash. Oral thrush is a form of candida infection that is found in the mouth. Candida also causes vaginal yeast infections. Yeast infections are not contagious.

Symptoms of Yeast Infection:

  • Signs of yeast infection in skin folds include rash, patches that ooze clear fluid, pimple-like bumps, itching or burning.
  • Signs of yeast infection in the nail beds include swelling, pain, pus and white or yellow nail that separates from the nail bed.
  • Signs of thrush or yeast infection of the mouth include pain and white patches on tongue and inside of the cheeks
  • Signs of vaginal yeast infection include white or yellow discharge from the vagina, itching, burning, redness in the external area of the vagina.

Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention of Yeast Infection:

Diagnosis can be made based on a medical history such as any previous yeast infections or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and a physical examination. They may also ask whether the person was recently taking antibiotics. The doctor may scrape the skin to confirm the diagnosis under a microscope. The vaginal walls and cervix will be examined for signs of infection. Cells from the vagina can be taken if necessary for proper diagnosis.
Treatment of yeast infections depends on their severity and type. These include creams, tablets, or suppositories, which are available through prescription, or over-the-counter. Medicated creams are used for skin yeast infections where as medicated suppositories may be used to treat yeast infections in the vagina. Thrush may be treated with a medicated mouthwash or lozenges that dissolve in the mouth. Severe infections or infections in someone with a compromised immune system may be treated with oral anti-yeast medications.
Maintaining a balanced diet and proper hygiene can prevent yeast infection. Wearing loose fitting clothing made from natural fibers may also help prevent infection. Washing underwear in very hot water and changing feminine products often can also help prevent fungal growth.

Outlook of Fungal Infection:

In most of the cases fungal skin infections can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription creams. Severe infections or infections in someone with a compromised immune system may require additional methods of treatment.
Taking preventive action can help avoiding fungal skin infections . To avoid possibly serious complications, it is always advisable to notify a doctor at the first sign of infection. Most cases of fungal skin infections can be easily treated if diagnosed in early stage.

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