What is a fungus?

Fungus is an organism that belongs to yeasts, molds and mushrooms and can be found in any moist, dark and warm environment (shoes, gloves, locker rooms, public pool surfaces etc.). When on the skin they are invisible to a naked eye.

How does a skin fungal infection (medical name “tinea”) look like?

It is usually in the form of circular or semicircular, ring-like (hence the popular name “ringworm” even though it does not have anything to do with worms) red and scaly patches or plaques with scalloped, and slightly raised edges. Another very common presentation is in the form of faint brown to salmon-colored, scaly, small patches in the areas of heavy sweating (mid chest, upper back, sides of neck). Health care providers call this form of fungal infection tinea versicolor”.

A woman with red spots on her chest.
Tinea versicolor in the form of reddish-brown patches on the chest


On the scalp and other hairy areas it causes hair damage with broken hairs and loss of hair. Sometimes pus bumps (pustules) develop in the affected areas as well. When it involves nails they turn white to yellow, and sometimes they get thickened and brittle. Fungal skin infections (medical name “tinea”) can occur anywhere on the body. In children the most common sites are scalp (medical name “tinea capitis”) and face (medical name “tinea faciei”), while in adults the most common sites are the trunk (medical name “tinea corporis” or in certain cases “tinea versicolor”), groin (medical name “tinea cruris”), the feet (medical name “tinea pedis”), and toenails (medical name “tinea unguium” or “onychomycosis”).

How did I get a fungal infection?

Since fungus is widely present in our environment, including pets and other animals, it is relatively easy to catch it if not careful (i.e. if walking barefoot around, if using old protective gloves and shoes, if petting animals with rashes, if sharing towels, combs, caps etc.).

How should I treat fungal infection?

You can try over-the-counter creams such as terbinafine (brand name: Lamisil) and/or antifungal shampoos such as ketoconazole shampoo (brand name: Nizoral). However, if you have scalp involvement, pus bumps, nail involvement, or if over-the-counter medicines did not help within 2-4 weeks, you should see your health care provider for possible treatment with stronger medicines, or with prescription antifungal pills.

How can I prevent a skin fungal infection?

Use lightweight cotton underwear; change it daily, or more often if it gets sweaty. Shower after each sports activity, especially if it involves direct contact with other person or with objects in the gym. Cover contact surfaces on machines and devices in gym with clean towel before using.  Wear washable sandals in the showers, do not share towels, and do not put your towel against any surface in the public showers and locker rooms. If you have fungal infection on your feet, put on your socks first and then your underwear, so that you do not spread it further up. If your pet has rashes suspicious to fungal infection, take it to a veterinarian.


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