Superficial fungal infections– affect the outer layers of the skin, the nails and hair. The main groups of fungi causing superficial fungal infections are:

  • Dermatophytes (tinea)-commonest
  • Yeasts -candida, malassezia( P versicolor), piedra
  • Moulds

The common fungal infection that affects the superficial skin layer is called Tinea (Ringworm). It is not caused by a worm. It is caused by a fungus, which live and spread on the upper layer of the skin and hair. They grow best in warm, moist areas, such as body folds and is contagious. It spreads when you have skin-to-skin contact with a person or animal that has it. It can also spread when you share things like towels or clothing. Tinea occurs in people of all ages. Tinea of the skin usually causes a itchy rash in the shape of a ring and tends to spread outwards/centrifugal spread. It typically develops into a circular, red, inflamed patch of skin with the outer edge more inflamed with scaling than the paler centre. Tinea may involve the feet(athlete’s foot) or the palm of the hand which gets thick, dry, and scaly. The skin between the fingers may be moist and have open sores.

Pityriasis versicolor most frequently affects young adults and is more common in hot, humid climates. It often affects people that perspire heavily. It may clear in the winter months and recur each summer.

Subcutaneous fungal infections– involve the deeper layers of the skin (the dermis, subcutaneous tissue and even bone).  They can get pricked into the skin as a result of an injury but usually stay localized at the site of implantation. Deeper skin infections include: Mycetoma, Chromoblastomycosis.

Systemic mycoses – result from breathing in the spores of fungi, which normally live in the soil or rotting vegetation or as opportunistic disease in immune compromised individuals.

How is fungal infection diagnosed?

Fungal infections are usually diagnosed clinically. However, the following tests may be useful.

  • Wood lamp (black light) examination— fluorescence may be observed in affected areas
  • Microscopy using potassium hydroxide(KOH)—hyphae and yeast cells are observed
  • Fungal culture—
  • Skin biopsy—fungal elements may be seen in stratum corneum. Special stains may be required.


Treatment with topical antifungal cream/lotions or oral antifungal tablets responds well. Your rash may clear up soon after you start treatment, but it’s important to keep use the cream for up to 4-12 weeks. This will prevent the recurrence of fungal infection. However it has to be used for longer duration when fungus affects the hair and nails. Your dermatologist will advise appropriate antifungal medications and its duration of use.

Prevention of fungal infection:

  • Don’t share personal clothing or towels, sheets.
  • Wear slippers or sandals in locker rooms and public bathing areas.
  • Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing. Change your socks and underwear at least once a day.
  • Keep your skin clean and dry. Always dry yourself completely after showers or baths.
  • Use antifungal foot powder. Sprinkle it in your shoes.


FAQ – Fungal infections

What is Ring worm?

Tinea infection caused by fungus often looks like a ring. It can occur on any part of skin, hair and nails.

Are fungal infections contagious? Who are at risk of developing fungal infection?

Yes, fungal infections are contagious. They can spread from sharing clothing, combs and footwear.

Unhygienic personal habits, heat/humidity, diabetics and patients on chemotherapy/HIV-AIDS.

Can I use preparations advertised in the market?

No, various preparations are in the market that claims to be effective for fungus. However these preparations can cause irritation or side effects therefore consult your dermatologist who will advise suitable antifungal preparations like clotrimazle, ketoconazole, terbinafine etc. that are safer and more effective.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s