Fungal skin infections, also known as fungal dermatitis, can occur on any part of the body and are often caused by yeast, mold or other fungi. Some common fungal skin infections include athlete’s foot, jock itch, ringworm and nail infections. Mild fungal skin infections may go away on their own without treatment. But they can persist and worsen over time if left untreated. Ignoring the symptoms and delaying treatment can lead to the infection spreading, increasing pain, permanent skin changes and other complications. So it’s important to see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
What causes fungal skin infections?
Fungi normally live on the skin’s surface and inside the body without causing issues. But they can lead to infections if conditions allow them to multiply uncontrollably. Some factors that can increase the risk of fungal skin infections include:
– Warm, moist areas of skin, like between the toes or in skin folds, that allow fungi to thrive.
– Excess sweating, especially in hot humid climates.
– Tight clothing that doesn’t allow skin to breathe.
– Minor skin or nail injuries that provide an entry point for fungi.
– Weakened immune system due to illness or medication.
– Use of oils or lotions that block pores.
– Sharing towels, clothes or personal items with infected individuals.
– Walking barefoot in public showers or pools.
What are the symptoms of fungal skin infections?
Symptoms can vary based on the type of fungal infection but may include:
– Rash or red, itchy, scaly, swollen, blistered or peeling skin.
– Cracking, discoloration or thickening of toenails or fingernails.
– Burning or stinging sensation on the skin.
– Pus-filled blisters.
– Skin dryness and cracking.
– Pain, tenderness, irritation or a burning feeling.
The most commonly affected areas include the feet, groin, body folds, hands, scalp and nails. Symptoms tend to be aggravated by warmth, sweating and damp environments.
What happens if a fungal skin infection goes untreated?
The infection can spread
If left untreated, fungal skin infections can spread to cover larger areas of the skin and infect new sites. For instance, athlete’s foot often begins between the toes but can eventually spread across the entire foot and to the soles and sides. Similarly, a ringworm infection can spread outward from one spot to cover large sections of the scalp, face, trunk or limbs. As the fungi multiply, the infection gets harder to treat.
It may lead to bacterial infections
Fungal infections can compromise and break down the skin’s protective outer layer. This opens up the deeper layers of skin to colonization by bacteria which are normally blocked at the surface. A bacterial infection called cellulitis could then develop, causing the skin to become swollen, red and sore. Blisters, oozing fluids, crusting skin, fever and chills are other possible symptoms. If the bacterial infection spreads into the bloodstream, it can rapidly become life-threatening.
It can be more difficult to cure
The antifungal creams, solutions, pills or shampoos used to treat fungal infections may become less effective if treatment is delayed. Fungi that have already penetrated deep into the skin or nails are harder to eradicate than those remaining on the surface. Prolonged infections have more time to develop antifungal resistance as well. As the fungi mutate, they may stop responding to certain antifungal medications requiring different drugs or longer treatment.
It can lead to permanent skin or nail changes
If the fungi damage the deeper layers of skin or nail beds, the resulting changes can continue even after the infection clears up. This may include thickened, distorted, discolored or brittle nails. Discoloration, scarring, swelling and scaling of affected areas may also persist. For instance, tinea versicolor can lead to patches of darker skin that do not tan normally.
It may cause discomfort and pain
As the infection worsens over time, associated symptoms like itching, burning and soreness typically get more intense. Weeping blisters, pus and skin erosion or cracking can further aggravate pain and discomfort. The constant irritation makes sleep difficult and impacts daily activities and quality of life. Severe physical disfiguration is also possible if skin swelling and scarring become extensive.
Risk of the infection spreading to others
Untreated fungal skin infections remain contagious and can easily pass from one person to another through direct contact or by sharing personal items, clothing and towels. Not receiving treatment places others – including family, roommates, teammates etc. – at risk of infection as well. This can quickly lead to an outbreak affecting multiple people.
Potential harm to internal organs
While rare, certain fungal skin infections can eventually spread from the surface of the skin and infect internal organs in immunocompromised individuals. This most commonly occurs with Candida fungi which can lead to invasive candidiasis affecting the blood, heart, brain, eyes, bones and other parts of the body. Those with weakened immune systems due to cancer, HIV or medications are at the highest risk.
When to see a doctor
It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect a fungal skin infection instead of waiting for it to clear up on its own. Seek prompt care if you notice any symptoms such as itching, rash, nail abnormalities or skin changes that do not improve within one to two weeks. Also consult a doctor right away if symptoms are severe or suddenly worsen. Quick treatment helps prevent complications and minimize permanent damage.
Your doctor will confirm the diagnosis through a physical exam and lab tests. Fungal skin scrapings or samples may be sent for microscopic examination or fungal culture testing. Blood tests can also check for fungal antigens. Based on test results, an appropriate antifungal treatment plan can be prescribed.
How are fungal skin infections treated?
Treatment aims to eliminate fungal overgrowth, relieve symptoms and prevent recurrence. Topical antifungal creams, ointments, solutions, shampoos or powders are the most common treatment for fungal skin conditions. Oral antifungal pills may be prescribed for moderate to severe infections.
The duration of treatment depends on factors like the type of fungus and severity of infection. For instance superficial mild infections may need 1 to 2 weeks of treatment while moderate to severe infections require 4 to 8 weeks. Consistent application as directed is key to treatment success. Steps to prevent reinfection should also be followed.
If a bacterial infection develops, antibiotics may be prescribed. Draining pus-filled bumps or debriding dead tissue is sometimes needed. For severe nail infections, the nail may need to be removed surgically. Seeking early proper treatment minimizes complications and the need for invasive procedures.
Natural remedies for fungal skin infections
Some home remedies can help provide relief for mild fungal skin symptoms when combined with medical treatment. But home remedies by themselves are not sufficient to cure fungal infections. Some potential natural remedies include:
– Tea tree oil – Has natural antifungal properties. Can help mild infections like athlete’s foot. Should not be swallowed or used undiluted.
– Coconut oil – Contains lauric and caprylic acids with antifungal effects. Can be applied to affected skin.
– Apple cider vinegar – Acetic and malic acids may curb fungal growth. Dilute before use and limit contact with healthy skin.
– Garlic – Contains ajoene compound that may inhibit fungal enzymes. Can be consumed or applied topically.
– Probiotics – Can support immune function and restore normal microbial skin balance. Available as supplements or fermented foods.
– Oregano oil – Carvacrol and thymol compounds have antifungal effects. Should always be diluted before use on skin.
– Essential oils like cinnamon, lemongrass, clove, thyme and peppermint may offer antifungal benefits when applied externally.
Proper hygiene and keeping skin clean, cool and dry also aids recovery. Tight clothing, harsh soaps and excessive moisture should be avoided.
Steps to prevent fungal skin infections
Simple self-care steps can help prevent fungal skin infections in most cases:
– Keep skin clean and dry, especially between fingers and toes, beneath breasts and in skin folds. Dry thoroughly after bathing or sweating.
– Wear loose, breathable fabrics like cotton to avoid trapping moisture. Avoid tight clothes.
– Change socks and undergarments frequently, especially after exercise.
– Use appropriate footwear in public areas like swimming pools and gym locker rooms.
– Apply antifungal or antibacterial powder to feet daily.
– Alternate pairs of shoes on consecutive days to allow them to dry fully.
– Treat athlete’s foot as soon as possible to prevent spread.
– Avoid sharing personal care items like towels and nail clippers.
– Disinfect bathroom surfaces regularly.
– Moisturize dry skin but avoid blocked pores from heavy creams.
– Keep nails trimmed and avoid skin injuries.
– Control conditions like diabetes and obesity that increase infection risk.
– Limit use of oil-based cosmetics and moisturizers.
Fungal skin infections like ringworm, athlete’s foot and nail infections are common. They can often resolve without treatment, but leaving them unchecked can allow the infection to worsen over time. Delaying medical care allows the fungi to spread across larger areas of the body, penetrate deeper skin layers, and become resistant to treatment. This leads to worsening symptoms, permanent skin or nail damage, bacterial co-infections, and ongoing discomfort. Seeking prompt treatment and taking preventive measures are key to clearing up fungal skin infections and avoiding recurrent or persistent infections.