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Occurrence, Types, Treatment, and Prevention of Skin Fungus

Dermatologist's photograph

Dr. Kiss Gyula

Occurrence of Skin Fungus

Skin fungus, also known as dermatophytosis, is one of the most common human infectious diseases. Since fungi can survive and exist everywhere in our environment, they generally reach humans through direct contact.

Symptoms of Skin Fungus

The most common manifestation of fungal infection is fine scaling and itching between the extremities, especially between the fingers. In most cases, it is unilateral and easily treatable. It is important to address it promptly because a unilateral infection can spread to the other extremity, and fungal infection that develops between the fingers can eventually affect the nails, which becomes a more challenging problem requiring longer therapy and may result in nail loss.

Scalp fungal infection usually occurs in childhood and is often transmitted from dogs, cats, and sometimes rodents to humans. It can also be transmitted from person to person. The hair becomes brittle, and areas of hair loss develop, accompanied by scaling of the skin. This is a benign condition that can heal on its own, and the hair loss is usually not permanent.

Beard and mustache fungal infection can occur in adult men. Yellow scaly and pustular nodules appear, which are particularly painful and cause hair loss. It can spread through shared shaving tools and leaves scarring.

In overweight and obese patients, fungal infections can develop in skin folds, primarily in the groin area, armpits, under the breasts, and in the abdominal folds. These infections usually result from yeast overgrowth.

Possible symptoms include skin peeling, itching, itchy red patches, flaky red patches, cracked skin, dry blistered skin surface, hair loss, beard loss, patchy hair loss on the scalp, pustules in the beard, baldness, hair breakage, spots on the nails, yellow nails, crumbly nails, thickened nails, nail deformities.

Generally, the location of the symptoms can already give a clue about the causative agent.

Causes of Fungal Infections

Fungi and their spores are present in large numbers in our environment, but they usually do not cause illness. The healthy human body has a so-called "acid mantle" that inhibits the colonization of fungi due to its acidic pH. Excessive cleanliness, the use of alkaline soaps or cosmetics, wearing synthetic textiles or footwear, obesity, and increased sweating can disrupt the function of the acid mantle. In moist and alkaline environments, fungi can easily multiply.

Fungal infections can afflict large groups of athletes who wear poorly ventilated, closed sports shoes or use communal showers. In such closed communities, the infection rate can reach up to 100% (all members of the group get infected). Prolonged use of certain medications (such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, antibiotics) can also contribute to the development of fungal infections. It is also more common in cases where the blood circulation in certain body parts is compromised, such as in thrombosis and lymphedema. Hormonal disorders and conditions can also predispose individuals to fungal infections, including diabetes, the use of contraceptive medications, pregnancy, or adrenal gland disorders.

Detection and Classification of Fungal Infections

Experienced healthcare professionals can easily recognize fungal infections and often identify the specific type of fungus involved. Fungal culture can be used to obtain a precise diagnosis of the fungal species. In general, dermatologists with expertise in this area diagnose the condition based on the symptoms and administer appropriate treatment. In cases of recurrent infections or extensive fungal conditions, a detailed examination may be necessary to exclude underlying conditions such as diabetes or immunodeficiency disorders.

Types of Fungal Infections Causing Human Skin Diseases

Out of the hundreds of thousands of fungal species, only a few are capable of causing infections in humans. These species typically produce specific enzymes or their metabolic byproducts make them suitable for causing infections. Among the various fungal genera, the following four can cause infections in humans:

  • Dermatophytes have an enzyme that allows them to parasitize and feed on the keratin layer of hair follicles, hair, and nails. They are the most common cause of fungal skin infections.
  • Mold fungi less commonly cause infections.
  • Dimorphic funghi and
  • Yeasts rarely cause diseases in humans. But one such example is Malassezia furfur, which can worsen scalp dandruff and cause seborrheic dermatitis. Another yeast fungus is Candida albicans, and opinions about its effects on the body vary greatly. Since these are particularly rare pathogens, we will discuss their skin and mucosal symptoms in detail on another occasion.


Antifungal agents for treating fungal infections have advanced significantly in recent decades. There are locally applicable treatments available such as creams, solutions for brushing, and alcoholic solutions, as well as convenient oral medications. By carefully selecting the most appropriate active ingredient and treatment method from the numerous options, symptoms generally subside within a few weeks.

Prevention and Avoidance

  • Always dry the folds of your body after bathing.
  • Never use shared towels, slippers, or combs.
  • Do not accept guest slippers.
  • Avoid walking barefoot on carpeted floors.
  • When using swimming pools, gym showers, or wellness centers, do not walk barefoot and bring your own slippers.
  • Wash hands after petting animals.
  • Never lift pets to the face.
  • In case of obesity, isolate adjacent skin areas with talcum powder and/or dressings.
  • Avoid home remedies and do not let advertisements decide for you.
  • If experiencing peeling and itchy symptoms, seek a dermatologist's advice as soon as possible.
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