Fungus Among Us

August 16, 2016

When the sun beats down, outdoor activity can cause you to sweat. This is good. It is the body protecting itself from overheating.  But sweat can cause skin irritations, especially in folds of skin and damp places, like your shoes (and yes, your underdrawers!)

Fungi are always in the environment. Warmth and dampness create ideal environments for their growth. They love the summer! Fungal infections are quite common at this time of the year. Common fungal infections of the skin are ringworm, Jock Itch and Athlete’s Foot. They all fall under the name “tinea” which refers to fungal infections of the skin. Ringworm of the scalp is called tinea capitis; ringworm of the body is called tinea corporis; athlete’s foot is called tinea pedis; and jock itch is known as tinea cruris.

Ringworm has nothing do to with worms. So if you are diagnosed with ringworm, don’t panic. You do not have worms crawling under your skin. The rash resembles a roundworm, hence the name. The source of this fungus (and most fungi) is the soil, an animal (like a cat, dog or rodent) or another person. It is most common in children. You can get it multiple times. It is hard to prevent. It is treated with antifungal ointments, shampoos or creams. It may also require an oral antifungal medication, depending on the severity of the infection. It is contagious and can be passed to through direct skin contact with people or animals, or objects such as clothing, towels or furniture. If your pet has patches of missing fur, an evaluation by a vet is recommended to see if the pet has ringworm. Swimming or activities that lead to direct skin contact should be limited until the infection has been treated. You may be asked to cover areas of outbreak to prevent the spread.

You don’t have to be an athlete to get athlete’s foot. Damp feet, especially in the same shoes everyday create a nice “greenhouse” for the fungi that causes athlete’s foot. Symptoms include itching or burning on the feet, redness, stinging, or flaking, peeling, cracked skin. The fungus can be picked up in public showers, pool areas, locker rooms and from shared towels. To help prevent athlete’s foot, dry feet well, especially between toes; avoid sharing towels; wear aqua shoes or sandals in locker rooms (this will also help to prevent warts); wear cotton or wool socks; rotate shoes; and when wearing sneakers, be sure they are well-ventilated. An over-the-counter antifungal cream or spray is the most common treatment. Occasionally, the use of an oral medication is required.    

You don’t have to be a jock (or even male) to get jock itch. It most often occurs in the groin area and on the insides of the thighs. It can be itchy, red, and have flaking, peeling and cracked skin. It can hurt! To help prevent this condition, dry this area well after bathing and swimming. Powder or cornstarch can help keep this area dry during activities. Wear clothes that are loose enough to provide ventilation and prevent chapping. Wash clothing (including jock straps) frequently. As with athlete’s foot, it is most often treated with an antifungal cream or spray. It may on occasion require an oral medication.

          Keeping your skin dry as much as possible is key to preventing fungal infections. Avoid sharing towels and other objects like flip flops. Clean socks and underwear are recommended as well as dry shoes. If you find over-the-counter medicines are not helping, contact your medical provider to properly diagnose your problem. There could be other causes. For more written information on this topic, Quinnipiack Valley Health District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) can call QVHD, 203 248-4528.