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Three types of fungi are primarily responsible for the majority of fungal skin infections that afflict millions of Americans each year, says Joshua Fox, MD, medical director and founder of Advanced Dermatology P.C. Trichophyton, microsporum and epidermophyton, all part of the fungal genera category, are the three main culprits. Fungal infections of the skin account for about four million visits a year to outpatient medical facilities in the U.S. alone.
To understand how pervasive and hard-to-treat fungal skin infections can be, it is good to know how they emerge, explains Dr. Fox. Often described as superficial fungus infections, the microscopic organisms that cause them feed on warm, moist, dark environments, like the feet and the jock area. The four main microorganisms that cause fungal skin infections include bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi.
Athlete’s foot, jock itch, ringworm
Athlete’s foot is perhaps the most common of the fungal skin infections and very often one of the most stubborn, says Dr. Fox. There are three different types, including interdigital athlete’s foot, the most common form; moccasin athlete’s foot, which begins on the sole and spreads to the side of the foot; and vesicular athlete’s foot, which is the least common and shows up as blisters on the bottom of the foot. In fact, athlete’s foot (“jungle rot” as it was called) was one of the most the most common foot problems Vietnam veterans have suffered, and they still plague many veterans today.
The clinical reason for such outbreaks is due to an imbalance of microorganisms in the body, Dr. Fox explains. “A decrease in bacteria and an increase in the growth of fungi, sometimes caused by the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics, is a common culprit,” he adds.
Jock itch is also a common complaint, especially among men. Jock itch, a form of ringworm, usually occurs in the groin area and on the upper, inner thighs and buttocks.
Ringworm, which can occur on the hands, nails, feet or scalp, typically appears as a circular rash with patches that may be red or peeling or have bumps that resemble blisters. Like the symptoms of athlete’s foot, the infected areas are often itchy and can spread easily. Blistering and cracking of the skin is particularly common on the feet.
A yeast-like fungus, known as Candida, is the culprit behind the common vaginal yeast infection, says Dr. Hu. Such yeasts normally live on the skin and mucous membranes without ever causing infection, she explains. But overgrowth of such organisms can produce an infection in certain areas of the body, adds Dr. Hu.
Tips for treating fungal skin infections
If over-the-counter medications don’t eliminate irritating fungal skin infections, Dr. Fox suggests medical intervention. The kind of treatment that’s given for most fungal skin infections depends on the severity of one’s condition, he notes. For some, oral treatment is the only solution.
“Many people have suffered with fungal skin infections for years,” Dr. Fox says. The choice of oral anti-fungal medications depends on the type of fungus that needs to be treated, the affected area, other co-existing diseases that a person might have and interactions with other medications currently being taken. The most common oral medications are Lamisil, Sporanox and Griseofulvin.
Maintaining best hygiene practices is perhaps the best way to prevent fungal skin infections from recurring or even happening at all. To prevent athlete’s foot, for example, Dr. Fox suggests wearing footwear in public locker rooms and shower areas. One should wash the feet daily and most importantly, dry them thoroughly. Wearing shoes that give feet room to breathe and wear cotton socks and underwear. If necessary use a powder to keep them dry.
Dr. Fox says that while fungal skin infections can be annoying to deal with, proper treatment and attention to hygiene practices can keep such conditions from recurring.
“Unfortunately there is evidence that fungal infections of the skin can recur, even after treatment,” says Dr. Fox. “However, with careful adherence to good hygiene and close monitoring we find that most patients can overcome fungal skin infections.”
Advanced Dermatology P.C., the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery (New York & New Jersey) provides cutting edge medical, laser & cosmetic dermatology and plastic surgery services. http://www.advanceddermatologypc.com
Joshua L. Fox, M.D., F.A.A.D., is the founder and medical director at Advanced Dermatology P.C. He is a leading authority in the field of dermatology with expertise in skin cancer, cosmetic surgery and laser procedures and is program director of a fellowship in laser and cosmetic surgery
Judy Hu, M.D., F.A.A.D. is a board certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology P.C. Dr. Hu specializes in medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology with extensive experience in skin rejuvenation utilizing injections and laser therapy.