Fungal Skin Infection (Tinea)

A fungal infection occurs when too much fungus grows on or in the body. Fungus normally lives on the skin in small amounts and does not cause harm. But when too much grows on the skin, it causes an infection. This is also known as tinea. Fungal skin infections are common and not usually serious.

The infection often starts as a small red area the size of a pea. The skin may turn dry and flaky. The area may itch. As the fungus grows, it spreads out in a red circle. Because of how it looks, fungal skin infection is often called ringworm, but it is not caused by a worm. Fungal skin infections can occur on many parts of the body. They can grow on the head, chest, arms, buttocks or legs. On the feet, fungal infection is known as “athlete’s foot.” It causes itchy, sometimes painful sores between the toes and the bottom or sides of the feet. In the groin, the rash is called “jock itch.”

People with weak immune systems can get a fungal infection more easily. This includes people with diabetes or HIV, or who are being treated for cancer. In these cases, the fungal infection can spread and cause severe illness. Fungal infections are also more common in people who are overweight.

In most cases, treatment is done with antifungal cream or ointment. If the infection is on your scalp, you will need to take oral medicine. To confirm the diagnosis of a fungal infection, the healthcare provider may take a small scraping of the skin to be tested in a lab.

Common fungal infections are treated with creams on the skin or oral medicine.

Home care

Follow all instructions when using antifungal cream or ointment on your skin.

General care:

  • If you were prescribed an oral medicine, read the patient information. Talk with your healthcare provider about the risks and side effects.

  • Let your skin dry completely after bathing. Carefully dry your feet and between your toes.

  • Dress in loose cotton clothing.

  • Don’t scratch the affected area. This can delay healing and may spread the infection. It can also cause a bacterial infection.

  • Keep your skin clean, but don’t wash the skin too much. This can irritate your skin.

  • Keep in mind that it may take a week before the fungus starts to go away. It can take 2 to 4 weeks to fully clear. To prevent it from coming back, use the medicine until the rash is all gone.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider if the rash does not get better after 10 days of treatment. Also follow up if the rash spreads to other parts of your body.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Redness or swelling that gets worse

  • Pain that gets worse

  • Foul-smelling fluid leaking from the skin

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