Fungal skin infections are common, annoying, contagious

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Oswald Lightsey Mikell

Most people cringe at the thought of having a fungal infection, but in reality we all have many types of fungi that live on our skin all the time.

Most of the time these fungi don't cause any problems, but sometimes a fungus will cause an infection.

Q: What are the symptoms of a fungal infection?

A: The symptoms of fungal skin infections include:

• Itchy, red, raised, scaly patches that may blister or ooze. The patches often have sharply defined edges, and are often redder around the outside with normal skin tone in the center.

• If your scalp or beard is infected, you might develop bald patches.

• If your nails are infected, they can become discolored and thick.

Q: Are there different kinds of fungal infections?

A: Here are the most common fungal infections:

• Ringworm. Fungal infections on the body or scalp are sometimes referred to as "ringworm." This is because the rash sometimes appears as a ring, or partial ring. This is a confusing and unnecessarily alarming name because the rash is not caused by a worm.

• Athlete's foot can be a fungal infection of the feet and is very common between the toes.

• Onychomycosis refers to a fungal infection of the toenail or fingernail.

• Tinea versicolor is a common yeast infection. It appears on the back, chest, neck and upper arms as light- or dark-colored patches of skin, and might not tan in sunlight.

• Tinea nigra is a fungal infection caused by specific type of fungus found in the soil of tropical regions. The infection generally occurs in individuals prone to excessive sweating. It appears as slowly expanding brown or black patches on the skin of the palms and-or soles.

Q: How are fungal infections treated?

A: Ringworm, athlete's foot, tinea versicolor and tinea nigra can usually be treated effectively with topical medications. Nail infections, where the fungi have penetrated the nail bed, might require an oral antifungal.

Q: How long does the treatment take to work?

A: Topical medications applied to the skin usually work within four weeks. If your infection is severe or does not respond to topical medications, it will usually respond quickly to antifungal pills. Nail fungus is more difficult and might take a year to clear.

Q: Are fungal infections contagious?

A: Yes, fungal infections on the skin are contagious. They can be passed from one person to the next by direct skin-to-skin contact, or by contact with contaminated items such as combs, unwashed clothing, and shower or pool surfaces. You can also catch ringworm from pets that carry the fungus.

Fungal skin infections are very common, especially among children, but they may affect people of all ages. If you think you may have a type of fungal infection, call a dermatologist for a consultation.

Dr. Oswald Lightsey Mikell, certified by the American Board of Dermatology and the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, is the owner of Dermatology Associates of the Lowcountry.

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