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Fungal Skin Infections: Causes, Preventing, Treatment

Skin fungus can be embarrassing for anyone, where it’s noticeable or not, it’s itching to take your attention away from your day-to-day routine and distract you from work and social interactions. There are 80,000 different species of fungus and although the ones living on your skin can be a nuisance, a visit to the dermatologist’s office can be a quick diagnosis and treatment process. Dermatophytes are the types of fungus that take over areas of your skin. They feast on a strong, fibrous protein in your skin known as keratin. It’s what makes up nails, hair and virtually every inch of your skin.

Dr. Rokhsar, a board-certified dermatologist and leading cosmetic expert in New York, specializes in treating fungus growth in different parts of the body. Below, he details everything you need to know about fungal infections.

Fungus Frenzy: Where It’s Most Prevalent & How To Avoid It

Fungus thrives in warm and moist conditions, which is why if it appears in between your toes, it’s so difficult to get rid of unless you use an over-the-counter treatment or see your dermatologist to eliminate completely before it worsens.

Athlete’s foot, for example, is called tinea pedis and it can cause peeling, redness, itching, burning and even blisters and sores. It’s important to clean your bathtub thoroughly when you notice the first signs of cracking, dead skin, excessive peeling or red itchiness, in order to avoid spreading it to other members in your household and also to help decrease the chances of worsening your condition.

Jock itch is another form of fungus that is very easily spread among athletes, primarily wrestlers. The intensive contact-to-contact sport increases the chances of spreading the fungus from not only teammates and opponents, but also from the mats they practice on. It is characterized by the itching and chafing of red rash and cracking skin on the groin and thigh area. It is treated with anti-fungal cream, power or spray with the daily washing and drying of the area with a clean towel and frequent change of underwear.

Ringworm is a common and well-known fungus called tinea corporis and it appears as circular, red, flat sores that are often scaly and uncomfortable. It can be transmitted between people and animals, which heightens the importance of early detection and treatment, especially if you have a pet. Fortunately, ringworm responds well to over-the-counter creams and treatment that can be recommended by your dermatologist. Although fungus infections are rarely ever life-threatening, they should be treated as a hygienic precaution and taken care of immediately following the discovery of signs.

Take Care Of Your Feet

Calluses, hard-skin patches, cracked skin, blisters and bumps are things we all want to avoid when it comes to our feet. Feet are often prioritized last on the skincare checklist, but they shouldn’t be stuffed into shoes and ignored. Shoes can rub you the wrong way, causing blisters, irritation and leftover rough patches.

It’s important to pay attention to your feet and watch for the development of calluses and corns. Calluses usually form on the hands, feet or anywhere there is constant pressure and rubbing. The skin naturally reacts to the repeated friction by causing the dead skin to build a hard, protective surface. Corns are generally found between and underneath the toes, but are similar to calluses.

Foot Care and Maintenance Starts at Home

Regular foot cleansing, moisturizing and soaking is important to keep the rough edges away. At home, giving your feet a personal foot bath for 10 to 15 minutes will help soften the skin. Then gently remove the thickened skin with a pumice stone or foot file on the heels and sides. Some podiatrists suggest soaking feet in a black tea bath, which is tannic acid, a natural antibacterial agent that can reduce the chance of getting athlete’s foot (contagious).

Moisturizing scrubs with chemical exfoliators will help to remove dead skin, but in order to help treat the skin, apply a rich foot cream or balm with shea or cocoa butter. Look for ever day foot creams that contain petrolatum, emollient, or humectants which draws moisture to the skin. It is important that if the callus or corns are continuously irritating or painful from constant rubbing, a dermatologist should perform the removal instead of attempting it at-home.

Cracked heels typically require prescription treatment, such as medicated heel pads, that need the consultation of a doctor. Fungus also needs a doctor’s advice, even though there are antifungal treatments such as lacquers, creams, lotion, liquids, sprays, and powders, they are for mild athlete’s foot and don’t treat all types of fungus, such as toenail fungus, which is difficult to treat.

Are Acrylics Bad For My Nails?

For years, acrylic, or artificial, nails have been the answer for anyone who has longed for well-manicured hands. They don’t chip, peel or crack, and you don’t have to wait weeks for your nails to grow to have fabulous fingernails. Aside from the time and money necessary to maintain acrylic nails, there can be some downsides, which usually involve nail fungus or an allergic reaction to the polymer-based substances in the product.

For most people, acrylic nails are a safe cosmetic enhancement. While it’s unlikely that acrylic nails will harm your health, some people may notice that their real nails become tougher, discolored, or have an uneven surface. If this happens, simply remove the acrylic nails and let your fingernails grow out. However, there are some more serious consequences of having acrylic nails.

Infection is another potential health problem that can develop. Infection is likely to develop if you injury your real nail by bumping or breaking the nail, or if your acrylic nail begins to separate from your natural nail. The moist, dark space between your nail and the acrylic is a perfect breeding ground for fungus and bacteria.

You may not immediately notice the signs of infection because your nails are covered, so it’s best not to leave acrylic nails in place too long. If your immune system is compromised in any way, perhaps due to drug treatments like chemotherapy, an autoimmune disease or a history of fungal infections or poor blood circulation, you’re at a higher risk of developing an infection and may want to forgo acrylic nails.

For most people, the risks of acrylic nails are minimal, so long as you practice good daily hygiene.

Treating Athlete’s Foot: Are You At Risk?

Athlete’s foot is an unpleasant fungal infection characterized by itching, stinging, and burning between the toes and/or soles of the feet. Itchy blisters, cracking and peeling skin, excessive dryness and thick discolored toenails are all signs of athlete’s foot.

It’s one of the common contagious infections that plague many locker rooms and sports teams because of the constant exchange of sweat, showers and contact. It’s closely related to ringworm and jock itch, which all thrive in tight, dark and moist areas. Shoes create the perfect environment for the organism to grow because of damp, sweaty socks, humid conditions and tight warmth laced into the shoe.

The following is a list of risk factors:

  1. Male
  2. Damp socks or tight-fitting shoes
  3. Typically pertains to athletes who: share mats, gear or uniforms
  4. Shares bed linens, clothes or shoes with someone who has a fungal infection
  5. Walks barefoot in fungal-prone public places such as locker rooms, saunas, swimming pools, and communal baths and showers.

Fortunately, most cases of athlete’s foot can be cured with over-the-counter antifungal products and simple good hygiene! Allow feet to get air and exposure, and in cases that you can’t go barefoot make sure you wear cotton socks and shoes that are made from porous materials such as canvas.

Water-resistance synthetics, such as water shoes, just worsen the infection and help flourish the fungus. If left untreated secondary infections can occur because it creates an optimal environment for bacteria to grow. Fungus can kill off vulnerable bacteria and in response the bacteria release substances that can cause signs of tissue breakdown such as soggy skin and painful erosion between the toes.

Monitor Your Body and Contact a Professional When Necessary

Fungi can thrive in different parts of the body, so it’s important to pay close attention to your skin. If you are showing signs of a severe fungus infection that can’t be treated with conventional methods, your best bet is contacting an experienced dermatologist.

Dr. Rokhsar is a board-certified dermatologist that specializes in treating fungus growth. To learn more about his work, contact his office and book a consultation today.

About author - Dr. Cameron Rokhsar

Dr. Cameron Rokhsar

Dr. Cameron Rokhsar, MD, FAAD, FAACS, is the founder and medical director of the New York Cosmetic, Skin, & Laser Surgery Center. Dr. Rokhsar is a graduate of Harvard College and NYU School of Medicine. Dr. Rokhsar is double board certified in dermatology and micrographic dermatologic surgery, being one of the few select dermatologists in the country who is also fellowship trained in laser surgery. A researcher and innovator, Dr. Rokhsar is the creator of the non-surgical nose job and has been instrumental in the research and development of laser systems such as the Fraxel, CO2, Mirady, Vbeam, Themitight, and Ulthera devices. An Associate Professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC, Dr. Rokhsar actively teaches the cosmetic dermatology clinic to the resident at Mount Sinai. An expert injector of fillers, and a trainer for many companies, patients fly in from around the world to see Dr. Rokhsar in his Garden City and Manhattan offices in New York.

Learn more about Dr. Rokhsar | Dr. Rokhsar's Google Scholar