Common Fungal Skin Infections

Superficial skin fungus infections such as “white spot”, ringworm and athlete’s foot are common. Find out how to cure a fungal skin infection.

The most common types of superficial fungal infections include "white spot", ringworm, athlete's foot and candidiasis (or moniliasis).

What is “White Spot”?

“White spot” or “panau” (in Malay) is a superficial fungal skin infection. The medical term is pityriasis versicolor or tinea versicolor. It usually affects adults and causes an itchy, scaly rash that appears as white, pink or brown patches on the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders and limbs. The condition is often aggravated by excessive sweating.

What is Ringworm?

Ringworm is a common term for a superficial fungal infection of the skin, which appears as scaly, red, round patches with a tendency to form rings. It is known as tinea corporis when it affects the body and tinea cruris when it affects the groin. Tinea capitis, or ringworm of the scalp, affects mainly children and can cause hair loss. However, this condition is relatively uncommon in Singapore. Healing may result in pigmentation of the skin.

What is Athlete’s Foot?

Athlete’s foot is otherwise known as tinea pedis and is one of the most common fungal skin infections. The skin on the soles and toe webs typically becomes very scaly and peels. It is itchy, and occasionally small blisters may appear. The infection can also affect the toenails.

What is Moniliasis/Candidiasis? 

This is a yeast infection that often affects moist areas like the skin folds, armpits and groin. It also occurs commonly on the genitalia and can cause a vaginal discharge in women. It is more common in people with diabetes mellitus and appears as itchy red spots or patches.

How to Prevent Superficial Fungal Skin Infections

Fungi grow where the skin is warm and sweaty. Keep the space between your toes, the skin folds in the groin area and the armpits dry to prevent such fungal infections. The use of powder may also help. Here are some other steps you can take to prevent superficial fungal skin infections:

  • Wear slippers and avoid walking around barefoot in areas where the floor is wet as fungi may be present; such areas may include common showers, gyms, public toilets and swimming pools.

  • Avoid sharing personal napkins, towels, combs and hair brushes as they may be infected, and these fungal skin infections are contagious.

  • Nylon socks and covered shoes make your feet sweat. Instead, wear cotton socks to absorb the sweat or open-toe sandals if your feet sweat profusely. Always change your socks daily.

  • Avoid wearing damp shoes. Try to alternate between two pairs of shoes.

How to Treat Superficial Fungal Skin Infections

Apply antifungal cream to the affected areas two to three times a day for four weeks. Do not stop using the medication even when the rash has cleared. Continue using it for at least seven days after the infection appears to have cleared. In the case of white spots, the white colour remains even after the fungal skin infection has been successfully treated. However, this will gradually improve over time as the skin recovers its normal colour.

Oral antifungal medications are needed for fungal skin infections affecting large areas. Your doctor may prescribe them.

For prevention of white spots, use an antifungal shampoo and body wash once a month on your scalp and body. Leave it on for 10 minutes before washing it off. In the event of an infection, use this daily for seven to 14 days consecutively. Seek medical attention if the condition does not improve. Do not attempt to further self-medicate.

Fungal nail infections can be treated but often require prolonged treatment. It is important to realise that eradication of the fungi does not guarantee that the nails will return to a normal appearance.

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