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Bothered by an itchy rash, sore patches on your skin, or issues with your scalp or toenails? You might be experiencing a fungal skin infection.

What is a fungal skin infection?

A fungal skin infection is a condition affecting the skin that has been caused by a fungus. There are many different types of fungal skin infection, and many of them can be treated at home using antifungal medicines readily available in a pharmacy without a prescription.

The most common fungal skin infections are:

  • Ringworm
  • Athlete’s foot
  • Yeast infections
  • Onychomycosis (fungal nail infection)

Most fungal skin infections aren’t dangerous; however they can cause some unpleasant symptoms and, if left untreated, spread across the body. For this reason, it’s a good idea to consult a pharmacist or doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms.

What are the symptoms of a fungal skin infection?

Symptoms vary depending upon the type of infection. Ringworm is easily recognisable as it causes ring-shaped rashes to develop on the skin. The rash is usually scaly, dry, and itchy, and red or silver in colour. It can develop anymore on the body, including the arms, legs, groin, and scalp. Ringworm on the scalp can cause pustules to form and may lead to patchy hair loss.

Athlete’s foot affects the skin between the toes, making it itchy and flaky. In more severe cases, the infection can cause painful cracks and blisters. Some people find that the soles of their feet are affected, becoming thick, scaly, and itchy.

Candida is a type of fungus that lives harmlessly in the body. In the right circumstances it can multiply, causing a yeast infection usually referred to as thrush. These infections usually affect the genitals or the mouth. The affected area becomes sore and itchy. With oral thrush, white patches develop in the mouth. With vaginal thrush, white discharge can be a symptom.

Another variety of yeast infection is pityriasis versicolor. This causes patches of the skin to become discoloured and scaly.

If you have a fungal nail infection you might find that your nails (usually on the toes rather than the fingers) become discoloured and change in texture, becoming flaky, crumbly, and rough.

What causes a fungal skin infection?

The skin infections described above are caused by different types of fungus. Certain fungi, including candida yeast, are already present on the body and don’t normally cause symptoms. Others are spread between people or picked up from animals or the environment.

Another aspect of fungal skin infections is that fungi thrive in warm, moist conditions. This means that you might be more susceptible if you regularly wear tight, restrictive clothes, let your feet sweat inside shoes for hours, or fail to properly dry your skin after bathing. People who are very overweight sometimes develop fungal infections between folds of skin.

How are fungal skin infections treated?

Most of the time, a fungal skin infection simply requires a trip to the pharmacy. Describe your symptoms to the pharmacist and, if possible, show them the affected skin. It’s likely you’ll be given a topical antifungal treatment in the form of a cream, gel or spray. Most antifungal medicine must be used for at least two weeks.

In the case of ringworm on the scalp, you should speak to a clinician, as you may require prescription treatment. In the case of thrush on the genitals, it’s advised that you speak to a doctor or nurse if you’re having symptoms for the first time.

You should also speak to a clinician if:

  • Pharmacy treatments aren’t working – they may prescribe antifungal tablets
  • You’re in a lot of pain or discomfort
  • The infection has spread
  • You have a weakened immune system
  • The infection is in your foot, and you have diabetes

If you’d like to speak to a clinician online, you can make an appointment through Doctor Care Anywhere.

How can I avoid getting a fungal skin infection?

It’s not always easy to avoid getting a fungal skin infection, but there are certain things you can do to lower your risk:

  • Always dry your skin properly after bathing
  • Wash your clothes and bed linen regularly
  • Avoid walking barefoot through communal showers or around swimming pools
  • Avoid overly tight clothes, and wear breathable materials
  • Avoid sharing towels and hairbrushes as these can spread fungi


Content reviewed by Jemma Shafier, a Doctor Care Anywhere GP

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