Yeast and Fungus Among Us: Tinea and Candida Infections of the Skin

MAY 12, 2015
Jeannette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA
Tinea Capitis
Tinea capitis (scalp infection) attacks scalp, eyebrow, and eyelash hair follicles and is typically diagnosed in African American children aged 3 to 9 years. Topical agents cannot penetrate the hair shaft, necessitating oral treatment. Terbinafine and fluconazole have largely displaced griseofulvin, the older drug of choice, because they are safe and effective and produce results faster. Patients who use selenium or ketoconazole shampoo for the first 2 weeks are less likely to spread the infection to others.9-11

Pityriasis Versicolor
Pityriasis versicolor (skin infection [formerly tinea versicolor]) usually thrives in warm and humid environments. People who have seborrheic dermatitis, dandruff, and hyperhidrosis seem to acquire the infection more than others, yet the factors promoting its growth are poorly understood. Patients often complain of itching or flaking. Treatments include topical selenium sulfate, ketoconazole, terbinafine, or ciclopirox.5,12 Oral antifungals can also be used. Although longer therapy treatments are more effective, some clinicians prescribe a single dose and then direct the patient to exercise heavily 1 to 2 hours later to induce sweating. Patients then allow the sweat to evaporate, and delay showering for a day, which leaves a film of the medication on the skin.13

Onychomycosis (nail infection) can be painful, disfiguring, and psychologically disconcerting as the fungus invades the nail bed and inflammation occurs. Onychomycosis is usually treated with 3 to 6 months of oral therapy. Prescribers often choose oral terbinafine because of its superior effectiveness, tolerability, and low cost, but oral fluconazole is also effective.4,14 Medication frequently fails, however. The FDA recently approved efinaconazole, a topical product that is used once daily for 48 weeks.15 Patients need to be reminded that it takes 9 to 12 months for the disfigured nail to grow out. Up to 50% of infections recur.4,14 Laser treatment can also cure onychomycosis.4,16

Fungal infections are common. Once treated, however, they tend to resolve completely. The Sidebar lists points to remember regarding dermal fungi.

Ms. Wick is a visiting professor at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy.

Table: Common Fungal Skin Infections
Infection Usual Pathogen Signs and Symptoms
Yeasts of the genus Candida ·         Cutaneous candidiasis is usually red, flaky, and itchy
·         Oral thrush is usually caused by Candida albicans, and ordinarily presents with white patches or plaques on the tongue and other oral mucous membranes; redness or soreness; dysphagia; and angular cheilitis (cracking at the corners of the mouth)
·         Uncommon among healthy adults
Pityriasis versicolor (formerly tinea versicolor) Yeasts of the genus Malassezia ·         Marked skin discoloration (lightening or darkening), usually on the oily skin of the chest and back, and occasionally the neck and upper arms
·         Lesions appear white, brown, tan, or pink
Tinea capitis Trichophyton tonsurans
Microsporum audouinii
Microsporum canis
·         Occurs on the scalp, and usually starts with itching and scaling
·         Often causes alopecia or dotted areas of inflammation
·         May progress to kerion (boggy
tender plaques and pustules)
Tinea corporis (ringworm) Trichophyton rubrum
M canis
T tonsurans
Trichophyton verrucosum
·         Red, itchy; 1- to 5-cm circular rash
·         Often mistaken for eczema; worsens after treatment with steroids
·         Initial red pustular lesions; patches spread quickly
·         Chronic infection is possible, and its milder rash spreads slowly
Tinea cruris (jock itch) T rubrum
Epidermophyton floccosum
·         Appears around the groin, anus, and inner thighs, usually sparing the penis and scrotum
·         The rash’s center can become reddish-brown, while the edges develop scale, bumps, or oozing blisters
Tinea pedis (athlete’s foot) T rubrum
Trichophyton mentagrophytes var interdigitale
E floccosum
·         Burning and itching are hallmark symptoms; some people develop blisters; skin lesions on the heels, soles, or along the sides of the feet; or fissures between toes
Tinea unguium (onychomycosis) T rubrum
Trichophyton mentagrophytes var mentagrophytes
·         Causes dystrophic, thick, brittle, discolored nails
A slide presentation with clear pictures is available at
Adapted from references 4-6.
Sidebar: Treating Tinea Infections: Points to Remember
·         Dermatophytes are resistant to nystatin, so it is an inappropriate treatment. Nystatin is often effective for treating cutaneous Candida infections.
·         Avoid oral ketoconazole because it can cause hepatic toxicity; other drugs are safer.
·         Terbinafine is usually a better option than griseofulvin for treating onychomycosis.
·         Avoid using combination products containing corticosteroids; they can aggravate fungal infections.
·         Topical butenafine and terbinafine are more effective than topical clotrimazole or miconazole.
·         For treating tinea capitis, an oral agent is needed and should be combined with a sporicidal shampoo (selenium sulfide or ketoconazole).
Adapted from references 4-6 and 17.

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