Have you noticed small white spots on your arms or legs? Or how about a circular rash? Are there red, itchy areas between your toes?
Any of these could be the result of a skin fungus. But how did you get it? And how can you get rid of it?
First of all, don’t panic. “Skin fungus is extremely common, especially in Hawaii’s hot and humid weather,” explains Todd Bessinger, M.D., of Hawaii Dermatology Centers. “Fungi live in the soil, in the air, and on surfaces in our homes and on our skin.”
There are hundreds of different fungi, many of which don’t cause any harm but some are looking for a host — you! According to Dr. Bessinger, one of the most common fungal diseases is tinea versicolor, caused by a normal flora fungus called Malassezia. “It appears in the ‘v’ of the neck, back, shoulders, and on kids’ faces. The fungus interferes with the normal pigmentation or coloring of the skin, causing the fungal area to be lighter or darker than the rest of the skin.”
Another very common fungus is Trichophyton, which thrives in warm, moist, and sweaty conditions. “Athlete’s foot, jock itch, and toenail fungus are all examples of this type of fungus,” Dr. Bessinger continues. “Wet, sweaty socks are a major culprit in helping this fungus find a home on your body.”
The circular red rash is commonly known as ringworm but there’s no actual “worm;” it’s just another fungus settling on your skin, which is considered the body’s largest organ. “Most times we think of our internal organs such as the kidney, heart, and stomach but the skin is an external organ, acting as a barrier and keeping us safe,” Dr. Bessinger notes.
So, how can you prevent a fungal infection? “Make sure to keep things dry. Don’t wear close fitting clothes when wet and keep those socks dry. Good hygiene is the best prevention,” he adds.
The good news is that if you do come down with a skin fungus, it’s very treatable. “There are many creams, lotions and other topical treatments to help get rid of the different types of fungus,” Dr. Bessinger says. With proper prevention and treatment, you don’t have to suffer with a fungus among us!
Leslie A. Hayashi is an author, educator, artist, and retired judge.