Get to Know Your Fungus: Common Fungal Infections (and What to Do About Them)

It’s all fun and games until it’s fun-gus and games (y’know, because you’ve got jock itch).

Fungus

When rashes, blisters and sores force us to consider the kinds of microscopic critters hitching a ride on our bodies (and frequently giving us some sort of skin infection), we likely think about bacteria, or in the nastiest cases, some type of virus. And no wonder: Infections from things like staphylococcus and streptococcus bacteria and — eek! — the herpes virus are often infamously in the news or being bandied around as a joke in pop culture. 

But it’s another type of critter that’s more commonly hitching a ride on our bodies than either bacteria or viruses: Fungi. And if your crotch itches something fierce or your toenails are a couple of yellow shades short of “banana,” your skin might be home to a fungal infection or two.

So what should you look out for, and what should you do if you’re infected? Let’s take a look at four of the most common fungi we’re likely to encounter.

Jock Itch
Jock itch, or, as your doctor refers to it, tinea cruris, is a type of fungus known as a dermatophyte, that’s far more annoying than it is dangerous. But that hasn’t stopped it from being the bane of athletes everywhere, appearing as itchy, red, splotchy rashes around the genitals, thighs and butt-area of anyone who happens to sweat heavily and hang out in a warm, humid area like a gym locker room.

If you’re one of the unlucky ones who’s happened to contract a bad case of jock itch, chances are you rubbed some manner of contaminated item on your junk, like a pair of compression shorts that you dropped on the locker room floor, or a dirty towel.

Getting rid of jock itch is relatively easy: A topical antifungal medication ought to clear it right up, and keeping your crotch clean and dry and wearing fresh set of gym clothes should prevent it from coming back.

Ringworm
Bet this one caught you a little by surprise, didn’t it? Strangely enough, ringworm, or as your doctor refers to it, tinea corporis, is not a parasite (a la tapeworms, pinworms, or any other kind of worm, for that matter) but another type of dermatophyte similar to jock itch, except affecting the torso and limbs. And much like jock itch, ringworm appears as itchy red blotches — only more circular, hence the name — and often times scaly and more painful.

Like other dermatophytes, ringworm is easily treated with over-the-counter or prescription antifungals, and can be prevented by keeping potentially susceptible areas of skin dry and clean.

Athlete’s Foot
Another dermatophyte (are you sensing a pattern?) known as tinea pedis, athlete’s foot, — i.e., that itchy, scaly stuff you find in between your toes when you think you’re too good for flip flops in the gym shower — is thought to affect upwards of 15 percent of the population.

Athlete’s foot is another fungus that’s no trouble for a good antifungal cream, but if it keeps coming back, consider buying a looser pair of shoes that allows your feet to breathe better, and change your socks more often if you’re someone who sweats heavily.

Candidiasis
The candida fungus is decidedly not a dermatophyte, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less obnoxious. A type of yeast (yes, like the kind you use to brew beer and make bread), candida is known to affect the mouth (where it’s called oral thrush, or just thrush) the vagina (also known as a yeast infection) and most commonly, the feet.

When infecting the latter, candida has the unfortunate tendency to turn a person’s toenails yellow, in addition to making them brittle and cracked. No doubt you’ve seen someone with candidiasis before. If you’re unsure, just ask your dad to take off his shoes and socks — odds are he has it, or has had it in the past. And that’s because fungi like candida tend to infect older people with more regularity since their nails tend to be dryer and more prone to cracks — two things that allow a fungus to gain entry to and infect a person’s nail beds.

Once again, the cure for funky feet is the diligent application of an over-the-counter or prescription antifungal medication — don’t think for one second that yellow-ass toes is something you can or should ignore!

The bottom line is that, no matter what fungus has decided to make a home in your groin area, armpits, between your toes or under your nails, a fungal skin infection isn’t going to kill you. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to annoy the ever-living crap out of you — or go away on its own, either.