Home Health Common types of fungal infection and their treatment

Common types of fungal infection and their treatment

Fungal infections are rarely anything serious but they can be very unpleasant. They’re also often contagious and generally don’t clear up on their own. In fact, without prompt diagnosis and treatment they tend to get worse.

Here we look at the four most common fungal infections you’re likely to come across as a healthcare practitioner, as well as their treatments.


This is a particularly common one, and can present itself either in the mouth or on the genitals. It’s especially prevalent in women, with as many as three-quarters suffering at least one bout of vaginal thrush in their lifetimes. Of course, it can be contracted by men too.

Although uncomfortable, thrush is generally harmless but it can be persistent. Symptoms include:

  • Itchiness and irritation
  • A white discharge from the genitalia
  • Stinging and/or burning when using the toilet or during sex

Effective antifungal medication is the best treatment, which can be as a tablet, pessary or cream. However if your patient suffers recurring or painful bouts of thrush further investigation is advised to rule out any underlying issues.

Athlete’s foot

Again, something many people will have over their lifetime, athlete’s foot mostly affects the soles, sides of the feet and toes. If left untreated, fungal nail infections will likely result.

Athlete’s foot can present itself in a range of ways, including itchy, raw skin that splits and bleeds, or very dry skin. Treatments are usually in powder, cream or spray form and patients should be advised to dry their feet thoroughly after washing. They should also be encouraged to wear clean socks every day and not to walk around barefoot – particularly in swimming pools and public changing areas.

Fungal nail infections

Fungal nail infections typically occur on the toenails, especially on the big toe, but occasionally the fungus can grow on fingernails too.

This type of fungus thrives in environments that are warm and moist. It makes toenails ideal as they tend to be in shoes where the feet become warm and sweaty.

Nails that are infected with a fungal nail infection will usually be thick, brittle, dry and discoloured. Sometimes they even fall off altogether. An antifungal treatment will need to be applied every day for several months before an improvement is seen. Lacquered medications like Curanail are applied on to the nail directly and are a popular option.


Often a catch-all term for a generic fungal infection, ringworm is of course not a worm at all but occurs when the tinea corporis fungus infects the skin. When present in the feet it can lead to athlete’s foot; when it’s in the groin, it can cause another infection known as jock itch (tinea cruris).

Ringworm may also be present in beards or on the scalp. The main symptom of the condition is a silver or red rash which can be swollen, itchy or dry. Antifungal medication in the form of a gel, cream or spray is frequently prescribed.

Ringworm is more likely to occur when people share unclean towels, bedding and clothing. With this in mind you should advise your patients to wash everything on a hot wash and not to share with anyone else whilst infected.

As a healthcare practitioner, are you confident in spotting the most common skin infections?

If you would like to explore this area in more detail, our course Recognising and managing acute skin conditions in primary care is ideal. Designed specifically for healthcare professionals including nurse practitioners, primary care nurses and other allied health professionals, it teaches you how to identify and treat the common fungal skin conditions you’re most likely to come across.

This 1-day course is delivered online via Zoom, making it perfect for learning in a socially distanced yet interactive way. The course is worth 7 hours of CPD. For more information and to book online go to our website. https://pduk.net/courses/19/Recognising-and-managing-acute-skin-conditions-in-primary-care


Clare Louise