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Candidiasis of the Skin (Cutaneous Candidiasis)

What is candidiasis of the skin?

Different types of bacteria and fungi live and grow on your skin. Most of them aren’t dangerous. Your body requires the majority of them to carry out normal functions. However, some can cause infections when they begin to multiply uncontrollably.

The Candida fungus is one of these potentially harmful organisms. When an overgrowth of Candida develops on the skin, an infection can occur. This condition is known as candidiasis of the skin, or cutaneous candidiasis.

Candidiasis of the skin often causes a red, itchy rash to form, most commonly in the folds of the skin. This rash may also spread to other areas of the body. While the symptoms are often bothersome, they can usually be treated with improved hygiene and antifungal creams or powders.

What are the symptoms of candidiasis of the skin?

The main symptom of candidiasis of the skin is a rash. The rash often causes redness and intense itching. In some cases, the infection can cause the skin to become cracked and sore. Blisters and pustules may also occur.

The rash can affect various parts the body, but it’s most likely to develop in the folds of the skin. This includes areas in the armpits, in the groin, between the fingers, and under the breasts. Candida can also cause infections in the nails, edges of the nails, and corners of the mouth.

Other conditions that may resemble candidiasis of the skin include:

What causes candidiasis of the skin?

Candidiasis of the skin develops when the skin becomes infected with Candida. A small amount of Candida fungi naturally live on the skin. When this type of fungus begins to multiply uncontrollably, however, it can cause an infection. This may occur because of:

  • warm weather
  • tight clothing
  • poor hygiene
  • infrequent undergarment changes
  • obesity
  • the use of antibiotics that kill harmless bacteria that keep Candida under control
  • the use of corticosteroids or other medications that affect the immune system
  • a weakened immune system as a result of diabetes, pregnancy, or another medical condition
  • incomplete drying of damp or wet skin

Candida fungi thrive and grow in warm, moist areas. This is why the condition often affects areas where there are folds of skin.

Babies can also develop candidiasis of the skin, especially on the buttocks. A diaper tends to provide an ideal environment for Candida.

Candidiasis of the skin usually isn’t contagious. However, people with weakened immune systems may develop the condition after touching the skin of an infected person. Those with compromised immune systems are also more likely to develop a severe infection as a result of candidiasis.

How is candidiasis of the skin diagnosed?

Your doctor will likely be able to make a diagnosis simply by performing a physical examination. During the exam, they’ll inspect the location of your rash and the appearance of your skin.

Your doctor may also want to perform a skin culture before making a diagnosis of candidiasis of the skin. During a skin culture, your doctor will rub a cotton swab over the affected area and collect a skin sample. The sample will then be sent to a laboratory to be tested for the presence of Candida.

How is candidiasis of the skin treated?

Candidiasis of the skin can usually be prevented with home remedies, the most important of which is proper hygiene. Washing the skin regularly and drying the skin thoroughly can prevent the skin from becoming too moist. This is vital to keeping Candida infections at bay.

There are many lifestyle changes you can make to both prevent and treat a candidiasis infection.

Since abnormal blood sugar levels can contribute to the development of Candida infections, keeping your blood sugar under control may also help relieve symptoms. You may be able to lower your blood sugar by reducing the amount of sugar in your diet and by exercising for 30 minutes at least three times per week. If you have diabetes, it’s important to continue following your doctor’s instructions as you may need to start receiving oral medications or an increased amount of insulin.

In severe or persistent cases of candidiasis, your doctor may recommend using an antifungal cream or powder that can be applied to your skin. Over-the-counter antifungal creams that are often recommended include clotrimazole (Mycelex), miconazole (Monistat), and tioconazole (Vagistat). This type of treatment can kill Candida and reduce the spread of the infection.

Your doctor may prescribe an antifungal cream such as nystatin or ketoconazole if the over-the-counter treatments aren’t effective. If the infection has already spread to areas inside your body, such as your throat or mouth, you may need to take an oral antifungal to get rid of it.

Cutaneous candidiasis in babies

Cutaneous candidiasis (or candidiasis present on skin, nails, or hair) is a common occurrence in infants and babies.

Candidiasis-related diaper rash is one of the most frequently occurring candidiasis infections in babies. This rash is typically red with a well-defined border, and normally lasts more than three days. Treatment includes changing the infant’s diaper frequently and allowing them to wear loose-fitting clothes on top of the diaper. The antifungal nystatin may be prescribed.

Oral thrush is another common occurrence in newborns and infants under 6 months old. Symptoms can include cracked skin in the corners of the mouth and whitish patches on the lips, tongue, or inside of the cheeks. Your doctor can prescribe an antifungal medication that’s applied to the infant’s mouth several times a day.

If candidiasis infection is left untreated, it can enter the bloodstream and spread. See your doctor if you believe your baby has candidiasis.

Cutaneous candidiasis in children

Although healthy children have strong immune systems, a 2010 study found that the rate of topical fungal infections among children is increasing rapidly. Children sometimes develop candidiasis infections after receiving antibiotics that treat another condition. Children who suck their thumbs may be prone to developing candidiasis infections in or around their nail beds.

If your child is 9 months or older and has reoccurring thrush or skin infections, this could point to an underlying health concern, such as HIV or another problem with the immune system. Older children with frequent or severe skin infections should also be tested for diabetes.

What is the outlook for someone with candidiasis of the skin?

Candidiasis of the skin usually goes away with treatment, and most people make a full recovery without complications. If treated, the candidiasis typically resolves within one to two weeks. Without prescription treatment, recovery can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the severity of the infection. 

Even with treatment, it is possible for the infection to return in the future. People with compromised immune systems, especially people who are undergoing chemotherapy and those with HIV or AIDS, are at a much higher risk of severe or life-threatening Candida infections. If you’re undergoing chemotherapy or you have HIV or AIDs and you develop severe throat pain, headache, or high fevers, you should see your doctor immediately.

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Content licensed from:

Written by: Rachel Nall and Ana Gotter
Medically reviewed on: Oct 13, 2016: Laura Marusinec, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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