Sun, heat, sweat … the favourite combination for fungi that love the summer more than any other season of year.
How to stay away from the undesirable vacation “friends”
Humid and warm environment attracts fungi, and it makes them to look for a “nest” in the human body. Read all you should know so they don’t choose yours!
Summer is by far the season of fungal infections. Humidity and warm weather enhance the development and transmission of fungi, which attack their victims taking advantage of the relaxed summertime mood. Dermatophytes constitute the greatest threat. These are the fungi which are responsible for feet infections (tinea pedis or “athlete’s foot”), hands infections (tinea manus), infections of the scalp (tinea capitis), the face (tinea faciei), the groin area (tinea cruris) as well as the torso (tinea corporis). Almost all areas of the body are exposed to these micro-organisms, which develop in the outer layer of the skin and, in general, they appear as a round-shaped rash, which is red in the perimeter with healthy-looking skin in the center.
Dermatophytes are fed by the dead cells of the skin, hair and nails. They are transmitted from human to human through skin contact, as well as from animals to humans (infected dog, cat, rodent, rabbit, goat, pig and horse), from objects to humans (contaminated clothing, towel, blanket, hair brush, etc. ), or from the ground, the soil or any other surface. The latter is the most threatening case during summer, as we sometimes tend to walk with naked feet while on holidays, both on the beach and the swimming pool, but also in other public places. Apart from this, during holidays people tend to be more relaxed, and they may sit on another person’s towel or sunbed at the beach, or come in contact with animals they don’t know.
Apart from contact with infected people, animals, objects and surfaces, other risk factors include excessive sweating, participation in team sports and coming in contact with other players (beach volleyball for example), wearing tightly fitted clothes, as well as the weakened immune system.
This “enemy” can attack all parts of your body
When fungi infect the skin of the trunk (tinea corporis), they usually prefer the back and they appear as ring-like red spots, which may be accompanied by pustules, exfoliation scars, itching or a feeling of pain.
When fungi infect the scalp (tinea capitis), they may cause bald patches, while if fungi development is also present on the face (tinea faciei), they present as red spots, with irregular shape in most cases. Dermatophytes that infect hands (tinea manus) usually prefer the palms and the areas between the fingers, causing hyperkeratosis. Tinea manus is often observed together with a feet fungal infection (tinea pedis), which presents as inflammation and scaling between the toes. Sometimes it is also accompanied by itching, burning sensation and pain of the soles.
In more rare cases dermatophytes infect the groin area (tinea cruris), causing itching, redness, burning sensation and exfoliation of the area, as well as the genitals and perianal region. During summer the genital area is at greater risk by another type of fungi, yeast fungi. Although these microorganisms can coexist at normal levels with other bacteria in the vagina, the disturbance of this balance may cause their overgrowth, presenting as vaginitis. The symptoms include irritation of the vagina and vulva, itching and burning sensation (especially during urination and sexual penetration), and increased vaginal discharge.
Especially frequent during the holidays is the Toenail fungus, which can be caused by both dermatophytes and yeasts. The problem is at first presented with a white or yellow spot under the nail surface (either in the hands or feet) but as it expands, may cause discoloration, fattening, splitting and cracking of the nail.
Onychomycosis is also very common during summer holidays. Onychomycosis may be caused both due to dermatophytes and due to yeast fungi. Initially, what is observed is a white or yellow spot below the nail’s surface (on the hands or feet), but as it progresses, it may lead to the discolouration, thickening, splitting or even breaking of the nail.
Diagnosis and treatment
The good news is that fungal infections are rarely transmitted to other areas apart from the skin’s surface causing more serious problems. However, if the organism is weakened by some other disease or condition, then it may be difficult to completely treat fungi and avoid their re-occurrence.
Diagnosis is achieved through careful observation by a dermatologist using a microscope or through the collection and culture of a sample. In order to treat the skin infection and onychomycosis, usually a topically applied anti-fungal medication is prescribed (in the form of a lotion, cream or ointment) or medications administered per os (pill, capsule, tablet). The only possible side effects due to the use of drugs is gastrointenstinal disturbances, rash or hepatic dysfunction. In the case of vaginitis a topically applied cream is administered, while sometimes it may also be necessary to administer a vaginal suppository.
Be careful so you DON’T get fungal infections
Since fungi are enemies that may be found anywhere, it is important that you are alert as well. Ten tips to avoid the undesirable effects of fungal infections:
- Do not wear heavy or tight clothing during summertime, which may increase the levels of sweating. Try to wear light cotton clothes.
- Have frequent showers during the day, so that to keep your skin clean. Do not forget to dry well all parts of your body, paying particular attention to body’s cavities and the areas between the nails and toes.
- Don’t stay too long with your wet swimming swit.
- Avoid lying on the sand, sunbed or elsewhere on the beach without using a towel. Use clean sea towels and change them frequently. Try to avoid using other people’s towels.
- Do not use personal care products that belong to other people, such as brushes, make-up products, body lotions, and avoid sharing your personal care products with other people.
- Do not wear winter, tight or sport shoes during summer months. If you do so use some antifungal spray in the shoes.
- If you use cotton socks, try to change them often as they keep the sweat on your feet.
- Do not walk without your flip flops or shoes around the swimming pools, on the beach, in the changing room, shower area or other public places.
- During summer avoid hot baths, saunas and steam rooms.
- Make sure your nails are short, dry and clean. Take special care not to cut the nails’ corners. Make sure that the both hygiene and sterilisation rules are followed in the places you visit for cosmetic services.