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Giving fungal infections the boot

If you start to notice that you’ve got itchy toes or see white or brittle patches on your fingernails, you could have a fungal infection.

Fungi, the organisms that cause fungal infections, grow on the top layer of skin. They need a warm, moist place to thrive and especially like hot, sweaty skin. That’s why athlete’s foot – or tinea pedis – is so common between the toes.

A fungal infection can be easily caught from someone else if you share clothes or shoes or touch their infected skin. You can also pick up a fungal infection by being in contact with wet surfaces like bathroom floors, showers, swimming pool changing rooms, even towels and bathmats.

Recognising the different types

Fungal infections are named according to the part of the body that’s infected. The three most common infections are:

Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis)

Athlete’s foot can infect the skin in between the toes and on the soles of the feet. Look out for skin that’s red, dry and scaly, or white and soggy. You may feel itching, burning or stinging. If you notice the skin becoming very red, swollen or oozing, see your doctor – you could have a bacterial infection as well.


Fungal infections of the nails are also known as onychomycosis. They are often caused by athlete’s foot spreading to the nail. Toenails tend to be much more commonly affected than fingernails. The nail may look thick and discoloured – either white or yellowish – and may be brittle or crumbly.

Pityriasis versicolor

Pityriasis versicolor typically occurs on the neck, shoulders or trunk. It causes blotchy skin patches that may have scales and are usually itchy. If you’re dark-skinned, the patches appear white. Fair-skinned people get red-brown patches. Pityriasis versicolor is not contagious but is more common in hot, humid climates. People who sweat heavily can be more prone to it.

Treating fungal infections

Your Unichem Pharmacist can recommend a suitable antifungal treatment after having a quick consultation with you to find out the location and how long you have had it.

It’s really important to use your treatment as often as directed (usually once or twice a day) and for at least a week after the infection has gone to prevent it from recurring. If your Pharmacist thinks you require a prescription medicine for a severe or bacterial infection, they’ll refer you to your doctor.

To help the treatment work most effectively, try to do the following:

  • Avoid scratching so you don’t spread the infection

  • Clean your shower or bath with a bleach-based product

  • Wash bathmats, towels and socks in hot water to kill the fungus (at least 60 degrees C)

  • Keep the affected area clean and dry particularly between the toes and in skin folds

How to keep infections from coming back

Unfortunately, fungal spores can survive for long periods. You can lessen your chances of getting a fungal infection by following these simple steps:

  • Wear jandals or sandals at public pools and in sports changing rooms – try not to walk barefoot where other barefoot people have been

  • Avoid wearing the same clothing for long periods and try not to wear non-breathable clothing like wet weather gear or nylon pantyhose for too long

  • Carefully dry your skin after showering or swimming, especially between the toes

  • Don’t share towels, sheets or personal clothing

  • Wear open-toed sandals when possible

If you think you may have a fungal infection, come into your local Unichem to talk to your Pharmacist in private for advice and treatment options.


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