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Understanding Common Fungal Skin Conditions in Primary Care

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Fungal skin conditions are prevalent in primary care settings, presenting a spectrum of symptoms and treatment challenges. As healthcare professionals, it's crucial to have a comprehensive understanding of these conditions to provide accurate diagnoses and effective management strategies. Let's delve into some of the most common fungal skin conditions encountered in primary care.

Tinea Infections:

Tinea infections, also known as ringworm, are caused by dermatophyte fungi and can affect various body parts. Tinea corporis affects the body, tinea pedis affects the feet (athlete's foot), tinea cruris affects the groin (jock itch), and tinea capitis affects the scalp. These infections typically present as circular, red, scaly lesions with raised borders. Diagnosis often involves clinical examination and may require microscopic examination of skin scrapings or fungal cultures for confirmation.


Candidiasis is caused by Candida species, commonly Candida albicans. It can manifest as intertrigo in skin folds, oral thrush, or vulvovaginal candidiasis. In primary care, intertrigo is frequently encountered, presenting as red, moist, macerated areas in skin folds such as the groin or under the breasts. Diagnosis is usually clinical, but confirmation through microscopy or culture may be necessary in refractory cases or when other diagnoses are suspected.

Pityriasis Versicolor:

Pityriasis versicolor, also known as tinea versicolor, is caused by Malassezia species. It presents as hypo- or hyperpigmented macules on the trunk, neck, and arms. The lesions may be scaly and can be more noticeable after sun exposure due to the fungus's effect on melanin production. Diagnosis is often clinical but can be confirmed through microscopic examination using potassium hydroxide (KOH) preparation.


Onychomycosis is a fungal infection of the nails, commonly caused by dermatophytes, Candida, or non-dermatophyte molds. It can lead to thickened, discoloured, brittle nails with subungual debris. Diagnosis involves clinical examination and may require nail clippings for microscopy or culture. Treatment can be challenging and often requires prolonged antifungal therapy.

Tinea Versicolor:

Tinea versicolor, also known as pityriasis versicolor, is caused by the yeast Malassezia furfur. It presents as hypo- or hyperpigmented patches on the trunk and upper arms, often more noticeable after sun exposure. Diagnosis is typically clinical, but microscopic examination of skin scrapings can confirm the presence of the yeast hyphae and spores.


Dermatophytosis refers to fungal infections caused by dermatophytes, such as Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epidermophyton species. These infections can affect the skin, hair, and nails, leading to various clinical presentations. Diagnosis involves clinical assessment, including Wood's lamp examination for some species, and may require microscopy or culture for confirmation.

Tinea Capitis:

Tinea capitis is a fungal infection of the scalp, primarily affecting children but can also occur in adults. It presents with scaling, erythema, and hair loss, and can sometimes lead to kerion formation, characterized by boggy, inflamed plaques. Diagnosis often involves scalp examination, including Wood's lamp assessment and fungal culture for definitive identification.

Management of fungal skin conditions in primary care typically involves topical or oral antifungal agents, depending on the severity and extent of the infection. Patient education regarding hygiene practices, such as keeping skin dry and avoiding sharing personal items, is also essential to prevent recurrence and transmission.

In conclusion, fungal skin conditions are common in primary care and require a systematic approach to diagnosis and management. Healthcare professionals should be familiar with the clinical presentations, diagnostic techniques, and treatment options to provide optimal care for patients with these conditions. Collaboration with dermatologists may be necessary for refractory cases or when there is diagnostic uncertainty, ensuring comprehensive and effective management.

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Hainer, B. L., Dermatophyte Infections. American Family Physician, 2018. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30071793/