Fungal Infections

What is a fungal infection?

Fungi are organisms like mushrooms, molds, and yeasts. As parasites they live on or in other plants or animals. Some fungi live on humans and cause skin disease. Some fungal infections are called tinea.

Here are some common types of fungal infections:

  • Body ringworm is a fungal infection on the body. 
  • Scalp ringworm is a fungal infection of the scalp. It occurs most commonly in young children.
  • Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection of the foot. It is more common in teens and older people.
  • Nail fungus is rare in children.

See Tinea Versicolor and Oral Thrush for more information on some other fungal conditions.

Signs and symptoms of a fungal infection

Body ringworm (tinea corporis)

  • circular or oval flaky patches with raised, mildly reddened borders
  • itchiness
  • an inflamed area possibly oozing pus

Scalp ringworm (tinea capitis)

  • one or more patches of hair loss
  • black dots on the scalp
  • scaly and itchy patches
  • short broken hairs
  • raised tender boggy areas (kerion)

Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis)

  • cracked, sore skin between toes
  • itchiness and raw skin
  • nails may become thick and discoloured
  • the sole of the foot may become involved

Causes of fungal infections

Fungal infections happen when fungi attack the outer layer of skin on the scalp or body. Some fungal infections need warm, moist, unclean skin to grow. Encourage your child to adopt good hygiene practices to prevent fungal infections.

Children can catch ringworm directly from an infected person, pet, or soil. Your child can also catch the infection from hats, combs, clothing, or household items such as carpets.

Unclean, sweaty feet can lead to athlete’s foot in adolescents. It can also be caught after walking barefoot on floors of locker rooms and showers at community pools and gyms.

Treating a fungal infection

For a fungal infection affecting the body or face, your child’s doctor will recommend antifungal lotion. If the infection is widespread or if the scalp is affected, your child’s doctor may prescribe an antifungal drug to be taken by mouth.

For athlete’s foot, there are specialized sprays, powders, and creams are available at your pharmacy. The most effective topical agents are terbinafine, azoles, and ciclopiroxolamine.

Preventing fungal infections

Fungal infections can spread by direct person to person contact. Encourage your child to stay away from infected people or pets. Have your pets examined if fungal infections are suspected. Discourage your child from sharing personal items like combs or hats with friends. Encourage good hygiene and use of shoes in public places.

Key points

  • Athlete’s foot is common in teens.
  • Nail fungus is rare in children.
  • Discourage your child from sharing personal items like combs or hats with friends.
  • Over-the-counter antifungal lotion usually helps relieve the irritation. If the infection is more severe or the scalp is affected, oral medication may be prescribed by your child’s doctor. 

Sheila Jacobson, MBBCh, FRCPC


Bell-Syer SEM, Hart R, Crawford F, Torgerson DJ, Tyrrell W, Russell I. Oral treatments for fungal infections of the skin of the foot.. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2002, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD003584. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003584.

Crawford F, Hollis S. Topical treatments for fungal infections of the skin and nails of the foot. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD001434. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001434.pub2.