Cutaneous candidiasis is an infection of the skin caused by the fungus candida. The body normally hosts a variety of microorganisms including bacteria and fungi. Some of these are useful to the body, some produce no harm or benefits, while others may cause harmful infections. Fungal infections are caused by microscopic organisms (fungi) that can live on
the skin. They can live on the dead tissues of the hair, nails and outer skin layers. Fungal infections include mold-like fungi (dermatophytes, which cause tinea infections) and yeast-like fungi (such as candida).
Cutaneous candidiasis involves infection of the skin with candida. It may involve almost any skin surface on the body, but usually occurs in warm, moist, creased areas (such as armpits and groins). Cutaneous candidiasis is fairly common. Candida is the most common cause of diaper rash in infants, where it takes advantage of the warm moist conditions inside the diaper. The most common fungus to cause these infections is Candida albicans.
Candida infection is particularly common in individuals with diabetes and in people who are obese. Antibiotics and oral contraceptives increase the risk of cutaneous candidiasis. Candida can also cause infections of the nail, referred to as onychomycosis, and infections around the corners of the mouth, called angular cheilitis.
Oral thrush, a form of candida infection found on the mucous membranes of the mouth, may be a sign of HIV infection or other immunodeficiency disorders when it occurs in adults. Infected individuals are not usually considered infectious to others, though in some settings transmission to immunocompromised people can occur. The human body contains a vast number of different micro-organisms, including fungi, both on the inside and on the outside. Some of these micro-organisms are beneficial. Others have no effect until either there is a change in their nature or there is a decrease in the body's resistance to them. This allows one type to grow excessively and leads to an infection - a fungal infection of the skin.
In principle, Candida albicans can infect all areas of the skin as well as the mucous membranes but it prefers warm moist places. Infections by Candida albicans, especially the variants that are found in the mucous membranes or the genitals, are contagious. They can be spread from person to person by direct contact, by sexual contact and indirectly by damp towels or flannels. Bringing the cause of the infection under control may mean losing weight, better hygiene or regulation of a person's diabetes.
The doctor may also offer a local treatment of the fungus with some of the medications shown below. The doctor will often choose a combined treatment consisting of an antifungal cream and a corticosteroid (an anti-inflammatory hormone), which makes the red itchy patches go away. In difficult cases, or where the infection is spreading, the doctor will offer a systemic treatment, possibly by injection.
General hygiene is vital to the treatment of cutaneous candidiasis; keeping the skin dry and exposed to air is helpful. Weight loss may eliminate the problem in obese people, and good sugar control in diabetics may also be helpful. Topical antifungal medications may be used to treat infection of the skin; systemic antifungal medications may be necessary for folliculitis or nail infection.