Tinea versicolor which is also known as pityriasis versicolor is a common fungal infection that affects the skin. The fungus interrupts the normal pigmentation of the skin causing small patches of discoloured skin. The patches may be lighter or darker compared to surrounding skin and it usually affects the shoulders and trunk.
Tinea versicolor usually occurs in teenagers and young adults and exposure to the sun can make the problem more apparent. Antifungal topical formulations and shampoos can be used to treat it but the discoloration of the skin may remain for a few months. The problem typically recurs especially when the weather is warm and humid.
Signs and Symptoms
The common symptoms of the infection are:
- The skin appears whitish in color, tan, dark brown or light red.
- Mild itching of the affected area.
- The skin discoloration becomes more noticeable after exposure to the sun.
If self-care measures do not improve the skin or the fungal infection recurs, it would be best to see your doctor for the appropriate treatment. This is also the case if the patches cover a large area of the body. This will also help determine if the problem really is tinea versicolor or another skin problem.
Causes and Risk Factors
The fungus that causes tinea versicolor can actually be found on the skin of health individuals. It only causes problems when there is an overgrowth of the fungus. There are certain factors that trigger such growth like:
- Hot and humid weather
- Excessive sweating
- Wearing tight clothing
- Thick clothing especially during warm and humid days
- Poor hygiene
- The use of heavy skin care formulations
- Oily Skin
- Hormonal fluctuations like from menstruation or certain medications
- Having a weakened immune system
Tests and Diagnosis
Doctors can usually diagnose tinea versicolor just by inspecting the rash. Sometimes, the doctor will use ultraviolet light which will determine if it is tinea versicolor or not. With ultraviolet light, the affected areas will appear fluorescent yellow-green in color.
A skin sample may also be taken for inspection under a microscope. In children, skin cells samples can be lifted by attaching a clear tape on the affected area and then removing it. The sample will be stuck directly onto a slide for inspection under a microscope.
Before your trip to your doctor, make sure to prepare your answers to questions like how long the discoloration has been present, if the symptoms are occasional or continuous and if there are things that improve the symptoms.
Treatments and Medications
Tinea versocolor can be treated using creams, gels or shampoos that are directly applied on the skin. In some cases, medication in the form of pills can also be given. The type of treatment depends on the location, size and severity of the infection.
Different Treatment Options
- Topical Anti-Fungals – These are formulations that are applied directly to the skin. They control the growth of yeast using active ingredients like zinc, selenium sulphide, pyrithione, clotrimazole, micanazole and terbinafine. In severe cases, prescription medications may be needed.
- Anti-Fungal Pills – This is often for serious cases of tinea versicolor or if the problem is recurrent. In some cases, these are used for simple and faster treatment of the infection. The medicines require a prescription since they can cause side effects.
The treatment gets rid of the fungal infection although the skin discoloration may take several weeks or months to disappear.
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Precaution and Self Care
Because the yeast that causes tinea versicolor normally lives on the skin, it is very common for episodes to recur. To help prevent the problem from recurring, medicated cleansers may be used every two to four weeks.
These cleansers are recommended if the infection keeps recurring especially if the patient lives in a warm and humid area.
Here are some tips for managing tinea versicolor:
- Do not use skin products that contain heavy oils.
- Avoid prolonged sun exposure to prevent triggering or worsening episodes.
- Use an anti-fungal shampoo and soap if you are regularly exposed to the sun.
- Use sunscreen every day even during cloudy days.
- Do not wear clothing that it too tight.
- Wear fabrics that are breathable like cotton to reduce sweating.
- Take a shower daily or more frequently if you sweat a lot.
- Regularly change your beddings.
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To prevent the recurrence of tinea versicolor, doctors can prescribe topical or oral treatments that are used once or twice a month. The preventive treatments include selenium sulphide 2% shampoo, ketoconazole tablets, foam, cream or shampoo and itraconazole tablets/capsules.
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