Tinea Versicolor

By:    Published: June 21, 2012

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Tinea versicolor is a fungal skin infection that many people are not familiar with. And, while it is not considered serious, it can be quite bothersome due to skin discoloration and irritation.

What Is Tinea Versicolor?

Also known as pityriasis versicolor, tinea versicolor is an overgrowth of the yeast that naturally lives on a person’s skin. Tinea versicolor is caused by the fungus Pityrosporum ovale, a type of yeast that interferes with the pigmentation of the skin. This same strain of yeast is also one of the causes of dandruff. The condition is not harmful, nor is it contagious, but it can be distasteful to some because of the rash and discoloration that are associated with it. However, neither of these symptoms are permanent.

Tinea versicolor causes a distinctive rash on the torso, chest, under arms, back and shoulders. The rash can be extremely itchy and uncomfortable. Scratching can lead to secondary infection if the skin is broken.

In some people, the patchy rash causes the skin to become lighter because the patches keep skin from tanning. This leads some to confuse it with a condition called vitiligo, which causes the skin to lose its color, but they are very different skin conditions.

Symptoms

Tinea versicolor presents as an extremely thin layer of fungus on the skin. This layer of fungus causes:

  • Patches of discolored skin: the patches can be light (white or pink), tan or dark brown, depending upon the person's skin tone. The patches are usually dry and scaly.
  • Rash: slowly growing rash that becomes more noticeable after sun exposure and is confined to the torso, chest, upper back and neck. The yeast prevents the skin from tanning.
  • Itching: this can range from mild to severe and may get worse when exposed to high heat or sunlight.
  • Increased sweating.

Causes And Risk Factors

It is still unclear as to why some people develop tinea versicolor and others don't. There are several factors that are thought to influence the over growth of yeast on the skin. It affects people of all skin colors though people who fit the following criteria are more likely to develop it this skin condition:

  • Those with oily skin.
  • Those who experience excessive sweating.
  • Those who dwell in a tropical or subtropical climate. It isn't uncommon for people to see tinea versicolor disappear during cold, dry winter months, only to have it reappear when the weather gets warm again.
  • Those with a weakened immune system.
  • Those experiencing hormonal changes (such as pubescent boys and girls).

Other factors that contribute to tinea versicolor include:

  • Age: Teenagers and young adults are more likely to be affected.
  • Sex: Men are more susceptible than women, though it is possible for women to get it as well.
  • Environment: Aside from living in a tropical or subtropical climate, those who work outdoors or in high heat environments such as engine rooms on ships, metal factories, mining, etc. are more likely to be affected.

Treatment

Treatment for tinea versicolor will depend upon the severity, but can usually be treated at home with over-the-counter products. There are three categories of products to choose from:

  • Topical medications: Topical medications are anti-fungal creams, sprays and powders that contain ingredients that kill various types of yeast. While they are usually intended for athlete's foot or vaginal yeast infections, the same medications can be effective at treating this type of yeast infection as well. These medications contain ketoconazole, miconazole, clotrimazole, turbinafine or other antifungal medications that work just as well.
  • Medicated washes: Medicated washes come mostly in the form of dandruff shampoos, but they can be used on the entire body. Most contain pyrithione zinc, though some contain selenium sulfide or other active ingredients. Even when tinea versicolor goes away, it’s a good idea to keep using the wash once or twice a week to keep yeast from growing out of control again.
  • Oral medications: Typically, these are prescription medications such as diflucan. These types of medications are often used to treat vaginal yeast infections, but they can be just as effective at treating yeast infections of the skin.

If none of these treatments work, see a doctor as there are more options available by prescription. If one treatment becomes ineffective after a while, try another.

Tinea versicolor can be embarrassing and uncomfortable, but it certainly is not the end of the world. With treatment symptoms will soon resolve themselves, and with time skin color will return to normal. However, it is important to remember that tinea versicolor can reoccur, so be sure to speak with your doctor to come up with a suitable treatment plan.

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