Common Childhood Fungal Infections & Six Reasons They Happen
Fungi are types of germs that exist all around us. Some (like mushrooms) can be eaten and others find use in fermentation as yeast for bread or alcohol production.
However, the harmful fungal types do exist and can affect adults and children.
On this page, let’s look at different types of children’s fungal infections – and why your kids might get them.
On This Page
How does a Child get a Fungal Infection?
- Just like in adults, fungal infections in babies and young children occur most often in warm, moist or humid parts of the body. Areas like the underarms, creases around the groin (between the top of legs), or between the buttocks are quite vulnerable to fungal infections simply because, by nature, they are less exposed to air
- Poor hygiene. Yes, this means not washing properly or regularly. But it can also mean using unwashed or poorly washed clothing. All these scenarios make the fungi very happy and encourage them to multiply.
- Particular examples are:
- damp socks, or socks that are not cleaned between each use,
- damp or unclean underwear, washcloths or other personal items that stay near the skin
- Particular examples are:
- Clothing that is prone to moisture: For this think of swimsuits and footwear; also PE (sports) trainers especially if they are tight-fitting; or school shoes and boots that don’t leave enough breathing room for the foot.
- Naturally sweaty – well some of us do sweat a lot more than others and this also applies to kids! So if you find your young person is extra sweat prone, taking the extra mile will help.
- Some health conditions although they are rare in children can put children at risk of fungal infections. They are poor circulation, diabetes, or human immunodeficiency virus, (HIV).
- A family history. Some families are more prone to fungal infections like Athlete’s foot than others. If this is the case in your family, you can take special steps to protect the skin and nails and reduce the risk of infections.
- Transfer from animals – pets such as guinea pigs, hamsters and other domestic animals can be a source from where fungus spores begin to grow on children’s skin or scalp.
Fungal infections of Newborn children
Newborn babies can get fungal infections. Here’s a look at which infections they often develop:
Most commonly newborn babies develop oral thrush, a yeast infection that affects the mouth caused by the fungus Candida.
Candida spores exist all around us and most often do not cause any problems. When the local environment where they exist changes, though, the fungus can overgrow to cause troublesome infections:
Back to thrush in the baby’s mouth, it is likely that the developing immune system in newborns cannot cope with Candida which exists on the mum’s breast or nipple teats.
The constant contact between the baby’s mouth and breast, the warmth and moisture provide an opportunity for the Candida to overgrow.
If you have vaginal thrush during labour and deliver your baby vaginally, they may develop thrush afterwards, too.
Symptoms and Treatment of Oral Thrush
If your baby has oral thrush:
- you may notice white patches in their mouth or tongue that don’t come off with gentle cleaning
- they may appear unhappy at feeding time and reluctant to root and suck at the nipple or bottle teat
- you may have pain or soreness in your nipples; they may become cracked – in most cases both mum and baby have the thrush infection or a reluctance to suck may be clues to this infection.
Treatment of oral thrush is fairly straightforward.
Your doctor will prescribe oral antifungal gel (or drops) applied within the mouth.
This should be given over the course of 7 days and clear up the infection. Remember to give the medicine to your baby after feeds so it has the chance to remain in the mouth for as long as possible
Breastfeeding mums of babies with oral thrush should also be treated with a course of antifungal creams applied over the nipples and ensure thorough cleaning and drying of the breasts in-between feeds.
Nappy dermatitis is a common fungal skin infection that babies and small children develop.
Again the moist, warm and humid environment around the groin suits the overgrowth of fungus on the skin leading to the condition.
Failing to change the nappy when soiled or wet, cleaning and drying the skin properly can make the chance of dermatitis more likely.
Symptoms and Treatment of Nappy Dermatitis
Infants with nappy dermatitis show the following:
- The skin in the groin and bottom are very sore and irritated. In extensive cases, they may be cracked and peeling.
- In addition to red or inflamed angry skin around the vulva or penis and scrotum and bottom, the child is very uncomfortable, crying a lot and refusing to settle.
- This can happen at nappy change or when passing urine given the acidic urine will hurt the sore skin areas.
- Fever is not often a feature of nappy dermatitis. However, if not treated promptly, the skin can develop a bacterial infection as well.
- The treatment in both conditions are different. For fungal infections, antifungal creams will treat the condition; but if there is a bacterial infection, antibacterial creams (or medicines) will be necessary.
- Young babies with rashes or other skin changes like dermatitis should see a Doctor, to ensure the right treatment in each case.
- Special care to ensure proper wiping when changing soiled nappies – allow baby some playtime on a baby mat exposed without the nappy can also help clear up the infection quickly.
Fungal Infections in Older Children
Oral thrush can certainly occur in older children given the right conditions – (poor nutrition, chronic ill-health etc); but in otherwise healthy children, genital thrush (around the private areas) is more common.
Vulva candidiasis in girls and Candida balanitis in boys are yeast infections that affect the genital organs.
Genital Thrush infection in girls (vulva candidiasis)
For girls, an intensely itchy rash, and a vaginal discharge are the usual symptoms. Painful urination is also one of the symptoms. Genital thrush is not a sexually transmitted infection. Some of the reasons we already discussed above can lead to genital thrush in a young girl under the age of 16 years. These are poor hygiene or damp underclothing or swimsuits.
Genital Thrush in boys (candida balanitis)
Boys may have a very intense itchy rash in the privates with red, inflamed or very dark and sore penis. In both these conditions, there is pain with passing urine.
Maintaining careful hygiene and ensuring these areas are kept clean and dry especially after passing urine or stool, and wearing fresh underwear regularly helps make these infections less likely to happen.
In any cases of genital irritation, it is important to be on the lookout for signs of sexual abuse in the child and report to your doctor if you have such concerns.
Children’s Fungal nail Infection
The nails are an extension of your skin. They can also become affected by fungi even though to a lesser degree than skin or scalp conditions.
To reduce the chance of fungal toenail infections if your children swim, make sure they always wear footgear in the changing rooms and showers.
Make sure they dry their feet completely after a swim and shower – before getting back into outdoor or regular shoes.
Symptoms and Treatment of Fungal Nail Infections
Generally, the toenails look rough and discoloured. The surrounding skin may look pale or in some cases cracking, peeling or blistering (Athlete’s foot). There is generally no pain, but the skin could develop a bacterial infection if ignored for a long time.
Treatment is using antifungals which come in the form of creams, powders, nail lacquers or sprays. For nail disease which has not responded to the topical treatments, medicines taken by mouth can be used with great care given the potential effects they may have on the liver.
Fungal Scalp Infections
Fungal scalp infections can also be a challenging problem in some children.
Think of fungal scalp infection as well when faced with an itchy scalp, loss of hair in patches or some soreness and inflammation. In some cases, the infection can lead to permanent hair loss if not treated correctly.
Frequently wet and damp hair or cuts to the scalp can give fungi access to the tissue underneath allowing infection we know as scalp ringworm
They appear in a similar way to adults but ideally, have your kids seen by a doctor rather than using over-the-counter antifungal treatments.
Fungal infections can occur anywhere on the body in children just as they do in adults.
Many skin infections may not require more than 2-3 weeks of treatment, but nail or scalp conditions may require much longer.
Nail treatments may take 6-9 months to clear the infection.
What’s been your experience of fungal infections with children – how hard was it to get the right diagnosis and treatment? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Editing by AskAwayHealth Team
All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality health care. The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
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