Common Childhood Fungal Infections & Six Reasons They Happen
March 31, 2022
Updated December 2022
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, 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.
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 allow 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:
Treatment of oral thrush is fairly straightforward.
Your doctor will prescribe oral antifungal gel (or drops) applied to 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 and 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:
Oral thrush can certainly occur in older children given the right conditions – (poor nutrition, chronic ill-health etc.). Still, 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)
An intensely itchy rash and a vaginal discharge are the usual symptoms for girls. 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 with a red, inflamed, dark, and sore penis in the privates. 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 case 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.
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, ensure 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 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. The infection can sometimes 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 the infection we know as scalp ringworm
They appear similar to adults, but ideally, have your kids seen by a doctor rather than using over-the-counter antifungal treatments.
Fungal infections can occur anywhere in the body in children, just as 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 various healthcare conditions to promote quality healthcare. The advice in our material is not meant to replace a qualified healthcare practitioner’s management of your specific condition.
To discuss your condition, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a health practitioner or reach us directly
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