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Common Childhood Fungal Infections & Six Reasons They Happen

March 31, 2022

Updated December 2022

Cluster-of-white-petals-on-a-flowering-plant for-childhood-fungal-infections

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.

How does a Child get a Fungal Infection?

  • Like in adults, fungal infections in babies and young children occur most often in the body’s warm, moist or humid parts. 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
  • 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 – some of us sweat a lot more than others, which 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 rare in children, can put them 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

Fungal Infections of Newborn Children

Newborn babies can get fungal infections. Here’s a look at which infections they often develop:

Oral Thrush

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:

Read – Your Complete Guide to Yeast 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:

  • 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 a clue to this infection.

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

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:

  • The skin in the groin and bottom is 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, as acidic urine will hurt the sore skin areas.
  • Fever is not often a feature of nappy dermatitis. However, the skin can develop a bacterial infection if not treated promptly.
    • The treatment in both conditions is 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 – allowing 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.). 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.

childhood fungal infections

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, 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

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!

More Reading

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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