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Don't let fungal infections take the fun out of summer

A man rests his feet on top of a pair of sneakers and socks.
Sweaty sneakers can be a perfect habitat for fungus.

At any given time, there are probably dozens of types of microscopic fungus living on and inside your body. Don’t be alarmed: it’s totally normal and most of the time these fungi don’t cause any issues. But sometimes, fungus growth can get out of control or cause unwanted symptoms – this is called a fungal infection.  

What is fungus?

Fungi are living organisms, just like plants and animals. Humans actually eat some types of fungus, like mushrooms and yeast, and if you’ve ever pulled a furry piece of bread from the bottom of the packet, the mould you encountered was a type of fungus, too.

Common types of fungus found in or on the human body include Candida, a yeast fungus that can cause thrush, and Epdermophyton, Trichophyton and Microsporum, which can cause the different types of tinea.

Fungal infections in summer

While fungal infections can happen all year round, we can be particularly susceptible to some, such as thrush and tinea, during summer. Fungi thrive in warm and moist conditions, making areas of the body that get sweaty in summer perfect habitats. Activities that are common in summer, like using public showers at pools and beaches, can also help fungi spread.

Signs of a fungal infection

Symptoms of a fungal infection on the skin can include a red flaky rash; cracked, split or peeling skin; blistering and itching. One type of tinea called tinea corporis, or ringworm, forms a rash in a circular ring pattern (rest assured, there are no actual worms involved!). Tinea can happen anywhere on the body, but is common on the feet, groin, scalp and nails.

Symptoms of vaginal thrush can include: itchiness, soreness or burning in the vagina during or after sex; discharge that is often thick and white; a change in smell of vaginal secretions; and redness and inflammation of the vulva.

Symptoms of genital thrush in men can include: the head of the penis becoming itchy, red or sore; red spots on the head of the penis; or a thick, white substance collecting under the foreskin.

Treating a fungal infection

The good news is that most fungal infections can be easily treated with over-the-counter medication. See your pharmacist for advice on the right type of medication to take, or book an appointment with your GP. Women who are pregnant should speak with their GP before taking medication for thrush.

Follow our tips below for preventing fungal infections this summer, and get some information on treating them if you do get infected.

A woman sits on a pool chair in her swimming togs, book resting beside her.

Keep clean and dry

Good personal hygiene practices can help keep fungus at bay. Keeping your skin clean and dry is one of the best ways to prevent fungal infections. Wash your body regularly and dry off thoroughly, before putting on clean, dry clothes.

Change your undies, socks and gym gear daily

Clothes that get sweaty or are in close contact with the body, like underwear, should be changed each day, or after you exercise. Make sure you put on fresh clothes each time you go to the gym or work out.  

Dry those sweaty shoes

Closed-in shoes, like sneakers, can create a perfect environment for fungi to thrive, especially in warm and humid summer weather. Try to give shoes a chance to dry out after wearing them, and consider taking a second pair on holidays if they’ll get a lot of use or may get damp.

Change out of your togs after swimming

If you’ve been cooling off in the pool or at the beach, change out of soggy swimmers and into clean, dry clothing, to prevent fungal infections like thrush and jock itch.

Wear footwear in public showers and bathrooms

Protect your feet from fungus by wearing easy-to-dry shoes when using public showers and change rooms.

Look after your immune system

Looking after your body by eating a well-balanced diet and getting enough exercise and rest will help promote a healthy immune system which can keep fungus in check. Find out more about healthy eating and exercising at Healthier. Happier.

Last updated: 6 January 2020