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Tinea versicolor

Definition

Tinea versicolor is a long-term (chronic) fungal infection of the skin.

Alternative Names

Pityriasis versicolor

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Tinea versicolor is relatively common. It is caused by the fungus Pityrosporum ovale, a type of yeast that is normally found on human skin. It only causes problems under certain circumstances.

The condition is most common in adolescent and young adult males. It typically occurs in hot climates.

Symptoms

The main symptom is patches of discolored skin with sharp borders (edges) and fine scales. The patches are often dark reddish-tan in color. The most common sites are the back, underarms, upper arms, chest, and neck. Affected areas do not darken in the sun (skin may appear lighter than surrounding healthy skin)

In African Americans, there may be loss of skin color (hypopigmentation) or an increase in skin color (hyperpigmentation).

Other symptoms include:

Signs and tests

A skin scraping that is examined under a microscope should show the yeast.

Treatment

Treatment consists of applying antifungal medicines to the skin. These medications include clotrimazole, ketoconazole, and miconazole.

Over-the-counter dandruff shampoos applied to the skin for 10 minutes each day in the shower may also help treat the skin.

Expectations (prognosis)

Though tinea versicolor is easily treated, pigment changes may last for months after treatment. The condition may come back during the warm months.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you develop symptoms of tinea versicolor.

Prevention

People with a history of tinea versicolor should try to avoid excessive heat or sweating.

References

Habif TP. Superficial fungal infections. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 13.

Hay RJ. Dermatophytosis and other superficial mycoses. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 267.


Review Date: 10/10/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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