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Patients interested in learning more about common skin conditions, and what can be done to treat them, will find our series of articles on skin care educational. Dwana R. Shabazz, M.D, M.P.H. is a regular contributor to FairFax Woman Magazine, where she posts a new article each month.  Subjects include:

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What are these spots on my back?

Many people can identify a fungal infection by the round nature of the lesion, thus, it is often referred to as ring worm. Fungus thrives in moist environments. Most fungal infections are superficial and easy to treat, but recurrence is possible depending on the environment. Tinea is the prefix term given to many fungal infections. For example, tinea pedis is fungus of the feet (Athlete’s foot) and tinea corporis is fungus of the body, usually a solitary or a few lesions. Tinea corporis is often associated with the term “ring worm”.

Yeast falls under the fungus umbrella, but it is structurally different. In fact, yeast naturally lives on the surface of the skin, where as a classic fungus, termed a dermatophyte, does not. Tinea versicolor is specifically a yeast infection of the skin. It can develop anywhere on the body, but the most common locations are the chest, back, upper arms and neck. What often brings people to the doctor is the light or dark, round to oval patches that develop on the body. These discolored patches become even more prominent with sun exposure, thus, the summer season is the time most people present to the physician.

Tinea versicolor can be successfully treated with topical medication. Oral medication may be warranted if it is widespread and frequently recurs. A large part of the treatment regimen is sun protection so that the discolored lesion are not made more prominent with sun exposure. That said, the condition can be successfully treated although the light or dark areas are still present.

Unlike the other “tineas”, tinea versicolor is not contagious. This goes back to the type of fungus. Tinea versicolor is due to a yeast and not a class fungus, a dermatophyte, like that of tinea pedis or tinea corporis.

Like most skin conditions, one skin rash can look similar to another. Thus, the recommendation is to always visit your physician, particularly a dermatologist, if there is uncertainty.

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