, Volume 55, Issue 5, pp 645–674 | Cite as

An Overview of Topical Antifungal Therapy in Dermatomycoses

A North American Perspective
  • Aditya K. Gupta
  • Thomas R. Einarson
  • Richard C. Summerbell
  • Neil H. Shear
Review Article


Dermatophytes cause fungal infections of keratinised tissues, e.g. skin, hair and nails. The organisms belong to 3 genera, Trichophyton, Epidermophyton and Microsporum. Dermatophytes may be grouped into 3 categories based on host preference and natural habitat. Anthropophilic species predominantly infect humans, geophilic species are soil based and may infect both humans and animals, zoophilic species generally infect non-human mammals.

It is important to confirm mycologically the clinical diagnosis of onychomycosis and other tinea infections prior to commencing therapy. The identity of the fungal organism may provide guidance about the appropriateness of a given topical antifungal agent. Special techniques may be required to obtain the best yield of fungal organisms from a given site, especially the scalp and nails.

It is also important to realise the limitations of certain diagnostic aids e.g., Wood’s light examination is positive in tinea capitis due to M. canis and M. audouinii (ectothrix organisms); however, Wood’s light examination is negative in T. tonsurans (endothrix organism). Similarly, it is important to be aware that cicloheximide in culture medium will inhibit growth of non-dermatophytes. Appropriate media are therefore required to evaluate the growth of some significant non-dermatophyte moulds.

For tinea infections other than tinea capitis and tinea unguium, topical antifungals may be considered. For effective therapy of tinea capitis an oral antifungal is generally necessary. Similarly, oral antifungals are the therapy of choice, especially if onychomycosis is moderate to severe. Furthermore, where the tinea infection involves a large area, in an immunocompromised host or if infection is recurrent with poor response to topical agents, then oral antifungal therapy may be necessary.

Topical antifungal agents may be broadly divided into specific and nonspecific agents. The former group includes the polyenes, azoles, allylamines, amorolfine, ciclopirox and butenafine. Generally the topical agent is available as a cream, sometimes for use intravaginally. Less commonly, the formulation may be in the form of a powder, lacquer, spray, gel or solution. Many of these agents have a broad spectrum of activity, being effective against dermatophytes, yeasts and Malassezia furfur. For the treatment of tinea corporis, tinea cruris tinea versicolor and cutaneous candidosis, once or twice daily application may be required, the most common duration of therapy being 2 to 4 weeks. For tinea pedis the most common treatment duration is 4 to 6 weeks.


Terbinafine Tinea Capitis Tinea Pedis Econazole Ciclopirox 
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Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aditya K. Gupta
    • 1
  • Thomas R. Einarson
    • 2
  • Richard C. Summerbell
    • 3
  • Neil H. Shear
    • 4
  1. 1.Division of Dermatology, Department of MedicineSunnybrook Health Science Center, and the University of TorontoLondonCanada
  2. 2.Faculty of Pharmacy and Department of Health AdministrationUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Ontario Ministry of Health, Laboratory Services Branch, and Department of Laboratory Medicine and PathobiologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Divisions of Dermatology and Clinical Pharmacology, Department of MedicineSunnybrook Health Science Center, and the University of TorontoTorontoCanada

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