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Fungal Infections - Types, Risk Factors and Prevention

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Fungal infections are common, can affect anyone, can appear in various parts of the body, and are managed by antifungal drugs. Read the article to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At March 10, 2023
Reviewed AtMarch 10, 2023

Introduction

Fungi do not belong to either the plant or animal kingdom. They were previously classified as plants but are now classified as separate kingdoms.

Fungi grow in two forms:

  • Yeasts: Solitary round cells.

  • Molds: They comprise many cells forming long, thin threads called hyphae.

During their life cycle, some fungi go through both forms. Fungi reproduce through the spread of microscopic spores. These spores are frequently found in the air and soil, where they may be inhaled or come in contact with the body's surfaces, particularly the skin. Most spores that settle on the skin or are inhaled into the lungs do not cause infection. As a result, fungal infections usually start in the lungs or skin.

What Are Fungal Infections?

Fungal infections are common in many parts of the natural world. Fungal infections occur in humans when an invading fungus takes over a region of the body that is too large for the immune system to handle. Several fungi can cause fungal infections. Fungi, generally not found on or inside the body, can colonize it and sometimes cause an infection. Fungi normally present on or inside the body can also grow out of control and sometimes cause an infection.

Fungal infections can spread from one person to another. In some cases, disease-causing fungi can be acquired from infected animals or contaminated soil or surfaces.

What Are the Symptoms of Fungal Infection?

The typical symptoms of a fungal infection include:

  • Irritation.

  • Scaly skin.

  • Redness.

  • Itching.

  • Swelling.

  • Blisters.

What Are the Different Types of Fungal Infections?

The most common fungal infection include:

1. Athlete's Foot:

Tinea pedis is another name for athlete's foot. It is a fungal infection that can affect the skin on the feet and hands, and nails. Dermatophytes, a fungus that thrives in the warm and humid areas between the toes, cause the infection.

It is particularly prevalent among athletes and can spread from person to person. It can also be contracted from contaminated surfaces, such as public showers or locker room floors.

  • Symptoms of Athlete's Foot: Itching, stinging, or burning sensations between the toes or other parts of the foot. Additionally, the skin may crack, peel, or blister.

  • Diagnosis: The doctor can identify an athlete's foot based on the skin symptoms. If the doctor is unsure, a small area of the skin can be scraped and tested for fungus.

  • Treatment: Athlete's foot can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medications. The doctor may prescribe other medications if these do not relieve the symptoms.

2. Jock Itch

Jock itch is a disease caused by a fungus called Tinea. The condition is also called Tinea cruris. Tinea prefers warm, moist locations such as the genitals, inner thighs, and buttocks. Infections are more common in the summer or in hot, humid climates.

Jock itch is a rash that is red and itchy, and it is frequently ring-shaped. It is only mildly infectious. It can be passed from person to person through direct contact or indirectly through objects containing the fungus.

Symptoms: Symptoms of jock itch include -

  • Redness.

  • Itchiness.

  • A burning sensation.

  • Changes in the color of the skin.

  • Flaking or cracking skin.

  • A rash that gets worse when exercising.

Diagnosis: A doctor can often identify a jock itch by examining the affected skin. However, they may take a scraping of the skin cells and have them examined to rule out other conditions, such as psoriasis.

Treatment: Jock itch is typically treated at home by keeping the affected area clean and dry and applying over-the-counter antifungal cream, powder, or spray. A doctor must be consulted if the symptoms do not improve after two weeks of home care. They may prescribe other antifungal medications.

3. Yeast Infection

Candidiasis is another common infection caused by the yeast Candida (a type of fungus). Candida usually lives on the skin and inside the body, including the mouth, throat, intestine, and vagina, without any issues. However, these fungi multiply excessively and can cause yeast infections. Oral thrush is a yeast infection that occurs in the throat or mouth. Candida can also cause infection if conditions inside the vagina change to promote its growth. Infection can be exacerbated by hormones, medications, or immune system changes. A vaginal yeast infection is another term for candidiasis in the vagina. This infection is also known as candidal vaginitis, vulvovaginal candidiasis, or vaginal candidiasis.

Symptoms: White patches form in the mouth and throat due to thrush. This type of infection is common in people who are on long-term antibiotic therapy. Vaginal yeast infections are fairly common in women. They can result in the following:

  • Pain.

  • Itchiness.

  • Clumpy discharge.

  • Swelling.

  • Redness.

Diagnosis: To check for oral thrush, the doctor can rub the affected areas with a throat swab and then culture it to determine the type of fungus involved. The doctor will perform a pelvic exam to diagnose a vaginal yeast infection. If unsure whether the symptoms are due to a yeast infection, they may swab the area and order a lab test.

Treatment: The treatment options will be determined by the type of yeast infection. Thrush can be treated with antifungal medications taken orally. Lozenges, pills, and mouthwash are examples of these. If a vaginal yeast infection is diagnosed early enough, it can be treated with over-the-counter medications. The doctor can also prescribe antifungal medications like a cream, pill, or vaginal suppository. The doctor may also recommend probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus. Probiotic supplements contain beneficial bacteria that may aid in the restoration of your body's microbial balance.

4. Toenail Fungus

Fungal nail infections are common diseases of the fingernails or toenails that can cause the nail to discolor, thicken, crack, and break more easily. Toenail infections are more prevalent than fingernail infections. Onychomycosis is the medical term for fungal nail infection.

Symptoms: Fungal-infected nails are frequently:

  • Discolored (yellow, brown, or white).

  • Thick.

  • Brittle or cracked.

Unless the infection becomes severe, a fungal nail infection is usually not painful.

Diagnosis: A fungal nail infection can be diagnosed by looking at the affected nail and asking questions regarding the symptoms. They may also examine a nail clipping under a microscope or send a fungal culture to a laboratory.

Treatment: Fungal nail infections can be challenging and rarely disappear without antifungal medication. Prescription antifungal pills are usually the best treatment for fungal nail infections. In severe cases, a doctor may completely remove the nail. The infection can last from several months to a year.

5. Ringworm

Ringworm is a fungus that can infect the skin and scalp. Dermatophytes cause it, as they do athlete's foot and jock itch. Ringworm is also part of the group of fungi that grow on the skin, especially in damp and humid areas of the body. It gets its name from the ring-shaped rash with a winding, worm-like edge.

  • Symptoms: Ringworm is characterized by a red, circular, flat sore that may be accompanied by scaly skin. Red rings or patches may overlap. The skin outside the sore may be raised, while the skin in the center appears normal.

  • Diagnosis: Ringworm can be detected with a simple skin examination. Because the fungus glows under a black light, the doctor can detect it by shining the black light on the affected area. A small scrape of the affected skin can also be taken and sent to a laboratory for testing.

  • Treatment: Ringworm, like jock itch and athlete's foot, is frequently treatable with over-the-counter antifungal creams, sprays, gels, or ointments. One may require a prescription if the infection is severe or located on the nails or scalp.

What Are the Risk Factors for Fungal Infections?

Several factors can increase the chances of getting a fungal infection. These include both environmental factors and internal factors.

  • A warm and humid environment.

  • Walking barefoot in moist environments such as gyms, locker rooms, and showers.

  • Poor blood circulation in postmenopausal women, as well as hormonal changes, can reduce vaginal acidity.

  • Immune system suppression.

  • Injuries or infections to the nails and skin.

  • Several medications and antibiotics, for example, kill both beneficial and harmful bacteria. This can allow fungi to thrive in an environment devoid of competition.

  • Long-term corticosteroid use.

  • Cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation.

How Can Fungal Infections Be Prevented?

Maintaining good hygiene is also essential for avoiding fungal infections.

  • Keep the skin clean and dry, especially in the folds.

  • Wash hands frequently, particularly after touching animals or other people.

  • Do not use other people's towels and personal care products.

  • Shoes must be worn in community showers, locker rooms, and swimming pools.

  • Wipe before and after using gym equipment.

Conclusion

Fungal infections can be unpleasant, if not painful. They could indeed take weeks or months to treat in some cases. A doctor must be consulted if one suspects a fungal infection. They can determine the type of infection and prescribe an antifungal medication. Sometimes, the doctor may recommend dietary or other lifestyle changes to help treat or prevent recurence of fungal infections.

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Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)

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