Medical News Today: Fungal infections: Types and treatment


Fungal infections are common throughout much of the natural world. In humans, fungal infections occur when an invading fungus takes over an area of the body and is too much for the immune system to handle.

Fungi can live in the air, soil, water, and plants. There are also some fungi that live naturally in the human body.

Like many microbes, there are helpful fungi and harmful fungi. When harmful fungi invade the body, they can be difficult to kill, as they can survive in the environment and re-infect the person trying to get better.

In this article, we take a look at who is most at risk of getting a fungal infection and what the symptoms and treatment options are for some common types.

Who is at risk?

Fungal infections are common in humans and are usually not very serious if they are treated quickly and correctly.

Anyone with a weakened immune system may be more likely to contract a fungal infection, as well as anyone who is taking antibiotics.

Cancer treatment and diabetes may also make a person more prone to fungal infections.

Common types

Athletes foot
Athlete’s foot is a common infection where the fungus grows in warm and moist environments.

The following conditions are all common types of fungal infections.

Athlete’s foot

Tinea pedis or athlete’s foot is a common fungal infection that affects the foot.

Athlete’s foot is commonly associated with sports and athletes because the fungus grows perfectly in warm, moist environments, such as socks and shoes, sports equipment, and locker rooms.

In reality, anyone may be affected by athlete’s foot. It is most common in warmer climates and summer months, where it can quickly multiply.

Symptoms

The symptoms of athlete’s foot may vary slightly from person to person. Classic symptoms include:

  • redness or blisters on the affected area
  • the infected skin may be soft, or layers may start to break down
  • peeling or cracking skin
  • the skin may scale and peel away
  • itching, stinging, or burning sensations in the infected area

Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention

Not all itchy feet are the result athlete’s foot. Doctors usually diagnose the infection by scraping scaling skin off of a person and inspecting it under a microscope for evidence of any fungus.

There are a few different fungi that can cause athlete’s foot. The infection may behave differently depending on the specific fungus that is infecting the skin.

Athlete’s foot is often treated with topical antifungal ointments. Severe infections can require additional oral medications as well. The feet will also need to be cared for and kept dry to help kill the fungus.

Prevention methods include allowing the feet plenty of air to breathe and keeping them clean and dry. It is a good idea to wear sandals in public showers or locker rooms.

Yeast infection

toenail fungus
A yeast infection may commonly cause fungal toenail infections.

Vaginal yeast infections are a common form of Candida overgrowth in women, usually caused by Candida albicans.

An overgrowth of Candida disrupts the normal balance of the bacteria and yeast in the vagina. This imbalance of bacteria may be due to antibiotics, stress, and hormone imbalances, or poor eating habits, among other things.

Candida infections can also commonly cause fungal toenail infections and diaper rash.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a yeast infection include:

  • itching and swelling around the vagina
  • burning sensations or pain during urination or intercourse
  • redness and soreness on and surrounding the vagina
  • unusual vaginal discharge, such as gray clumps that resemble cottage cheese or a very watery discharge

A rash may develop over time in some cases. Yeast infections should be treated quickly, as the symptoms may become severe if left untreated.

Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention

The classic symptoms of a yeast infection make them easy to diagnose. Doctors may ask about the person’s medical history, such as any previous yeast infections or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They may also ask whether the person was recently taking antibiotics.

Doctors will then examine the vaginal walls and cervix for signs of infection, taking cells from the vagina if necessary for proper diagnosis.

Treatment of yeast infections depends on their severity. Standard treatments include over-the-counter or prescription creams, tablets, or suppositories. Complicated infections may require complex treatments.

Avoiding yeast infections begins with a balanced diet and proper hygiene. Wearing loose-fitting clothing made from natural fibers may also help prevent infection. Washing underwear in very hot water and changing feminine products often can also help prevent fungal growth.

Jock itch

Tinea cruris, commonly known as jock itch, is another common fungal skin infection.

These fungi love warm and damp environments, and thrive in moist areas of the body, such as the groin, buttocks, and inner thighs. Jock itch may be more common in summer or in warm, humid areas of the world.

Jock itch is mildly contagious and is often spread through direct contact with an infected person or an object that is carrying the fungus.

Symptoms

Jock itch appears on the body as an itchy, red rash that often has a circular shape to it. Symptoms include:

  • redness in the groin, buttocks, or thighs
  • chafing, irritation, itching, or burning in the infected area
  • a red rash with a circular shape and raised edges
  • cracking, flaking, or dry peeling of the skin in the infected area

Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention

Jock itch has a very particular look and can usually be identified based on its appearance. If doctors are uncertain, they may take a skin sample to inspect and confirm their diagnosis.

Treating jock itch usually involves topical antifungal ointments and proper hygiene. Many cases of jock itch are improved by over-the-counter medications, though some require prescription medications. Cleaning the affected area and keeping it dry can also help kill the fungus.

Jock itch can be prevented by wearing loose-fitting natural fibers and avoiding contact with others who have the infection. Avoiding shared items, such as towels and sporting equipment may also help.

Ringworm

Ringworm
Ringworm is a skin infection that causes jock itch and athlete’s foot.

Tinea corporis or ringworm is a skin infection caused by a fungus that lives on dead tissues, such as the skin, hair, and nails. Ringworm is the fungus that causes both jock itch and athlete’s foot. When it appears anywhere else on the body, the infection is just called ringworm.

Symptoms

Ringworm is usually easy to notice because of its shape. A red patch that may itch or be scaly will often turn into a raised, ring-shaped patch of skin over time. It may even spread out into several rings.

The outside of this ring is red and may appear raised or bumpy, while the inside of the ring will remain clear or become scaly.

Ringworm is highly contagious, and it can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, or from contact with pets, such as dogs. The fungus may also survive on objects, such as towels, clothes, and brushes.

The ringworm fungus also infects soil and mud, so people who play or work in infected dirt may catch ringworm as well.

Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention

Other skin conditions may look like ringworm, so doctors will usually want to take a skin sample to inspect for the fungus.

After their diagnosis is confirmed, doctors will recommend a treatment based on the severity of the case. Over-the-counter creams and medicated ointments are often sufficient to treat many cases of ringworm. Ringworm of the scalp or severe ringworm may require a prescription.

Basic hygiene can help treat and prevent ringworm as well. Keeping the skin clean and dry can help avoid infection.

Safety in public includes wearing sandals into public showers or locker rooms and avoiding shared items and towels.



Outlook

Most fungal skin infections can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription creams. Severe infections may require additional methods.

Taking preventive action can go a long way towards avoiding fungal skin infections as well.

It is always best to notify a doctor at the first sign of infection to avoid possibly serious complications. By working directly with a doctor, most cases of fungal skin infections can be easily treated.



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