Everything You Need to Know About Fungal Infection
Any infection caused by a fungus is called a fungal infection. A fungus is a germ that is present almost everywhere and is usually not harmful, but occasionally they result in infections or diseases. These are not deadly and cause superficial infections on the skin, nail, or vagina. Symptoms depend on the area infected and treatment includes antifungal medication either by pills or by infusions into a vein.
Fungal infections can be life-threatening in people with a weakened immune system and, in some cases, if the infection affects the lungs (fungal disease example: fungal meningitis).
Types of Fungal Infections
The medical term for a fungal skin infection is tinea. Types of fungal infections include:
- Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis): The is the most common type of fungal infection. The condition often spreads when people go barefoot in public restrooms or changing rooms. The skin between the toes turns white and begins to peel. Athlete's foot can also affect the soles (bottoms) of your feet.
- Jock itch (tinea cruris): A rash of the groin area, jock itch affects more men than women.
- Scalp ringworm (tinea capitis): It is a scalp infection. This rash is common in children and causes hair loss, but with timely treatment, the hair usually grows back.
- Nail fungus (onychomycosis): This infection is a common foot problem. It usually affects the toenails, which turn yellow, thicken, and break easily.
- Ringworm (tinea corporis): The rash often forms a ring shape. It is usually an itchy, circular rash with skin clearer in the centre. There are no worms involved as indicated in the name.
Causes and Risk Factors
When the skin comes into contact with harmful fungi, the infection can cause a rash. The infection can pass from one person to another or from animal to person by direct contact. Example: If you borrowed used shoes of someone with athletes’ foot, chances are high that you can get it too.
Some of the risk factors that increase your chances of fungal infection are as follows:
- A person with a weaker immunity has a higher chance of getting an infection. Immune system can be influenced and weakened by certain diseases or use of certain drugs.
- Diseases that lower immunity: Cancer, diabetes, etc.
- Drugs that lower immunity: Drugs used to treat cancer
- Premature babies
- Elderly people
- Hospitalized people
- People taking long-term antibiotic medication
- Being overweight or obese
- People who sweat heavily
- Upon trying a new skin care product
Signs and Symptoms of Fungal Infection
A fungal rash is often red and causes itching. Other common symptoms include the following:
- Scaly skin, flaky patches
Diagnosis of Fungal Infection
Your healthcare provider can diagnose a fungal infection after a complete physical examination. This may be done in the below mentioned manner to identify the type of infection and determine the suitable medication required for your case.
- Physical examination will involve examination of the rash by looking at it and asking your symptoms.
- Often times, the type of infection is confirmed by scrapping few scales of the skin and examining them under the microscope (called KOH preparation).
- Sometimes, a lab test (a culture test) is required to identify specific type of fungus. This is done by taking a small sample of your skin (biopsy) or fluid (called aspiration).
- Depending on the severity of the infection, you may require a blood test.
Treatment of Fungal Infection
Treatment of fungal infections include:
- Antifungal creams – most of these creams are available over-the-counter
- Stronger prescription medicines – involves higher dose to increase the treatment speed
- Oral medicines – given in case of severe infection
Prevention of Fungal Rash
Some infections tend to recur (repeat) even after treatment. This is influenced by everyday habits or sometimes by genetics.
Prevention of fungal rash is attainable by maintaining good foot hygiene:
- Wash your feet and use fresh socks (change socks) regularly
- Wear shoes that are of your size – not very loose, not very tight. Shoes/footwear should be breathable
- Do not walk barefoot, particularly in places that may be wet, such as gym showers and locker rooms
- When you cut your nails, cut straight across the nail. In case of ingrown toenail, visit a podiatrist (doctor who treats disorders of the feet). And if you have a fungal infection in one nail, do not use same nail clipper for the healthy nails, as this can spread the infection.
Another way to prevent recurrence is by proper medicine usage:
- Use the prescribed antifungal cream until the prescribed course duration ends. Do not miss or neglect to apply even if you see that the rash is no longer visible.
- Talk to your healthcare provider if you can use any particular cream on a regular basis to avoid infections.
- Using antifungal powder in your shoes every day may help prevent athlete’s foot.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Are ringworm infections serious?
No. Ringworm infections are not serious since they do not invade the deeper tissues.
What causes ringworm in private parts?
A person can become infected with ringworm in a number of ways, including:
- Direct skin contact with an infected person
- Playing with or caring for infected pets or livestock
- Using an infected person's clothes, shoes, or personal hygiene items such as combs, brushes, and towels.
How can fungal infections in intimate areas (private parts) be prevented?
To reduce the risk of vaginal yeast infections, wear cotton undergarments in the groin that are not too tight.
It may also help to avoid the following:
- Tight fitting pantyhose
- Douching (washing or cleaning the inside of the vagina with water or other mixtures of fluids) removes some of the normal bacteria in your vagina that protects you from infection
- Fragrant feminine products such as bubble baths, pads, and tampons
- Very hot baths
- Unnecessary use of antibiotics such as for cold or other viral infection
- Staying for a long time in wet clothes such as swimsuits and exercise clothes
Can fungal infection spread from one person to another
Fungal infections can be contagious. They can spread from one person to another. In some cases, the disease-causing fungus can also be acquired from infected animals or contaminated soil or surfaces. If you develop signs or symptoms of a yeast infection, see your doctor.
Gleneagles Global Health City India is one of the best dermatology hospitals in Chennai offering the best dermatology treatment, skin hospital treatment, and care for all types of dermatological diseases.
Dr Subramanian Swaminathan
MD,DNB, MNAMS, AB internal Medicine, AB Infectious Disease
Director – Infectious Diseases & Infection Control.
Gleneagles Global Health City