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A Guide to Fungal Diseases: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

Team AckoSept 23, 2022

Like most infections which are contagious in nature, a fungal disease can easily spread from one person to another. While most of these might not be fatal, they are extremely uncomfortable and, at times, embarrassing for the ones suffering from them. A better understanding of what fungal diseases are, and why someone might get these can help prevent an infection. It will also help the doctor identify any conditions early, and prevent them from developing into serious complications.

Learn more about the different types, symptoms, and treatments for fungal infections.

Fungal Infection

What Is a Fungal Disease?

A fungal infection can be caused by different kinds of fungi. Sometimes, fungi not typically found on or inside the body can grow and cause an infection. Even the otherwise harmless fungi can multiply out of control to infect your body. Fungal diseases can thus be infectious. There is a risk of spreading them from person to person. In some cases, infected animals, soil, or surfaces can also transmit disease-causing fungi.

If diagnosed and treated quickly and correctly, fungal infections caused by harmful fungi do not have to be very serious. As fungi can be somewhat difficult to kill, reinfections are possible even if the fungal infections have been treated once.

Types of Fungal Infections, Their Symptoms, and Treatments

Listed below are some common fungal diseases and fungal infection treatments.

1. Athlete's Foot

An athlete's foot, also known as Tinea pedis, is a fungal infection that affects the feet in the area between your toes. This is caused by dermatophytes, a fungus that flourishes in warm, humid environments. An athlete's foot can also be contagious.

Sportsmen and athletes commonly get this disease because the fungi thrive in warm, moist environments, such as sports equipment, socks, shoes, and locker rooms. However, anyone can develop an athlete's foot. 

Symptoms of Athlete's Foot

There is no standard way to diagnose an athlete's foot, and the symptoms may vary from person to person. It usually appears red on lighter skin tones; and brown on darker tones. These are some common symptoms of this disease:

  • Blisters and discolouration on the affected area

  • It may be soft to touch, or layers of the skin may break down

  • Skin peeling or cracking

  • Skin scales and peeling may occur

  • A burning, itching, or stinging sensation in the infected area

Treatment for Athlete's Foot

Treatment of an athlete's foot often involves topical antifungal ointments that can be purchased over the counter. Additionally, oral medications may be required for severe infections. To help kill the fungus, it is also important to care for the feet and keep them dry. The best way to prevent this condition is to allow the feet plenty of air to breathe and to keep them clean and dry. You should wear sandals when using public showers or locker rooms to avoid this infection.

2. Oral Thrush (Mouth Yeast Infection)

A yeast infection in the mouth or throat is called oral thrush. The fungus which causes this infection is known as Candida albicans. It often affects warm, moist, creased areas of your body, including the mouth, armpits, gastrointestinal tract, urinary tract, and genital area. It can often be found in small amounts on your skin and body. These fungi can cause yeast infections when they multiply excessively. Obese or diabetic people are more likely to suffer from them. Antibiotic users are also at a greater risk.

Symptoms of Oral Thrush

A person who suffers from thrush develops white patches in their mouth and throat. Infections of this type are often caused by prolonged antibiotic therapy. Yeast infection symptoms include:

  • Pain

  • Swelling

  • Itchiness

  • Redness

Treatment for Yeast Infection

Your treatment options will depend on the type and frequency of your yeast infection. Oral anti-fungal medications can be used to treat thrush. You can take them as tablets, pills, or mouthwash. Alternatively, you can also use topical anti-fungal medication to treat this infection. Also, your doctor may recommend probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus. Good bacteria found in probiotic supplements might help restore the health of your body's microbiome.

3. Jock Itch

The skin infection tinea cruris, also known as jock itch, is another example of a fungal infection. A warm environment is ideal for these fungi, which flourish in moist areas such as the groin, inner thighs, and buttocks. Summer and humid climates are more likely to cause a jock itch. This mildly contagious fungus can also be passed from person to person.

Symptoms of Jock Itch

These are some of the symptoms of a jock itch:

  • Redness, flakiness, or scaliness at the groin, buttocks, or thighs

  • Grey or brown discolouration on darker skin

  • Itching, chafing or burning in the infected area

  • Raised, circular rash

  • Dry peeling, flaking or cracking of the infected skin

Treatment for Jock Itch

Make sure the affected area is clean and dry. Most jock itch cases can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal medicines. The doctor might prescribe a cream if the problem is severe. Whatever your treatment, make sure you:

  • Towel-dry the area after washing

  • Follow the directions on the antifungal medicine

  • Make sure you change your clothes every day, especially your underwear

4. Ringworm

Tinea corporis, also known as ringworm, is a fungal skin infection. This rash has a winding, worm-like edge with a ring-shaped appearance. It is caused by dermatophytes, the same organisms that cause athlete's foot and jock itch. This fungus grows most often in damp, humid areas of the body.

Symptoms of Ringworm Infection

Signs of ringworm include:

  • Blistering and oozing patches

  • A bald patch on the scalp

  • Patches with reddish outside edges that resemble rings

  • Cracked, thick, or discoloured nails (if the infection is in the nails)

Treatment for Ringworm

The treatment of ringworm often involves using over-the-counter creams, sprays, gels, or ointments that contain antifungal agents. In the case of more severe infections or infections of the nails or scalp, you may even need a prescription.

Ringworm can be treated with a variety of non-prescription products, including:

  • Clotrimazole (Mycelex, Lotrimin)

  • Miconazole

  • Ketoconazole (Xolegel)

  • Terbinafine (Lamisil)

5. Toenail Fungus

Fungal infections of the toenails, fingernails and nail beds are known as onychomycosis. The first signs of toenail fungus are usually small, light-coloured spots on the nail. As it spreads deeper, your nail changes shape and colour. It can make your nails thicker and brittle over time.

Symptoms of Toenail Fungus

Typical signs of toenail fungus include:

  • Scaling under the nail

  • Yellow or white streaks under the nails

  • Brittle or thick nails

  • Nail separating from the nail bed

Treatment for Toenail Fungus

Toenail infections can take months to treat, and fingernail infections can take weeks. Typically, OTC medications don't work. Your doctor may prescribe medications such as nail lacquer and oral antibiotics. Considering how hard it can be to treat this type of infection, it's important to avoid spreading it as much as possible. 

Conclusion

Infections caused by fungi can be painful or uncomfortable. There are, however, over-the-counter and prescription creams that can treat most fungal skin infections. There may be additional methods needed for severe infections. Additionally, taking preventive measures can help prevent fungal infections.

It is always advisable to consult a doctor as soon as possible if you notice any signs of infection. In most cases, fungal skin infections can be treated easily by working directly with a doctor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can fungal infection spread by touch?

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Yes, most fungal infections can spread by touch. There are also instances when disease-causing fungi can spread from contaminated animals or surfaces.

How long do you need to take anti-fungal medicines?

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Depending on the location and severity of the infection, and your immunity, the duration of anti-fungal drug treatment varies. It usually takes only a few days to treat oral thrush, but it may take up to eight weeks for toenail fungus to be treated.

What is the best way to prevent ringworm on your feet from occurring frequently?

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Warm and moist conditions are necessary for fungi to grow. Thus, keeping your feet dry and clean and not wearing tight shoes for long periods is advisable. And when possible, sandals and slippers should be preferred.

Can oral anti-fungal drugs be taken during pregnancy?

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No. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should avoid most oral anti-fungals. If you have any questions about this, please speak with your doctor.

Can I stop taking anti-fungal treatment if symptoms improve sooner?

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You must complete the prescribed treatment course, or the infection may reoccur.

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Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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