Fungal infections are known as mycosis, a skin disease caused by fungi. Fungi are everywhere – they’re found in the air, soil, water, plants and even our human body. When they infect an area of the body, they can lead to skin problems like rashes or bumps.
Different types of fungi cause different types of infections.
The symptoms of fungal infection differ according to the type of fungal infection it is. Some symptoms that are common in fungal infections include:
Athlete’s foot is also known as tinea pedis. It is a fungal infection of the foot which can be caused by a few different types of fungi. It is commonly associated with sports and athletes since the fungus find perfect growth conditions in warm, moist environments, such as socks and shoes, sports equipment and locker rooms. However, any other person may also get athlete’s foot. It is common in warm climates and in summer.
Jock itch is also known as tinea cruris, another common fungal skin infection. The fungi grow in warm and damp environments such as the groin, buttocks and inner thighs. It is more common in warm and humid regions and in the summer.
Jock itch is mildly contagious and can be spread through direct skin contact with an infected person or an object which has the fungus.
Ringworm is the fungus that causes both jock itch and athlete’s foot. Different body parts are targeted by different types of ringworm. On the scalp, it is known as tinea capitis. On the nails, it is known as tinea unguium or onychomycosis. However, when it appears anywhere else on the body, it is just known as ringworm. Ringworm on the body is also known as tinea corporis. The name is misleading – there’s no worm involved. The reason for its name is due to the ring-shaped rash which is worm-like.
The fungus responsible for ringworm eats keratin, a protein in the skin, and is hence categorised as a dermatophyte. They attack areas of the body with high keratin, such as the skin, scalp, hair and nails.
Ringworm may survive on household items or your skin for months, depositing fungal spores that can spread. Ways of spreading are through direct contact with infected people or animals, or contact with contaminated clothing or furniture. Heat and humidity are two factors that speed up the spread of the infection.
Yeast infections of the skin are called cutaneous candidiasis. They are not contagious and occur in warm, moist or creased areas of the body, such as the armpits or groin. They can also infect your nails, vagina or mouth (oral thrush).
Oral thrush is also known as oral candidiasis, a yeast infection where the fungus Candida albicans accumulates in the lining of your mouth. It is an organism already naturally found in the mouth, but its overgrowth can cause symptoms.
Most fungal or yeast infections can be treated with medicated creams, ointments or suppositories (drugs that go in through the bottom). If the fungal infection is persistent or if it involves the nails, your doctor may suggest for oral anti-fungal tablets. However, you may need to take these for a prolonged period. Oral thrush can be treated with a medicated mouthwashes or taking lozenges that dissolve in your mouth.
The most important lifestyle factor or prevention measure is to maintain good hygiene such as keeping the feet clean, dry and aired, which will go a long way in preventing fungal growth.
Anyone may get a fungal infection, even healthy individuals, but there are some who are at higher risk. Some risk factors that increase the chance of fungal overgrowth in the body are:
Antibiotics may kill off more than just the “bad” bacteria – they may also destroy “good” bacteria, which upsets the balance in the microbiome of the body. Corticosteroids do the same, thereby giving fungi the opportunity to invade and grow exponentially.
Your immunity may be weakened if you have conditions like Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV/AIDS), or if you are taking steroid medications or chemotherapy. Chemotherapy and radiation could lower the white blood cell count, making it difficult to ward off infections.
In organ or stem cell transplant, you will need to take anti-rejection medication that weakens immunity. In such cases, fungi can overwhelm your immune system more easily, leading to a higher chance of fungal infection.
Having high blood sugar or diabetes provides food for Candida albicans, thus encouraging an overgrowth.
MBBS(NUS, SINGAPORE), MRCP(RCP, UNITED KINGDOM)