Taking the “Fun” Out of Fungus – Getting Rid of Fungal Infections

Did you hear about the woman who dated a mushroom? She heard he was a real “fun guy” to be with. If you are spending too much time around any fungi of your own, it may be time to see your dermatologist. Fungal infections are nothing to laugh about (much like the aforementioned joke), and in some cases they can be either debilitating or disgusting – or often a combination of the two.

If the thought of having a fungus growing on your body makes you feel a bit queasy, there’s probably a reason. The bad news is that fungal infections aren’t any fun; the good news is that they can be relatively easily treated.

If the thought of having a fungus growing on your body makes you feel a bit queasy, there’s probably a reason. The bad news is that fungal infections aren’t any fun; the good news is that they can be relatively easily treated. So if you have an infection on your body caused by a fungus, do something about it – quick!

What is a Fungus?

A fungus is a certain type of organism belonging to the fungus kingdom, which has more than 80,000 species (but sadly, no king or queen). Fungi are notoriously difficult to characterize, especially as they share traits with both plants and animals, although they lack both chlorophyll and vascular tissue. They can multiply both sexually and asexually (by cloning themselves), and they feed on many different types of organic material, ones that are both living and dead.

Many things fall under the classification of fungi, including mushrooms, toadstools, spores, smuts, yeasts, molds and lichens, to name but a few. Some people choose to call fungi “primitive vegetables”, and as such they are able to live in air, soil, on plants or in water. Often, they live on our skin.

Fungal infections are caused by a harmful fungus (about half of all fungi fall into this category) which has infected your skin or has been breathed in by you and invaded your lungs, and they can appear in many different forms. Often it’s difficult to ascertain whether a specific health complaint is caused by a fungal infection or not; this is where a dermatologist can be helpful in making an accurate diagnosis.

General Fungal Infections

Fungal infections are incredibly common and can happen to anyone, regardless of personal hygiene – although poor hygiene can definitely contribute to burgeoning infections. Here are a few you are most likely to encounter…

* Athlete’s Foot. Also known as tinea pedis. Perhaps the most common fungal infection of all. Makes the foot red, itchy, scaly and often smelly. Occurs as the ringworm fungus loves feet, because they are so often encased in warm sweaty socks. This nice moist environment is a prime place for the fungus to thrive, and if not treated properly can even allow transfer to other parts of the body, such as the groin, nails, trunk etc. For some reason athlete’s foot is more common among men (boys, take note) and usually affects the area between the fourth and fifth toes (foot fetishists, take note).

* Nail Infections. Can begin as a small yellow or white spot underneath a fingernail, but then spreads. As it burrows deeper and deeper into your toenail or fingernail it can cause discoloration, thickening or crumbling, and can be incredibly painful. In some cases the nail will separate itself from the nail bed and an unpleasant odor can occur. Usually caused by a group of fungi called dermatophytes, sometimes caused by yeasts or molds. Can easily be picked up in swimming pools or other moist, warm places where fungi thrive, much like athlete’s foot.

* Scalp Ringworm. If your scalp is turning red, crusting and becoming incredibly itchy, there’s a chance you have scalp ringworm. This is fairly common among young children, and it’s estimated that 50 percent of all child hair loss is caused by this nasty fungus. It occurs primarily in one of three different guises: gray patch ringworm, black dot ringworm and inflammatory ringworm.

* Body Ringworm. Also known as tinea corporis. Usually occurs on parts of the body not covered by clothes, such as hands and face. Not as revolting as it seems as it not actually caused by a worm but by – surprise! – a fungus. Gets its name as it can cause a ring-shaped rash with scaly center. Can sometimes be passed on by cats although usually is passed on through human contact. So always wash your hands after stroking a feline… or a human.

* Lung fungal infection. Also known as aspergillosis, this fungus thrives in places such as air ducts and compost heaps, then it attacks your lungs. Can be most dangerous to people who have had lung disease in the past and therefore have cavities in their lungs which can become infected. However, this infection can be treated and does not usually spread outside the lung area.

Personal Fungal Infections

Also incredibly common, these fungal infections are the most unpleasant because they infect our most personal areas. Not to be confused with sexually-transmitted diseases, but they can be just as irritating – and sometimes even more so! And as the symptoms so often mimic those of STDs, sometimes it’s hard to tell between the two. That’s where a proper diagnosis by a doctor or dermatologist can be so important..

* Jock Itch. If you spend too much time flaunting a tight, wet Speedo on the beach in hot weather, chances are you’ll develop jock itch. This fungal infection of the groin can attack both men and women, but it more common among the boys. Heat and humidity are the biggest factors contributing to this irritating itch, although wearing tight clothing or being very overweight can play a role as well. Results in nasty red pustules that are uncomfortable and unsightly and require medical treatment. Also called Ringworm of the Groin.

* Vaginal Yeast Infections. Caused by an overgrowth of the Candida albicans fungus, this unpleasant infection can cause extreme itchiness around the vagina, as well as an unpleasant discharge and smell as well as occasional pain and burning. It’s estimated that ¾ of all women have at least one yeast infection in their lives, which can easily spread to sexual partners. Easily treated in the vast majority of cases.

Treatment of Fungal Infections

Most fungal infections are treated with anti-fungal medications, but along with the correct meds you should also wash regularly and keep the affected areas clean and dry. Following a strict skin-care regime is important to avoid re-infection, or infecting others. That means, depending on which type of infection you have, not sharing towels or combs, wearing flip-flops in changing areas or poolside, using an anti-fungal foot spray, wearing clean cotton socks and underwear and changing into clean cotton clothes regularly.

Here, in alphabetical order, are a few of the anti-fungal drugs you may be prescribed, follow the doctor or dermatologist’s instructions and let them know beforehand if you are taking any other medications:

* Clotrimazole
* Ciclopirox
* Fluconazole
* Itraconazole
* Ketoconazole
* Terbinafine Hydrochloride

Fungal infections can affect anyone, and if you have a busy, active lifestyle chances are you’ll come down with at least one – if not more – at some stage of your life. While fungal infections are never fun, there’s no need to suffer in silence, so if you have any of the above symptoms, get thee to a doctor pronto. You’ll have a new, fungal-free you in no time!

The information in the article is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care an appropriate health care provider.