Fungal infections of the skin can be embarrassing and painful, with side effects such as redness, itching, and peeling.
Fungal infections are usually manageable with medicated ointments or antibiotics.
So how do I know if I have a fungal condition?
Itching, Redness, and Odor
Fungal diseases can cause itching, burning, or swelling. Some conditions such as athlete's foot may even cause blistering.
Redness, cracking, chafing, and peeling may indicate a skin-related fungal infection. The affected hair or skin can also become brittle.
An abnormal odor may also accompany a fungal infection. Because fungus multiplies and feeds off of sweat, it can produce a foul scent.
Patients with a Weakened Immune System Face the Highest Risks
Many of us come into contact with fungal spores on a regular basis. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with weak immune systems face the greatest risk of infection, including those who:
- Have HIV/AIDS
- Are undergoing cancer treatment
- Take medications that weaken the immune system
So what exactly causes fungal conditions?
Diseases Occur When a Fungus Multiplies and Spreads
Growth & Multiplication of the Fungus
While some fungi are found outdoors, many strains live on our hair and skin. Some spores may even reproduce through the air and can be inhaled. These spores thrive and multiply in warm, moist, and dark environments.
Spread of Infection
Some fungal conditions are more contagious than others. Ringworm is highly contagious, while athlete's foot is only mildly contagious. Most yeast infections are not. Fungal diseases are usually spread through contact with a pet or person who has the infection.
"Fungal disease can affect anyone. Most fungi are not dangerous. but some types can be harmful to your health." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Prevention Is Easy
Don't Share Personal Items
Towels, hats, combs, and other personal items such as nail clippers are common culprits of spreading fungal infections.
Keep Your Body Clean & Dry
The feet and groin are two areas that easily become sweaty. To avoid an infection, try to keep these areas clean and dry, and avoid wearing tight clothing in humid conditions. Also, be sure to wash your hands consistently.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Eating a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, and taking vitamins can help strengthen your immune system and ward off infection.
Testing Can Reveal the Source of a Fungal Infection
Sometimes, a visual exam is all it takes to diagnose a fungal infection. Conditions such as jock itch can be diagnosed based on the distinct location and appearance of the irritation.
For fungal conditions of the skin, nails, or hair, the doctor will typically take samples or scrapings from the affected area. The samples are then evaluated under a microscope.
A culture may be necessary to identify more serious or systemic fungal infections. This process is typically completed in a lab and may take several weeks to identify the specific fungal organism causing your condition.
It Depends on the Severity
There are several at-home remedies that can minimize symptoms of mild infections, including soaking with Epsom salt, peroxide, or apple cider vinegar.
Antifungal creams can be used to treat a variety of infections affecting the hair, skin, and nails. The treatment area should be clean and dry before applying the medication.
For more persistent fungal infections, your doctor may prescribe oral medication in conjunction with other remedies.