What Are Fungal Infections?
You can find fungus everywhere, indoors and outdoors, and half of these fungi can threaten our health. If you find yourself dealing with a fungal infection, many complementary and alternative treatment options exist for fungal infection treatment.
These holistic therapies kill off the yeast or bacteria causing fungal infections while reducing symptoms of the infection in the skin, lungs, sinuses, eyes, and other organs.
Exposure to fungus, mold and other allergens can cause out-of-control immune system reactions in your body, the symptoms of which can include pain, headache, fevers, mucus production in the sinuses and/or lungs, and may, in some cases, lead to death. More common symptoms include a fungal rash on the skin or some mild respiratory distress. More serious fungal infections include fungal pneumonia, fungal sinusitis, aspergillosis, fungal meningitis, and systemic candida Albicans infections.
Fungi are all around us. Their microscopic spores are on the ground and in the air. Most of these fungi are harmless. However, certain types can cause serious fungal infections in some people.
Fungal infections can occur anywhere in your body but most commonly, they begin on your skin. Most cause some discomfort, such as redness and itching on the skin.
When a fungus is inhaled and enters your body or is introduced into your body in another way, the risk of infection rises, especially if you have an impaired immune system. People with impaired immune systems are more likely to develop sepsis with fungal infections than people with normal immune systems.
Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die.
What are the symptoms of Fungal Infections?
Fungal infection symptoms depend on where the infection is. For example:
- A vaginal yeast infection usually causes itching and foul discharge from the vagina.
- A fungal infection on the skin may cause redness, itching, flaking, and swelling.
- A fungal infection in the lungs may cause coughing, fever, chest pain, and muscle aches.
Common Types of Fungal Infections
1. Athlete's Foot (Tinea Pedis)
Athlete's foot, also known as tinea pedis, is a fungal infection that affects the skin on the feet. It is caused by a group of fungi called dermatophytes, which thrive in warm, moist environments such as locker rooms, showers, and swimming pools. Athlete's foot is contagious and can be spread through direct contact or by touching contaminated surfaces.
- Itching, burning, or stinging sensation between the toes or on the soles of the feet
- Red, scaly, or cracked skin
- Blisters or ulcers
- Dry, flaky skin on the sides and soles of the feet
2. Jock Itch (Tinea Cruris)
Jock itch, or tinea cruris, is a fungal infection that affects the groin, inner thighs, and buttocks. Like athlete's foot, it is also caused by dermatophytes and is more common in men and athletes due to the warm, moist environment created by tight clothing and sweating.
- Intense itching and burning sensation in the affected area
- Red, scaly, or ring-shaped rash
- Flaking or peeling skin
3. Ringworm (Tinea Corporis)
Despite its name, ringworm is not caused by a worm but by the same group of fungi responsible for athlete's foot and jock itch. Ringworm can affect any part of the skin on the body, and it is highly contagious. It can be spread through direct contact with an infected person or animal, or by touching contaminated objects like clothing or towels.
- Circular, red, scaly rash with a clear center
- Itching, burning, or stinging sensation at the site of the rash
- Hair loss in the affected area (if the scalp is involved)
4. Nail Fungus (Onychomycosis)
Nail fungus, or onychomycosis, is a fungal infection that affects the nails, most commonly the toenails. It is caused by various types of fungi, including dermatophytes, yeasts, and molds. Nail fungus can be contracted through direct contact with an infected person, or by walking barefoot in damp public areas like showers, locker rooms, or swimming pools.
- Thickened, discolored, or brittle nails
- White, yellow, or brown streaks on the nails
- Separation of the nail from the nail bed
- Pain or discomfort in the affected nail
5. Candidiasis (Yeast Infections)
Candidiasis, commonly referred to as yeast infections, is caused by the overgrowth of a type of yeast called Candida. Candida is naturally present in our bodies, particularly in the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina. However, when the balance of microorganisms is disrupted, Candida can multiply and cause infections.
- Vaginal yeast infections: itching, burning sensation, thick white discharge, and pain during sex or urination
- Oral thrush: white patches on the tongue, inner cheeks, or throat, redness and soreness, and difficulty swallowing
- Skin yeast infections: red, itchy rash, and sometimes pus-filled blisters
Causes and Risk Factors of Fungal Infections
Several factors can increase the risk of developing fungal infections. Some common risk factors include:
- A weakened immune system due to illness or medications
- Poor personal hygiene
- Wearing tight or damp clothing, which creates a favorable environment for fungal growth
- Sharing personal items like towels, clothing, or footwear with an infected person
- Frequenting damp public areas like locker rooms and swimming pools
Natural Treatments for Fungal Infections
Fungal infections are treated with anti-fungal medications specific to the particular fungus that caused the infection. These medications can be cream or ointment, suppository, or pill form.
Fungal infections that cause sepsis are treated with intravenous anti-fungal drugs. Regular antibiotics are not used for fungal infections because they are not effective.
While over-the-counter and prescription antifungal medications are available to treat fungal infections, there are also some natural remedies that can help alleviate symptoms and prevent recurrence.
To prevent fungal infections, follow these tips:
- Maintain good personal hygiene by bathing regularly and keeping your skin clean and dry
- Wear breathable, moisture-wicking clothing and shoes
- Avoid sharing personal items like towels, clothing, or footwear
- Use a clean towel to dry off after swimming or showering in public places
- Wear flip-flops or waterproof footwear in public showers or locker rooms
Examples of fungal infections
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are millions of different species of fungi on Earth. About 300 are known to make people sick. Fungi live outdoors in the soil and on plants and trees. They may also live on indoor surfaces and on human skin. The most well-known types of fungal infections include:
- Athlete’s foot
- Vaginal yeast infection
- “Jock itch”
The most common types of fungi that cause serious or life-threatening infections include:
- Aspergillus, which causes aspergillosis. It most often affects people with lung disease or a weakened immune system
- Candida, which causes candidiasis, is also called thrush. If it enters the blood system, it is called invasive candidiasis.
- Histoplasma, causes histoplasmosis when the spores enter the lungs. The majority of people who inhale the spores will not become ill, but it can cause serious illness, especially among people with a weakened immune system.
- Pneumocystis jirovecii, which causes pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP). This fungus generally causes serious illness in people who have impaired immune systems, particularly immune system impairment caused by HIV/AIDS or corticosteroid use.
In 2012, there was an outbreak of fungal meningitis in some parts of the United States. This type of meningitis is not contagious. Contaminated steroid injections in the spine caused it.
Valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is caused by a fungus found in the soil in the southwest U.S., particularly in California. There have been rising numbers of Valley fever in California, tripling over the past few years.
Fungal Infections - Final Thoughts
Fungal infections are a common health issue that can affect various parts of the body.
By understanding the different types of fungal infections and their symptoms, you can take steps to prevent and treat them using both conventional and natural remedies.