What you need to know about fungal infections

Fungal infections: Symptoms, types, and treatment

By Jon Johnson 

Reviewed by University of
Illinois-Chicago, School of Medicine

Fungal infections are common
throughout much of the natural world. In humans, fungal infections occur when
an invading fungus takes over an area of the body and is too much for the
immune system to handle.
Fungi can live in the air,
soil, water, and plants. There are also some fungi that live naturally in the
human body.
Like many microbes, there are
helpful fungi and harmful fungi. When harmful fungi invade the body, they can
be difficult to kill, as they can survive in the environment and re-infect the
person trying to get better.
In this article, we take a
look at who is most at risk of getting a fungal infection and what the symptoms
and treatment options are for some common types.

The symptoms of a fungal
infection will depend on the type, but common symptoms include the following:

  • skin changes, including red
    and possibly cracking or peeling skin
  • itching
Read on to find out more about
some common types of fungal infection, their symptoms, and the treatment

The following conditions are
all common types of fungal infections.
Athlete’s foot

Tinea pedis or athlete’s foot
is a common fungal infection that affects the foot.
Athlete’s foot is commonly
associated with sports and athletes because the fungus grows perfectly in warm,
moist environments, such as socks and shoes, sports equipment, and locker
In reality, anyone may be
affected by athlete’s foot. It is most common in warmer climates and summer
months, where it can quickly multiply.
The symptoms of athlete’s foot
may vary slightly from person to person. Classic symptoms include:

  • redness or blisters on the
    affected area
  • the infected skin may be soft,
    or layers may start to break down
  • peeling or cracking skin
  • the skin may scale and peel
  • itching, stinging, or burning
    sensations in the infected area
Diagnosis, treatment, and
Not all itchy feet are the result
athlete’s foot. Doctors usually diagnose the infection by scraping scaling skin
off of a person and inspecting it under a microscope for evidence of any
There are a few different
fungi that can cause athlete’s foot. The infection may behave differently
depending on the specific fungus that is infecting the skin.
Athlete’s foot is often
treated with topical antifungal ointments, which are available to purchase
over-the-counter or online. Severe infections can require additional oral
medications as well. The feet will also need to be cared for and kept dry to
help kill the fungus.
Prevention methods include
allowing the feet plenty of air to breathe and keeping them clean and dry. It
is a good idea to wear sandals in public showers or locker rooms.
Yeast infection

Vaginal yeast infections are a
common form of Candida overgrowth in women, usually caused by Candida albicans.
An overgrowth of Candida
disrupts the normal balance of the bacteria and yeast in the vagina. This
imbalance of bacteria may be due to antibiotics, stress, and hormone
imbalances, or poor eating habits, among other things.
Candida infections can also
commonly cause fungal toenail infections and diaper rash.
Symptoms of a yeast infection

  • itching and swelling around
    the vagina
  • burning sensations or pain
    during urination or intercourse
  • redness and soreness on and
    surrounding the vagina
  • unusual vaginal discharge,
    such as gray clumps that resemble cottage cheese or a very watery discharge
A rash may develop over time
in some cases. Yeast infections should be treated quickly, as the symptoms may
become severe if left untreated.
Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention
The classic symptoms of a
yeast infection make them easy to diagnose. Doctors may ask about the person’s
medical history, such as any previous yeast infections or sexually transmitted
infections (STIs). They may also ask whether the person was recently taking
Doctors will then examine the
vaginal walls and cervix for signs of infection, taking cells from the vagina
if necessary for proper diagnosis.
Treatment of yeast infections
depends on their severity. Standard treatments include creams, tablets, or
suppositories, which are available via prescription, or over-the-counter or
online. Complicated infections may require complex treatments.
Avoiding yeast infections
begins with a balanced diet and proper hygiene. Wearing loose-fitting clothing
made from natural fibers may also help prevent infection. Washing underwear in
very hot water and changing feminine products often can also help prevent
fungal growth.
Jock itch

Tinea cruris, commonly known
as jock itch, is another common fungal skin infection.
These fungi love warm and damp
environments and thrive in moist areas of the body, such as the groin,
buttocks, and inner thighs. Jock itch may be more common in summer or in warm,
humid areas of the world.
Jock itch is mildly contagious
and is often spread through direct contact with an infected person or an object
that is carrying the fungus.
Jock itch appears on the body
as an itchy, red rash that often has a circular shape to it. Symptoms include:

  • redness in the groin,
    buttocks, or thighs
  • chafing, irritation, itching,
    or burning in the infected area
  • a red rash with a circular
    shape and raised edges
  • cracking, flaking, or dry
    peeling of the skin in the infected area
Diagnosis, treatment, and
Jock itch has a very
particular look and can usually be identified based on its appearance. If
doctors are uncertain, they may take a skin sample to inspect and confirm their
Treating jock itch usually
involves topical antifungal ointments and proper hygiene. Many cases of jock
itch are improved by over-the-counter medications, though some require
prescription medications. Cleaning the affected area and keeping it dry can
also help kill the fungus.
Jock itch can be prevented by
wearing loose-fitting natural fibers, such as cotton underwear which is
available to buy online. Avoiding contact with others who have the infection is
also important. Avoiding shared items, such as towels and sporting equipment
may also help.

Tinea corporis or ringworm is
a skin infection caused by a fungus that lives on dead tissues, such as the
skin, hair, and nails. Ringworm is the fungus that causes both jock itch and
athlete’s foot. When it appears anywhere else on the body, the infection is
just called ringworm.
Ringworm is usually easy to
notice because of its shape. A red patch that may itch or be scaly will often
turn into a raised, ring-shaped patch of skin over time. It may even spread out
into several rings.
The outside of this ring is
red and may appear raised or bumpy, while the inside of the ring will remain
clear or become scaly.
Ringworm is highly contagious,
and it can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, or from contact with pets,
such as dogs. The fungus may also survive on objects, such as towels, clothes,
and brushes.
The ringworm fungus also
infects soil and mud, so people who play or work in infected dirt may catch
ringworm as well.
Diagnosis, treatment, and
Other skin conditions may look
like ringworm, so doctors will usually want to take a skin sample to inspect
for the fungus.
After confirming a diagnosis,
doctors will recommend a treatment, depending on how severe the symptoms are.
Creams and medicated ointments
are often sufficient to treat many cases of ringworm, and may be purchased
over-the-counter or online. Ringworm of the scalp or severe ringworm may
require a prescription.
Basic hygiene can help treat
and prevent ringworm as well. Keeping the skin clean and dry can help avoid
Safety in public includes
wearing sandals into public showers or locker rooms and avoiding shared items
and towels.
Risk factors

Fungal infections are common
in humans and are usually not very serious if they are treated quickly and
Anyone with a weakened immune
system may be more likely to contract a fungal infection, as well as anyone who
is taking antibiotics.
Cancer treatment and diabetes
may also make a person more prone to fungal infections.

Most fungal skin infections
can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription creams. Severe infections
may require additional methods.
Taking preventive action can
go a long way towards avoiding fungal skin infections as well.
It is always best to notify a
doctor at the first sign of infection to avoid possibly serious complications.
By working directly with a doctor, most cases of fungal skin infections can be
easily treated.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.