Got an itch that won’t go away with scratching? Don’t be alarmed, but you may have a fungal infection. Fungal infections happen to approximately 10 percent of the population any time, anywhere, and can be caused by a number of factors. They can be categorized into three kinds of infection, depending on where they occur:
- Superficial infections. Fungal infections that affect your skin or mucous membranes. Some examples of superficial infections are athlete’s foot, ringworms and yeast vaginitis. These are the most common of all infections and as their name implies, are usually not life-threatening. They can, however, affect your quality of life or become a systemic infection if not treated effectively.
- Systemic infections. Systemic infections happen when fungi get into your bloodstream and cause more serious diseases. This may be caused by a weakened immune system or an invasive organism. Systemic infections may be life-threatening.
- Opportunistic infections. This is an infection that arises from fungi that take advantage of a weakened immune system.
What causes fungal infections?
Unfortunately, there’s really no way for you to avoid being exposed to the microorganisms that cause fungal infections. They’re present everywhere, in air, soil and water. However, fungi do prefer certain conditions that allow them to breed freely.
- Breeding grounds. Environments that are hot, damp and dark are the perfect places for fungi to multiply and breed. Locker rooms, shower stalls, your shoes, the socks crammed in your shoes, the thermos bottle that you haven’t dried out—are all good places for fungi to multiply and grow.
- Medication. Fungal infections may also be a side effect of medications, such as broad-spectrum antibiotics (to get rid of a broad range of bacteria), tolterodine (a drug used to treat involuntary urine leakage) and CellCept (used to prevent rejection in organ transplants), among others. They may also be an effect of combined drugs, such as Gleevec, a medication to treat certain kinds of cancer, combined with marijuana.
- Complication. In some cases, fungal infections may also be a complication of the diseases agranulocytosis and neutropenia, both conditions that are characterized by a low white blood cell count, which implies a greatly weakened immune system.
Fungi that Cause Most common infections
- Tinea. Most fungal infections are caused by a class of fungus called tinea, which affects your skin, hair and nails. It usually starts as a small red area, which spreads out in a circular or ring formation as it grows, and is often called ringworm because they look like tiny worms under the skin. Some tinea infections may sound familiar: athlete’s foot, jock itch, nail ringworm and scalp ringworm are all caused by tinea. Some common symptoms of tinea infections are raised red bumps, itchiness and flaking, peeling or scaling of your skin.
- Candidasis is also another class of fungus that causes most fungal infections. You may also know them as yeast infections. They can cause diaper rash, oral thrush and vaginal yeast infections.
How to Get Rid of It
Wear breathable clothes. Throw out your shoes and clothing with a high rubber or plastic content. Clothes and footwear that don’t allow air to circulate provide a perfect breeding ground for fungi.
For jock itch, wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting pants. Don’t lounge around in wet clothing or in your swimsuit after you’ve gone swimming.
Be hygienic. Fungal infections also result from poor hygiene and unclean surroundings. Ensuring that you don’t have room where fungi can breed and cause more infection to yourself or other people goes a long way. This is also important for households with children, who are more susceptible to fungal infections. Wash your hands every time you go to the bathroom or coming from any outdoor activity. Don’t touch other people’s eyes, ears or noses unnecessarily. If you are in places like locker rooms or public showers, always wear flip-flops to protect your feet from possible infection.
Medication. Depending on the kind of fungal infection you have, you may be prescribed anti-fungal medicine. Creams, ointments, lozenges, medicated suppositories and oral medication are used to treat fungal infections. Applying or taking these medications alongside the above mentioned responses will make recovery quicker and ensure the infection won’t come back. Consult your doctor for the proper dosage and application for your fungal infection.
Herbal remedy. Studies have shown that applying two drops Australian (Melaleuca alternifolia) tea tree essential oil blended with a vegetable-based carrier oil achieved a 80% cure rate for fungal nail infection.
Aloe vera is also recommended for fungal skin infection as they have anti-parasitic properties and can have a cooling effect on irritated skin.
Keep healthy. Keeping a healthy body and having a strong immune system is also a great way to recover from fungal infections and prevent them from coming back. It’s also your front line against the more serious systemic and opportunistic fungal infections. Vitamins A, B, C and the mineral Zinc makes your immune system stronger and your skin healthier.
In some cases, yeast infections can also be caused by obesity, so exercising and having the proper diet also affects the outcome of your fungal infection treatment.
Eat foods that act as natural fungicides. Garlic, black walnut, myrrh, citrus seed extract and oil of castor bean are known to actively fight and make your body immune against fungal infections. Citrus seed extract may also come in spray form which may be used for fungal skin infections.
In the case of fungal infections, oftentimes prevention is also the cure. Keeping a clean, healthy lifestyle is often key in treating, avoiding and preventing fungal infections. It’s always helpful to also consult a doctor to make sure where the infection is coming from, if it’s really a fungal infection and if it is, what the options and treatments are open to you. There’s no need to get scared by it, and more often than not, that itching will go away without you ever having to scratch it at all.
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