What is a Fungal Infection?
A fungal infection is any affliction of the skin caused by the spread of fungus. The fungus may be in or under the skin or linger on top of it. There are many different types of fungus that can ultimately become a fungal infection, but most fungal infections share certain traits. Fungal infections are frequently characterized by their resiliency; they are very difficult to eradicate completely, a factor compounded painfully by the tendency of various other types of infections to possess counter-productive treatments with respect to curing them. Fungal infections almost always itch, depending upon their location, although several will cause intense swelling, and hurt.
Fungal infections are frequently mistaken for other ailments. Athlete’s foot, for instance, can resemble simple callouses to the untrained eye, when in reality there is a heavy fungus growing on the foot and spreading, drying the skin out and making it itch. Ringworm can be easily mistaken for a parasitic infection, in part because of its name and in part because of how it looks. Fungal infections in the lungs can be easily mistaken for severe cases of pneumonia. In truth, this is not what is at stake.
Who gets Fungal Infections?
Fungal infections can affect literally anyone. Fungal infections do not discriminate; gender and ethnicity play no role in determining who is most likely to contract a fungal infection. Almost all of the factors that make one more or less likely to contract a fungal infection are environmental. There are no genetic dispositions that make one more or less likely to develop a fungal infection; they can only be brought about by exposure to a fungal infection agent. Without a fungal pathogen there is no chance of infection.
As such, those who live in particularly warm and damp regions are at the greatest risk. Warm and damp regions allow fungi to flourish extensively and spread quickly. This ability to spread quickly is what allows a fungus to catch hold in the first place (whereas ordinarily they would simply die out before they could infect the system very strongly).
Individuals that take antibiotics extensively for whatever purpose are far more vulnerable to fungal infections. Antibiotics destroy harmful pathogens, but also reduce the body’s ability to fight off fungal invaders. Individuals that are currently on antibiotics for another infection are consequently more likely to develop fungal infections as a secondary infection—which is especially troublesome, as fungal infections are likely to dry the skin out and cause it to rupture, which can quite possibly result in bacterial infections secondary to the fungal infection, which can then only be properly treated with antibiotics which will reduce the body’s ability to fight off the original fungal infection…bacterial and fungal infections taking place at the same time can be somewhat contradictory and cause a difficult vicious cycle to navigate.
What causes Fungal Infection?
Fungal infections are caused by the collection of spores in a particular area of the body. If enough should collect and not be cleared out quickly enough, the result may well be a fungal infection. Fungal infections can grow nearly anywhere in the body, but because they depend primarily on the collection of spores in a damp, warm place, they are most common in the lungs and the skin. Fungal infections favor most the darker, secluded places of the body, specifically the crotch, the feet, under the arms, etcetera.
Fungal infections share the simple cause of the collection of spores sufficient to reproduce and spread. However, there are a number of factors that contribute to risk and can be viewed as tantamount to causes. As a for-instance: athlete’s foot was unheard of in England prior to the colonization of Shanghai. The change of conditions that occurred when Britain colonized this area was sufficient to permit the fungi responsible for athlete’s foot to propagate. It was, at the time, viewed as a foreign epidemic simply because the absence of the conditions in Shanghai meant that it never arose in England.
In this case specifically, the offending condition was the humid weather. Warm and wet weather allows fungi to breed ridiculously well. In the previous example, the wet climes of England were too cold to support the growth of the fungus responsible for athlete’s foot. With troops posted in Shanghai, however, wearing clothes appropriate for the colder weather just allowed the fungus to spread rapidly.
Various kinds of fungi can settle in various areas of the body. Some grow atop the surface of the skin; others grow under it; others grow through it. Some types of fungus tend to prefer warmer areas of the body with more capillaries, and others prefer cooler skin. Some favor the face, some favor the darker places and the nether regions, some favor the limbs, the extremities, some favor everywhere but the face. All of these are caused by exposure to fungi, with specific variations occurring due to the breed of fungus.
There are several factors that increase the risk for fungal infection circumstantially as well, from a medical perspective. The first of these is the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics limit the body’s ability to fight fungus, even while they fight bacteria. Consequently, taking antibiotics can leave one more vulnerable to a fungal infection. Since exposure to a fungus is the primary cause of a fungal infection, this is effectively a half-cause unto itself. Other forms of immunocompromise can produce the same effect.
What do Fungal Infections cause?
Different kinds of fungal infections can cause very different symptoms. Additionally, different locations of infection can produce different symptoms. However, there are some shared symptoms that apply to most forms of fungal infection. The primary symptom shared by most fungal infections is, simply, itching. The spread of the fungus on and in the skin has a tendency to irritate the nerves in that area, making for a very itchy experience. The few counterpoints to this involve very specific infections, such as those of the lungs.
Fungal infections have been known to irritate the areas they spread to. This irritation can have many effects, but the worst of them are those that can cause the skin to weaken, crack, bleed and blister. This is most common with skin ailments that involve close quarters; athlete’s foot is a primary offender. This damage to the skin leaves the body open to secondary infections. Secondary infections will usually be bacterial in nature and carry with them a unique set of symptoms that will do nothing but exacerbate the affected area.
Fungal infections in the lungs can lead to difficulty breathing. The effect is similar to that of severe pneumonia, in that the physical weight of the fungal infection and its presence in the lung interfere with the ability of the cilia to absorb alcohol. Fungal infections in the lungs can cause severe permanent damage to them, especially if there are other defects (congenital or acquired) in play at the time.
How serious is a Fungal Infection?
Fungal infections vary in how serious they are. How serious a fungal infection is depends primarily on how severe its symptoms are. Most fungal infections do carry a certain degree of default severity simply because they are so resilient. Fungal infections, even with treatment can take no less than a month to clear up; a case of athlete’s foot can be expected to take two months or even longer before fully abating.
The ability of fungal infections to infiltrate systems other than the one they initially infected also contributes to their severity. Athlete’s foot, for instance, can spread from the feet to other areas of the body if not properly cared for. Fungi prefer to grow in close quarters and warm, damp areas; under joints are the most vulnerable areas. Subsequent exposure allows the fungus to spread, especially to these locations, effectively resetting the timer between the start of the infection and its cure.
Fungal infections can cause extensive damage to the skin if unchecked and can also hamper breathing. It is not unheard of for fungal infections to progress deep into the body, ravaging tissue in their path. Fungi are not aggressive, per se, but they will spread if given the chance to flourish. Additionally, fungal infections vary in severity depending upon where they take root. A fungal infection atop the skin is merely irritating, whereas a fungal infection in the lungs can rapidly become something deadly.
Anti-fungal treatments are available, and as with almost all conditions, availability of treatment can make them much easier to beat. However, anti-fungal treatments are known for causing a variety of reactions in the body. Standard antibiotics are not sufficient to fight funguses (and can actually raise one’s vulnerability to them by reducing the body’s innate ability to fight off invaders). This makes treating fungal infections somewhat tricky, effectively increasing their severity. Even with the existence of complicating conditions like bacteria, fungal infections can still be treated through conventional means. It does not render them incurable by any stretch, just more difficult to fight with.
What does Fungal Infection treatment look like?
Treatment for fungal infection varies depending upon the nature of the infection. Topical and general anti-fungal agents do exist to directly treat the fungal infection by attacking the fungus, but these tend to be effective against specific fungal infections. Antifungal infections are known to cause a reaction with the fungi in a significant percentage of patients, but these are rarely anything more than a nuisance.
Many symptomatic treatments are effective for nullifying some of the more irritating symptoms of fungal infection. Itching and minor pain can be suppressed or eliminated with proper antihistamines, lotions and analgesics. Drying and cracking of the skin can be somewhat assuaged by some lotions and oils.
A significant component of treating most fungi is simply destroying the circumstances under which they can thrive and breed freely. Talcum powder placed in footwear of afflicted feet can dry out the environment, which will strongly limit the ability of fungus to breed. Keeping the affected areas cool and dry as much as possible is the est way to keep the fungus from becoming a problem in the first place, and are a key element in keeping the fungus from maintaining a hold.
How do I know if I have a Fungal Infection?
Fungal infections can be fairly easily identified visually, and by their symptoms. A medical professional can make a positive diagnosis as required with any number of diagnostic tools, including ultraviolet analysis. Should a fungus be resistant to visual identification, it is entirely possible to biopsy them for a positive diagnosis.