It is the diagnosis nobody ever wants to hear:
“You have a fungal infection.”
There is a strong temptation to start visualising all sorts of horrific outcomes. Many people feel a sense of shame or embarrassment, as though they are somehow subhuman. But friends, I assure you, this is entirely unnecessary.
A lot of this stems from a basic misunderstanding of what fungal infections are, and how they work. There are millions of different kinds of fungi, but only three hundred of them actually affect humans. And affect us, they do! It is estimated that up to a billion people have suffered from some level of fungal infection, which puts the figure at roughly one in eight.
Fungi are everywhere, but usually they don’t cause you too many problems. When we come into contact with one of those 300 hundred which give us grief, we run the risk of infection. Generally, your skin does a good job at fighting off the infection. They only get irritating when they multiply faster than they should, or if they can penetrate an open wound and start spreading. They typically thrive in moist warm areas which receive little airflow. This is why you might have experienced some level of fungal infection in your socks, or around your underwear – fairly sweaty, and not a lot of ventilation.
This is commonly referred to as Ringworm. Counterintuitively, it is a fungus, and not a worm. Tinea Coroporis usually starts to spread across your torso and limbs, and is characterised by a ring shaped rash. The edges of this circular spread are usually slightly raised, but the skin enclosed often looks perfectly healthy. Don’t be deceived. It is a highly contagious fungal infection, and you need to deal with it straight away. The best treatment is an antifungal cream, something like Canesten cream. This contains the antifungal medicine clotrimazole. This acts like a double agent, penetrating the cell membrane of the fungal cells and interfering with the spreading mechanism.
This is more commonly known as Athlete’s foot. Something about that sounds quite encouraging. I can imagine being quite pleased with that diagnosis until the doctor explained what that meant. It is akin to being told you have ‘Supermodel’s nose’ before releasing you have a deviated septum. I digress. Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection which affects the skin on your feet. You might start to become suspicious if you feel an itching or burning on the soles of your feet, or even in between your toes. Your skin will become scaly and red, even developing into blisters. If left untreated, it can spread from your feet up to other areas of your body, and becomes known as tinea manuum. Again, an antifungal like Canesten cream will put that to rest. It does make you wonder why that shoe shop chain ‘The Athlete’s Foot’ made that choice?
This one is more commonly known as Jock itch, for the very simple reason that it tends to spread in and around the underwear line. This disproportionately affects men, particularly adolescents. Whether this is because young boys are at their most sweaty and least hygienic stage or whether there is something that renders them biologically more susceptible is still up for debate. This will be an incredibly uncomfortable experience. An itchy rash starts in the groin, and becomes particularly more unpleasant after exercise when the area is at its most sweaty and warm. The skin will be scaly, flaky or cracked. There might be an accompanying odour. Again, Canesten cream should sort this out in a few days.
This is the ringworm of the scalp. It is very common in young children, and you should take them to your GP if you suspect your child has become infected. Some giveaways include localised bald patches which can become inflamed, scaly and red, profound itchiness of the affected area, and even pain and tenderness in these areas. As the fungal infection can be at any point across the scalp, you should pick up an anti-fungal shampoo.
This is a slightly more unusual case, even though about 90% of people have this form of fungus present on their skin. Essentially, you will start to develop tiny circular patches on your skin which appear blemished or inconsistent with your natural complexion: either lighter or darker, maybe even pink or brown. These patches can become quite itchy and flaky, and they tend to their ugly heads on the torso, abdomen and arms. Often in summer, these become more of an issue because we are dealing with naturally hotter and more humid climates. The answer? Again, it is our old friend Canesten cream. Make sure you have a little tube of this lifesaver before you need it.
This skin infection is the result of overexposure to the Candida fungi. Everyone has this fungus living in and around their bodies at any time, but usually, our natural immune system keeps our levels balanced and we don’t even know about it. On rare occasions however, it overgrows and we end up with a red itchy rash, and small red pustules. Not fun. They usually show up in those warmer poorly ventilated areas like under the breasts or other rolls of skin like your bottom. Canesten cream should sort this out pretty swiftly. If the symptoms persist after a few days, seek medical advice from your GP
FInally, fungus can also affect your nails. An infection here will cause your finger or toenails to become discoloured, usually a sickly yellow or brown. THey become brittle, perhaps even a little thicker and more pronounced than usual. It is worthwhile getting on top of this one early, because if you wait too long, your doctor might need to remove the entire nail to stop it spreading any further. THe best defence is a good offence, as they say…
All the best,