Diagnosis and Treatment
Due to the wide variety of fungal infections, your doctor will use different strategies to diagnose your condition. She or he may be able to diagnose it through observation or may wish to take tissue or blood samples if an internal infection is suspected. For this reason, it is best to make an appointment to see your doctor if you suspect you have a fungal infection.
Fortunately, a number of treatment options are available, ranging from proper skin care and lifestyle changes to medication.
Skin-care Strategies and Lifestyle Changes
You can take several steps to prevent fungal infections from starting in the first place or from recurring:
If you develop a fungal infection, there are several ways to manage your condition at home:
- Keep the affected area dry and clean by washing daily and drying between your toes and skin folds and (if on the scalp) blow-drying your hair.
- Clean the shower or bath using bleach.
- Wash socks, towels and bathmats at a temperature of at least 60 degrees Celsius.
- Regularly wash floors where you walk barefoot.
Treatment for the various fungal infections varies significantly depending on the type of infection (internal or external) and its location on the body. However, all treatments for fungal infections go right to the cause of the problem: the fungus. Antifungal treatments, whether applied to the skin or taken as a pill, kill or slow the growth of invading fungal cells to eliminate the problems they cause.
Antifungal drugs (e.g., terbinafine, clotrimazole, tolnaftate, ketoconazole, clioquinol) either kill or slow the growth of fungus. Most of these over-the-counter topical creams, sprays or lotions are used for three common fungal infections: athlete’s foot, ringworm and jock itch. Some are also used in other fungal infections such as pityriasis and thrush. Be sure to check the medication’s packaging to be certain it is effective against your type of fungal infection. These creams are applied directly to the affected area, usually twice a day for two weeks or more, depending on the drug and the condition you are trying to treat. They should not be used around your eyes. Side effects vary among the drugs but may include skin irritation, peeling and blistering.
Miconazole is an over-the-counter antifungal drug that can be used for several classes of fungi, including yeasts. It is available in different formulations, which can be used in combination. For example, women with yeast infections affecting not only the vagina but also the surrounding skin can use a topical cream externally and a vaginal suppository internally. The cream is applied to the affected area, once or twice a day. A vaginal suppository is administered for one day/night. Common side effects include vulvovaginal burning, itching, irritation, pelvic cramping, swelling, hives, rash, and headache.
Selenium sulfide is an over-the-counter topical lotion used to treat infections by a specific group of fungi (Malassezia). These fungi are yeasts that can infect the skin, causing tinea versicolor (pityriasis), or the scalp, causing dandruff and sebhorrheic dermatitis. Usage varies by product so it’s best to follow the recommended treatment. Some people experience skin irritation. These lotions should not be used on broken or inflamed skin.
Itraconazole is a prescription antifungal drug used to treat a variety of fungal infections. The capsules are taken orally, and dose and length of treatment depends on the type and location of the fungal infection. Itraconazole should not be taken for nail or skin infections if you have congestive heart failure or you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or are breast-feeding. A wide variety of drugs may interact with itraconazole, so talk to your doctor. The most common side effect is a skin rash.
Ketoconazole is a broad-spectrum antifungal prescription drug that can be used for a wide variety of fungal skin infections. The standard dose is 200 mg per day, but your doctor will ensure you receive the dosage that suits you best. Be sure to tell your doctor about other drugs you are taking, because some may be unsafe when combined with ketoconozole. Also, do not eat grapefruit or drink grapefruit juice while you are taking ketoconozole. Common side effects include gastrointestinal upset, including nausea or vomiting.
Terbinafine is an antifungal prescription drug used in treating fungal infections of the fingernails and toenails (onychomycosis). It can also be used for common athlete’s foot, ringworm and jock itch if these conditions don’t respond to topical treatment. It is not effective against tinea versicolor (pityriasis). The drug should be taken as prescribed by your doctor. Oral terbinafine can cause liver damage, and you should not use it if you are pregnant or nursing.
Ciclopirox nail lacquer is a prescription antifungal drug that is available as a nail lacquer, to be used in treating fungal infections of the fingernails and toenails (onychomycosis). It should only be applied to the affected nails and the skin immediately surrounding the nails. Apply it daily, for up to 48 weeks. To complete the treatment, your doctor should remove the unattached nail once monthly. You may experience a mild rash on the exposed skin. A common side effect is contact dermatitis.
Dequalinium is an over-the-counter lozenge for mouth infections, including fungal infections such as oral thrush. Dequalinium is also provided as an oral paint. To use, suck on the lozenges slowly every two hours as needed, or spread the oral paint liberally over the affected area in the mouth. Some people may experience a mild allergic reaction.
*All information on medical treatments on this site is provided as an overview only. For a complete and up-to-date list of side effects, warnings and precautions, read the product’s package insert and consult your doctor or a pharmacist.
**If you are considering an alternative or complementary therapy, discuss it with your doctor first, and always be sure to keep your doctor up to date about any vitamins, supplements, or other forms of alternative treatment you are taking. Like any medication, alternative therapies can interact with other medications/treatments and, in some cases, have side effects of their own. Remember that “natural” does not necessarily mean “safe.”