Fungi are microorganisms that grow in warm moist areas everywhere in the environment. Also called mould or yeast, fungi take many forms. They are responsible for the pinkish deposits found in baths and showers and for the white foam that develops in long-forgotten jelly bottles at the back of the fridge.
Several types of fungi are normal inhabitants of the body. They are usually inoffensive and actually help the body fight certain types of infections. Sometimes, however, they multiply and are the cause of troublesome infections such as thrush (in the mouth), athlete's foot (between the toes or on the soles of the feet), and vaginitis (in the vagina and on the vulva). Each of these is caused by a specific fungus.
Fungal infections are typically characterized by the following skin problems:
- redness and irritation;
- tingling and itching;
In vaginitis, a whitish vaginal discharge is also present.
Since fungi prefer to grow in moist and warm areas, they are mostly found in skin folds: inside the thighs, under the arms and breasts, and between the toes. The best way to prevent and get rid of a fungal infection is to:
- keep skin dry;
- dry skin thoroughly after bathing, showering, or swimming;
- wear loose-fitting, airy clothing preferably made of natural fibres, especially cotton;
- apply an antiperspirant.
In athlete's foot, shoes and boots are often part of the infectious cycle because that's where the fungi grow. Wear shoes that "breathe" and change your socks often. Since natural fabrics are more absorbent, wear cotton socks, preferably white, for best absorption. Allow shoes to dry completely between use; if possible, don't wear the same shoes on 2 consecutive days. Consider sprinkling antifungal powder in the shoes.
There are several antifungal products on the market. Some products are available with a prescription and others without. Your pharmacist can help you choose the best product for you. Consult a physician if over-the-counter products fail to fix the problem.
Symptoms typically improve after a few days of therapy. Therapy, however, should be continued for 2 to 4 weeks to make sure that the fungi are completely eliminated. If the treatment is discontinued prematurely, the remaining fungi will start to multiply again and the infection will revive.