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The word fungus conjures up visions of mold and dirty, damp unhygienic surroundings. Many of us may cringe at the thought of developing a fungal infection. But these infections are common and most people suffer from several attacks during the course of a lifetime.
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In babies, small curd-like white patches can form in the mouth. These are difficult to remove. If scraped off, a raw red area is exposed. This is commonly called “thrush” and is caused by a fungal specie called candida. It may occur if the child is bottle fed, uses a pacifier or has recently had a course of antibiotics. It may make the child irritable while feeding.
Oral thrush may occur in adults too if they have ill-fitting dentures, suffer from diabetes, have had a course of antibiotics, consumed steroids, are on anti-cancer drugs, are smokers, or are immuno compromised as a result of medicines or HIV infection.
In adults as well as children, oral thrush can be treated with applications of anti-fungal medication like clotrimazole two or three times a day. Dentures must be cleaned regularly. Feeding bottles and artificial nipples should ideally not be used. If thrush has occurred, they must be rinsed with a solution of equal parts of vinegar and water and air dried prior to sterilisation.
Candida and some bacteria like lactobacillus normally live in perfect harmony in the vagina. The lactobacillus produces acid, which prevents the overgrowth of candida. If this balance is disrupted, candida can overgrow, resulting in infection. Imbalance occurs as a result of diabetes, pregnancy, hormonal tablets, antibiotics, steroids or immuno suppression. Frequent douching or using “feminine hygiene sprays” may also lead to infection. Vaginal fungal infections owing to candida affect almost all women. It causes redness, an uncontrollable itch and an odourless white discharge.
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Treatment involves the application of creams or insertion of vaginal tablets for one, three or six days. Sometimes oral medicines have to be taken. The bacteria-fungus balance in the vagina can be restored by eating lactobacillus. This is found in homemade curd. A tablespoon a day usually restores the balance.
Men can develop candida infection on the foreskin, especially if they are diabetic. The skin is itchy and may develop fissures. Topical anti-fungal creams work well.
Men are also prone to developing “jock itch” (or dhobi’s itch), an infection of the groin area where the skin is usually warm and moist. Infection is precipitated by wearing tight undergarments, or not changing sweaty exercise clothes promptly. Treatment involves bathing regularly, wearing loose-fitting clothes and application of anti-fungal creams.
The warm moist areas between the toes may also develop a fungal infection called Tinea pedis or athlete’s foot. It causes itching, burning, cracking and at times blisters. It occurs with wearing damp socks and tight airless shoes, especially of a non-porous material like plastic.
To prevent Tinea pedis, the feet need to be aired and socks changed regularly. Once infection has developed, the feet should be soaked in equal quantities of water and vinegar for 10 minutes a day. After wiping them dry, an anti-fungal cream needs to be applied. The infection may take two to four weeks to clear up.
The warm and moist areas of the inner thighs, genitalia, armpits, under the breasts, and waist may also develop fungal infection and become red, itchy, oozy and sore. This is common in overweight individuals and those with diabetes. Treatment is by bathing regularly and keeping the area dry. Talcum powder aggravates the problem. Instead, the area should be patted dry after a bath and a combination of a “diaper rash” cream containing zinc oxide and an anti-fungal medication must be applied.
Toe nails and fingernails can also get infected by fungus. The nail then hurts, breaks easily and becomes discoloured. This occurs if the nails are constantly exposed to moisture or are immersed in water, if non-absorbent socks or shoes are used, or if the person has diabetes. Treatment is with applications and medications for one and a half to six months. Soaking the feet in a solution of one part vinegar and two parts water for 10 minutes daily and then applying Vicks VapoRub has anecdotally been shown to be effective.
The outer layers of the skin can develop scaly white patches of Tinea versicolor infection. Moist climates, sweating, humidity and hormonal changes have been blamed for this. The infection responds well to Selinium sulphide (Selsun) or Ketoconazole (Nizral) shampoo.
Ringworm causes round, hairless patches on the scalp and skin. They are contagious and spread by contact with infected humans or animals. Medicines have to be taken for six weeks. Topical agents are not effective.
Source : The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)
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