Most superficial fungal infections are easy to treat and antifungal products are at your disposal in a wide variety of available forms, each formulated to treat a specific area.
Fungal infections of the skin
Your doctor will prescribe a cream, a powder or a spray to treat the affected area. Oral medication (tablets and capsules) will only be prescribed in severe cases or for nail infections. Hygiene recommendations will include thorough rinsing with disinfectant soap and using separate towels to avoid contaminating other family members.
Old age brings on certain changes to the human body, such as wrinkled skin, thinner hair and so on. Although we all know that certain consequences of ageing are unavoidable, people in society today do their best to look good.
Nail infections are a good example on how views on the effects of ageing change over time.
It has long since been taken for granted that when you get older, your nails can change in appearance. The changes can be mild: the white tip of nail turns yellow or brownish. A situation can also develop where the yellow or brown colour spreads inward on the nail. Maintaining the nail can also be difficult as it starts to become very thick, and brittle, This can be very embarrassing from a cosmetic point of view.
As this was considered a normal consequence of ageing, the approach was to try and keep this condition under control with manicures and pedicures.
We know now that a fungus is really at the root of this problem. This infection attacks from underneath the surface of the nail and can penetrate the nail bed. But this is no reason to panic. It's not as bad as it sounds. The key is to nip it in the bud as early as possible.
Initially, topical products, containing an ingredient that kills the fungus were used to treat nail infections. These were called antifungals. The problem however is that the infection starts from underneath the surface of the nail, and this is hard for topical products to reach.
A new generation of oral antifungals dramatically changed the way that nail infections could be treated. These products could easily reach the area under the surface of the nail and eliminate the problem at the source.
If you suspect you are suffering from a nail infection, your first step is to visit your doctor. S/he can make an accurate diagnosis and consider the prescription of a suitable product that will heal the nail infection in an effective way. After a few weeks you should see that your nail is improving in the shape and appearance.
Below are some tips on how to take care of your nails so that you avoid nail infections:
- Wash nails regularly with soap and water
- Keep nails dry - dry thoroughly after bathing
- Wear rubber gloves to wash dishes
- Change and wash towels regularly, and don't let your towels be used by other family members (especially if you're in the midst of treating an infection)
- Try not to walk barefoot, especially in public areas like swimming pools. Instead, wear shower shoes whenever possible
- Change shoes, socks, and hosiery daily
- Wear synthetic hosiery. Socks are also important. The American Podiatric Medical Association recommends thick socks made of acrylic fibers, or a blend including them, that absorbs moisture caused by perspiration in the shoe. Cotton fabrics tend to trap moisture, especially if you're very active or your feet sweat easily
- Avoid wearing excessively tight hosiery or shoes
- Use talcum powder (not cornstarch) in shoes or socks to help absorb moisture
- Don't trim cuticles - cutting them (and even pushing them back) can help infection breed in the nail
- Don't wear artificial nails; they trap water, which can become stagnant and allow fungi to develop
- Make sure that the equipment used for manicures and pedicures is sterile and the area is clean. Even if you are caring for your nails at home, make sure your tools are clean and properly sterilised
- Teach family members to look for signs of fungal nail infection. Have their nails examined if you already have a fungal infection
- If you do develop a fungal infection, throw away old shoes or gloves to prevent re-infection
Dandruff is probably an age-old ailment, and has most probably always been regarded as a very embarrassing condition.
The introduction of detergents for hygienic purposes was a major step forward in hygiene. Apparently, in the medieval times, most people did not wash themselves on a regular basis, and certainly not their hair.
The appearance of flakes can be reduced with proper hair care, especially in those who suffer from only a mild case of dandruff. Some people mistakenly avoid washing their hair, believing that the drying effect of shampoo will exacerbate their dandruff. By washing hair regularly, however, the dead skin is in fact removed before it can build up into larger, more noticeable flakes. Unfortunately, one of the embarrassing aspects of dandruff is that, even if you clean your hair very carefully with a regular shampoo, it will not completely disappear, and will come back very rapidly, often in a few days.
New scientific study has recently uncovered new research that will provide comfort to the millions suffering from dandruff. Researchers now believe dandruff is a medical condition caused by an overabundance of an organism that normally exists on everyone's scalp - even people who don't have the condition. It is a type of yeast. This is encouraging news for the millions of people who feel self-conscious and embarrassed about their appearance due to dandruff.
These insights have helped to develop new therapeutic approaches for dandruff.
A number of cosmetic substances such as zinc pyrithione was shown to have a negative effect on the growth of the yeast that causes dandruff and were integrated in specific anti-dandruff shampoos. One of the drawbacks of these shampoos however, was that the dandruff resurfaced after a short period of time. Sufferers were therefore not really freed from their condition.
Fungal infections of the mouth and oesophagus
Fungal infections of the mouth and the oesophagus always need to be treated by a doctor. The medication for these infections is only available on prescription. The medication that doctors will prescribe for babies with thrush will be different to that issued to adults. Often, babies are given a gel-like medication that stays attached to the mucous membrane. As it is present for an extended period of time, it is efficient. Adults with mouth and/or oesophagus fungal infections are mostly treated with medication that can be swallowed easily and works from the inside out. Antifungal drugs can be taken in a gargling solution too.
Fungal infections of the vagina
In case of bacterial imbalance inside the vagina, the doctor can prescribe a course of treatment to suppress the bacteria. However, antibiotics also have certain disadvantages, as they may stimulate fungal growth due to the suppression of the bacterial flora.
For Candida infections, various treatment options are available to you from your doctor. Until 1990 Candida was suppressed by inserting capsules with antifungal substances into the vagina, but the complaint often recurred. The current procedure recommends taking antifungal capsules orally to combat the remaining fungi from the inside. Unlike bacteria and Trichomonas, Candida thrives in acidic environments.
If you have had unprotected intercourse and have any of the symptoms mentioned earlier - like discharge, loss of blood or pain in the abdomen, you should pay a visit to the doctor. A Trichomonas infection can be treated with a course of antibiotics, combined with acidic rinses to get rid of this irritating organism. Be sure to warn your partner(s) because the infection can also be dangerous for men.
Infections of the internal organs
As previously mentioned, systemic infections with Aspergillus (and other fungi) can be life-threatening to people who (for a whole range of reasons, including treatment with chemotherapy or heavy surgery) are in a poor state of health. Injectable drugs to treat internal infections are available, but they are not always effective. As invasive fungi always enter through the lungs, preventive measures should be taken at all times to prevent the inhalation of fungal spores:
- There is a reason why flowers and plants are not allowed in an intensive care unit. The flowers themselves, the (dirty) water and the compost may contain all kinds of germs, including fungal spores.
- Masks can protect construction and demolition workers against dust with fungal spores.
- Air filters protect employees in companies where fungal spores are widespread.
- Preventative antifungal medication. High-risk patients (e.g. patients who have a fungal ball and who are weakened by chemotherapy or a transplant) are often given preventative antifungal medication to prevent the fungus from proliferating.
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Item code: NPR/08-0050
Date of Preparation: March 2009