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Fungal Infections

Fungal infections can take on a number of forms, and cause a range of symptoms. Those affecting the skin include athlete’s foot and ringworm, whereas thrush can affect the genitals or the mouth and throat. Fungi can also cause fungal nail infections.

  1. Can affect the skin, genitals, mouth or nails
  2. Causes a variety of symptoms
  3. Treatable with antifungal drugs

We offer treatment for some forms of fungal infection, such as thrush, oral thrush and fungal nail infections. Take a look at our respective pages for these conditions to find out more.

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Fungal infections can affect various parts of the body, and can cause a number of symptoms. In some cases they are referred to as yeast infections. They are fairly common, and it is thought that most people will encounter them on at least one occasion in their lives.

Fungal skin infections

Fungal skin infections are referred to by many different names.

Athlete’s foot is one such manifestation. This condition is characterised by symptoms occurring between the toes, which may spread to the bottom of the feet. Several factors can contribute to the development of fungus in this area. Dermatophytes, which are responsible for infections of this kind, thrive in dark and moist conditions; and feet can often become damp through badly-ventilated, tight-fitting or old and broken footwear.

Ringworm is another type of fungal infection. This is also caused by dermatophytes, but usually appears on the skin of the hands, or the face and neck. In such cases, the rash may take on a circular form, with a space of apparently healthy skin in the middle. Again, the patch of skin affected may be inflamed and cause irritation.

Fungal nail infections

This type of infection often occurs when athlete’s foot spreads to and infects the toenails. This can cause toenails to become discoloured and brittle, and prone to breakages. It can also cause pain and feelings of discomfort.

Loceryl, Lamisil and Terbinafine are among the treatments used to clear up fungal nail infections.


Thrush can affect both women and men, occurring around the vagina or on the penis. This may cause a rash, discharge, pain, or irritation and itching in the affected region.

It is the result of an upset in the balance of natural fungi, and there are several possible causes. Among these are damaged skin in the affected area, ‘douching’, or use of certain antibiotic medicines. Genital thrush can also be passed between sexual partners.

Treatment forms differ depending on whether the patient is male or female. Diflucan tablets can be prescribed to treat both varieties, whereas Gyno-Daktarin and Canesten are used for female cases.

Jock itch

When a fungal infection occurs on the skin in the groin, thigh or buttock area, it is sometimes referred to as jock itch. This, once again, can result in a rash, as well as itching and pain.

Daktarin and Pevaryl are examples of antifungals used to treat this condition.

Oral thrush

Oral thrush can result in redness and the development of plaques in the mouth and throat, pain, and an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

Nystatin is an oral suspension fluid used in the treatment of oral thrush infections.

What causes fungal infections?

Fungal infections occur when one type of fungus, which might otherwise survive harmlessly on living tissue, develops into larger numbers under certain conditions. This upsets the natural balance of fungi, and causes an infection.

Fungal infections can also be spread through direct or indirect contact; for instance in the case of ringworm, this might be via the use of shared towels and other communal items and surfaces. In some cases, these fungi can also be transferred to people from their pets.

How do treatments work?

Antifungals work by targeting the fungus responsible. For instance, fluconazole, which is the active ingredient in Diflucan and in the drug of the same name, interferes with the ability of fungal cells to produce ergosterol. This substance is crucial for their cell structure. Without it, the fungus cannot maintain itself, and gaps will start to appear in the walls of cell membranes. This then results in the components of the cells leaking out, and the cells disintegrate as a result. Once fungal balance in the affected area has been restored, symptoms of infection clear up.

We offer treatments for certain types of fungal infections, such as those affecting the nails, as well as thrush and oral thrush. Take a look at our information pages for these conditions to find out more.

This content was reviewed by a clinician on

06 August 2020
dr daniel

Dr Daniel Atkinson

(GP Clinical Lead - GMC No. 4624794) 06 August 2020
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