What Are Fungal Infections?
Fungus (pl., fungi) is a unique branch of life consisting of microscopic spore-forming organisms. Most do not cause infections, but exposure to some fungi can cause infections and allergic reactions. A type of fungus, collectively called dermatophytes, can infect the skin and nails; in immunocompromised persons, Candida, Aspergillus, and others can cause infections in the blood, lungs, and brain.
Fungi produce toxins, mycotoxins, which can be ingested in moldy food. Aflatoxin, linked to illness and cancer, can contaminate even non-peanut foods via contamination with Aspergillus from the soil.
Infections from Dermatophytes
- Tinea corporis: infection of the body in parts other than the feet, groin, or scalp. When contracted from animals such as puppies or kittens, it can be extremely irritating.
- Tinea pedis: foot.
- Tinea cruris: groin.
- Tinea capitis: scalp, primarily in children.
- Tinea unguium: nails, called onychomycosis.
Severe or frequent infections of any fungus should prompt investigations to rule out immunocompromise or diabetes.
Other Fungus-Related Illness
- Asthma: From hypersensitivity to fungal allergens.
- Allergic rhinitis: From common outdoor molds.
- Pneumonitis: A hypersensitivity to fungus in occupational settings, showers, air conditioning, and humidifiers.
- Fungus balls: Usually from Aspergillus, causing collections of the branching fungal mycelia (amassed as fungus balls) in the sinuses, lungs, kidneys, or brain.
- Candida oropharyngitis (thrush) and vaginitis (vaginal candidiasis).
Complications of Fungal Infections
Intertrigo: intertriginous dermatitis is a common inflammation that erupts in skin folds, with erythema, itching, and an unpleasant odor. Especially in those who are overweight, moisture and friction work synergistically to establish an ideal growing environment for fungus. These areas, because of the limited air exposure, can become secondarily infected with bacteria.
Opportunistic Fungal Infestions
In those who are immunocompromised (transplant, AIDS, and cancer patients), opportunistic fungal species can successfully invade and take root in the blood, lungs, and brain.