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Antifungals: a guide to treating fungal infections

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Antifungal medicines are invaluable in combating various fungal infections that commonly affect the skin, hair, nails, and mouth. Available in different forms such as tablets, lacquers, creams, powders, oral gels, and shampoos, these medications effectively target the source of infection. Understanding their uses, mechanisms of action, and preventive measures can empower you to manage fungal conditions with confidence.

Doctor’s advice

Types of fungal infections

Fungal infections arise from physical contact with fungal spores or an overgrowth of naturally occurring fungi on the skin. They encompass conditions like ringworm, athlete's foot, fungal nail infections, vaginal thrush, oral thrush, and other skin and hair infections. Fortunately, many mild to moderate cases can be treated with over-the-counter medications. However, severe infections may require prescription-strength interventions, and in some instances, hospitalization may be necessary.

How antifungals work

Antifungal treatments employ various mechanisms to combat fungal infections. Most over-the-counter options disrupt the production of essential components needed for fungal cell function, effectively halting their growth. Single treatments can clear vaginal infections, while oral antifungal gels typically eliminate oral thrush within a week. Ringworm may take up to six weeks to fully resolve, and nail infections can require up to six months of treatment, depending on the rate of nail growth.

Preventing recurrence

Preventing the recurrence of fungal infections is crucial for long-term management. Implementing simple measures can significantly reduce the risk of reinfection:

  • Avoid sharing clothing, towels, and personal items, and ensure proper foot protection in public areas like swimming pool changing rooms.
  • Practice good hygiene by wearing clean clothes daily and changing socks and underwear regularly.
  • Opt for breathable, loose-fitted clothing and shoes.
  • Thoroughly dry yourself after bathing, showering, or swimming.

Possible side effects and precautions

While antifungal medications like miconazole are generally safe, side effects can occur, although they are not experienced by everyone. The most common side effect is localized irritation at the site of application for creams or gels. If you have diabetes or take regular medications, it is essential to consult with a doctor or pharmacist to determine the suitability and potential interactions of antifungal treatments.

Understanding antifungal medications is key to effectively managing fungal infections. By choosing the appropriate treatment, following preventive measures, and seeking professional advice when necessary, you can alleviate symptoms, prevent complications, and maintain optimal skin, hair, and nail health.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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