Fungal infections are any disease or condition you get from a fungus. They usually affect your skin, hair, nails or mucous membranes but they can also infect your lungs or other parts of your body. You’re at higher risk for fungal infections if you have a weakened immune system. Antifungal medications are usually used to treat fungal infections.
Fungal infections, or mycosis, are diseases caused by a fungus (yeast or mold). Fungal infections are most common on your skin or nails, but fungi (plural of fungus) can also cause infections in your mouth, throat, lungs, urinary tract and many other parts of your body.
Fungi are living things that are classified separately from plants or animals. They move around by spreading out or sending spores (reproductive parts) into the air or environment. Many fungi live naturally in our body (mouth, GI tract, skin) but can overgrow under certain circumstances.
Scientists estimate that there are millions of fungi in the world, but only a small number of them are known to cause disease in people. This includes certain yeasts and molds.
Fungal infections on or in your skin can look red, swollen or bumpy. They can look like a rash or you might be able to see a lump under your skin. Fungal infections in your nails can make them discolored (yellow, brown or white), thick or cracked. Fungal infections in your mouth or throat can cause a white coating or patches.
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Anyone can get a fungal infection, especially ones that affect your skin or nails. Fungal infections are more common in places on your body that trap moisture or have a lot of friction. You’re at higher risk for infection, especially severe ones, if you have poor circulation or diabetes, or if you have a weakened immune system from:
The most common fungal infections, like those on your skin or nails, aren’t usually serious. If you have a weakened immune system, you’re at higher risk of serious illness from certain fungal infections.
Fungal infections can be on the surface of your skin, nails or mucous membranes (superficial or mucocutaneous), underneath your skin (subcutaneous) or inside other organs of your body — like your lungs, brain or heart (deep infection).
Superficial fungal infections affect your nails, skin and mucous membranes (like your mouth, throat or vagina). Examples of superficial fungal infections include:
You can get a fungal infection under the surface of your skin (subcutaneous) if fungus gets into a cut or wound, usually through injury while working with plants (like a scratch from a thorn). They cause rashes, ulcers and other symptoms on your skin.
Subcutaneous fungal infections are more common in tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Examples include:
Deep fungal infections are found in places in your body other than your skin, like your lungs, blood, urinary tract or brain. Some are opportunistic infections, meaning that they usually only cause disease in people with weakened immune systems.
Deep or invasive fungal infections include:
Symptoms of fungal infections depend on what kind of fungal infection you have and where on your body it is. Symptoms are most common on your skin, nails or mucous membranes (like your mouth, throat or vagina). Sometimes you can have symptoms of an infection in your lungs, brain, eye, intestinal tract or sinuses.
Symptoms of superficial or subcutaneous infections can include:
Symptoms of fungal infections in your lungs include:
Symptoms of fungal infections in other parts of your body include:
Yeast, molds and other types of fungus cause fungal infections. Most fungi don’t cause disease in people, but a few do. Some infections are opportunistic, meaning they usually don’t cause infections, but can take advantage of certain situations, like a weakened immune system.
Some common fungi you can get infections from include:
Common ways to get fungal infections include:
Some superficial fungal diseases, like ringworm, can spread from person to person through direct contact. Studies suggest that Pneumocystis jirovecii infections can also spread from one person to another. Other deep infections, like fungus that you breathe into your lungs from the environment, aren’t usually contagious.
How your healthcare provider diagnoses fungal disease depends on where it is on your body. They may look for signs of fungus in — or try to grow (culture) fungus from — samples of your:
Many fungal infections can be cured with antifungal medication, which kills fungus in and on your body. What form of medication your healthcare provider prescribes depends on where the fungus is.
Some treatments may be available without a prescription (over-the-counter, or OTC), but it’s a good idea to check with your provider before treating a fungal infection.
To treat a fungal disease, your provider may prescribe antifungal treatment in the form of:
Ways to reduce your risk of various fungal infections include practicing good personal hygiene and protecting yourself from fungi that are found in the environment. Tips for avoiding fungal infections include:
What to expect when you have a fungal infection depends on whether you have underlying conditions and where the infection is on your body. Fungal infections of your hair, skin and nails are usually not serious, but can take a while to completely go away with treatment. Deep fungal infections, like those in your lungs or other organs, can be life-threatening, especially if you’re living with a weakened immune system.
If you have symptoms of a fungal infection, especially in your lungs or other internal organs, contact your healthcare provider. Make sure to follow up with them if you’ve been treating a fungal infection and it’s not getting better.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Fungi is around us all the time — in fact, some types of fungus live naturally on our bodies without us even thinking about it. So it’s not surprising that most of us will get a fungal infection at some point in our lives. Most can be resolved with treatment. If you have a weakened immune system or are at risk for severe or long-lasting infections, talk to your healthcare provider about how you can protect yourself.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/25/2022.
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