Antifungal Drugs: What You Should Know

There are millions of fungi, including yeast and mold. While these fungi occur naturally in many places — some in our bodies — they rarely cause serious disease. Some conditions that weaken your immune system may make you more susceptible to these infections, requiring treatment with antifungal medications.

There are several types of antifungal medications, and this article will explore the different varieties, when to use them, and what happens when you take them.

common fungal infections

Certain types of fungi are found naturally in our skin and bodies, but our immune system controls the action of these fungi to prevent infection or serious problems.

When this balance is disrupted—usually due to disease or treatments that weaken the immune system—the fungus can take over healthy tissue and cause infection.

The most common types of fungal infections in humans are:

  • nail infection
  • ringworm skin infection
  • vaginal yeast infection
  • Thrush, a yeast infection of the throat or mouth

Fungal infections can affect any part of the body, even the lungs.

What are antifungal drugs?

Antifungal drugs are a class of drugs used to treat invasive fungal infections. There are many types, strengths, formulations and uses of these drugs.

Each of these drugs works by killing the fungus that causes the infection and/or preventing the fungus from continuing to grow.

Over-the-Counter Antifungal Drugs for Athlete’s Foot

how they work

Each type of antifungal works in a different way. Some antifungals target specific types of fungi, while others work on a variety of species. Usually, these drugs work in one of the following ways:

  • By disrupting or disrupting the outer wall or membrane of the fungal cell
  • By preventing fungal cells from growing or multiplying

Types of Antifungal Drugs

There are four main types of antifungal drugs. They each work in specific ways to treat certain types of fungal infections.

Allylamine

The antifungal drugs in this group attack the membranes of fungal cells, eventually destroying them. This type of medication can treat various fungal infections of the skin, nails, and hair.

There are two main formulations of allylamine – Lamisil (terbinafine) and Naftin (naftifine).

azoles

Azoles are an antifungal agent that many people are familiar with. These drugs attack cell membranes and stop fungal growth. Antifungal drugs in the azoles are commonly used to treat candidiasis, a fungal infection caused by yeast. This can include conditions such as vaginal yeast infections, athlete’s foot, and jock itch.

Examples of azoles include:

  • Nizarol and Xolegel (ketoconazole)
  • Monistat and Micatin (miconazole)
  • Lotrimin and Mycelex (clotrimazole)
  • Sporanox (itraconazole)
  • Cresemba (isavuconazole sulfate)
  • Dafucon (fluconazole)
  • Vfend (voriconazole)
  • Noxafil (posaconazole)

These medications come in different strengths, including some available over the counter and others that require a prescription. Azoles are also commonly available in a variety of formulations from powders to creams.

Although these antifungals are very useful, their popularity has led to a degree of resistance.

Also, some types of fungi do not respond to certain antifungal agents. In many cases, it is best to consult a healthcare professional if you are not sure which antifungal medication is right for your symptoms. You may be recommended a different antifungal than the one you are using, or a product that combines multiple antifungals in one application.

dangerous interactions

Many types of drugs interact, and not always in a good way. Antifungals are no exception. The azoles, in particular, are prone to drug-drug interactions that can lead to serious complications such as arrhythmias. Always let your healthcare provider know about all medications you take, including vitamins and supplements, to prevent possible interactions with new prescriptions or treatments.

Echinocandin

This is a new type of antifungal agent that destroys and destroys the cell walls of fungi. Although this antifungal has few adverse effects and limited side effects with other drugs, it is only available as a daily intravenous treatment. Antifungal agents in this group are commonly used to treat invasive candidiasis.

Examples of drugs in this group include:

  • Caspofungin
  • Anidofungin
  • Micafungin

polyene

Polyenes are naturally produced by bacteria Streptomyces tuberculosis. These compounds work by disrupting the fungal cell membrane, allowing potassium to escape from the cell. This eventually causes the fungal cells to die and ends the fungal infection.

One such formulation is amphotericin B, which is one of the most effective antifungal agents. These drugs are usually used for systemic infections, that is, fungal infections that affect the entire body.

These types of antifungal drugs are commonly used to treat infections, such as:

  • Aspergillosis
  • blastomycosis
  • Candidaemia
  • coccidioidomycosis
  • Histoplasmosis

Examples of this type of antifungal agent include:

  • Ambisome and Abelcet (Amphotericin b)
  • Mycostatin, Nyamyc and Nystop (nystatin)

Such use may be limited due to lack of risk of serious side effects such as oral formula and kidney damage.

Types of fungal infections

While fungal infections of the nails, vagina, skin, and mouth are the most common, there are many other ways fungal infections occur. Fungal infections are more likely in people with certain medical conditions or on drugs that suppress the immune system, as are people who live in tropical climates.

Some common location-specific fungal infections are:

  • Blastomycosis: Found in soils in parts of the US and Canada
  • Cryptococcus gutter: Found in tropical and subtropical regions, as well as in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia
  • Paracoccidioidomycosis: seen in Central and South America, mainly affects men who work outdoors in rural areas
  • Coccidioidomycosis: Also known as Valley Fever, caused by a fungus found in the southwestern United States, Mexico, and parts of Central and South America
  • Histoplasmosis: widespread but mostly associated with bird or bat droppings

Other types of fungal infections are most common in people whose immune systems have been weakened by disease or by drugs such as chemotherapy or steroids. Examples of these infections are:

  • Aspergillosis: an infection caused by common indoor and outdoor molds
  • Candida auris: A newer fungus, mostly found in healthcare settings
  • Invasive candidiasis: a serious infection that affects areas such as the heart, brain, eyes, and bones that are common in hospitalized patients
  • Pneumocystis pneumonia: a serious lung infection caused by Pneumocystis jirovecii This is most common in people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS
  • Candidiasis: a fungal infection caused by yeast, usually on the skin and body, but not a problem until they get out of control
  • Cryptococcus neoformans: a fungal infection that affects the brain and can lead to meningitis
  • Mucormycosis: a rare fungal infection caused by a mold called mucormycosis
  • Talaromycosis: an infection caused by a fungus found in Southeast Asia, southern China, and eastern India

Fungal infections in people with HIV can be life-threatening

symptom

Symptoms of a fungal infection vary depending on the type of fungus causing the infection and the body system affected.

skin

There are many types of fungal infections that can affect the skin. The exact symptoms may vary, but may include:

  • itching
  • redness
  • rash
  • hair loss
  • dry or scaly areas

nail

When fungal infections affect nails, they may become:

  • Thick
  • crisp
  • fragile
  • discoloration

groin

Another common site of fungal infection is the groin. This can come in the form of a vaginal yeast infection or jock itch. In both cases, symptoms include itching and irritation, but a vaginal yeast infection can also cause pain and a thick or foul-smelling discharge when urinating. On the other hand, jock itch usually has more superficial symptoms, such as peeling or redness of the skin.

oral

When a yeast infection develops in the mouth, throat, or esophagus, these are called thrush. You may experience a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Leukoplakia in the mouth or throat
  • redness
  • pain
  • pain when eating or swallowing
  • loss of taste
  • Cracked or reddened corners of the mouth

When to contact a healthcare provider

Most fungal infections cause mild or superficial symptoms such as itching, redness, or general discomfort. However, when a fungal infection becomes a systemic infection — affecting the entire body — the symptoms become more diverse and mimic many other conditions.

Symptoms of a systemic fungal infection include:

  • tired
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle pain
  • joint pain
  • night sweats
  • lose weight
  • chest pain
  • fever

If you have any of these symptoms and they don’t go away, or if your fungal infection doesn’t clear up with over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medicines. Your doctor may need to investigate your symptoms to rule out other infections, or prescribe stronger antifungal drugs for you.

When to call your provider

Contact your healthcare provider if your fungal infection does not heal with antifungal medication or if your symptoms worsen.

Antifungal drugs used to treat HIV-related infections

generalize

There are thousands of fungi that can cause a wide range of infections and symptoms. Antifungal drugs can kill fungal cells or stop them from growing, but it’s important to know which drug is best for which type of fungal infection. Even if you use the right form of medication, it can take weeks to months for a fungal infection to clear up completely.

Do you have a fungal or yeast infection?Check out these 10 types

VigorTip words

Fungal infections rarely cause serious illness, but they can cause irritation and discomfort. There are various over-the-counter treatments for fungal infections like jock itch or athlete’s foot, but other fungal infections may require prescription treatment.

If you are treating what you believe to be a fungal infection at home and your symptoms get worse or do not improve over time, you should see a healthcare provider for additional testing and treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do oral antifungal drugs work?

    Oral antifungal drugs work like other forms of antifungal drugs. They destroy fungi by attacking and breaking down cell membranes or cell walls. However, not every antifungal comes in oral form. Oral antifungal medications are only available for certain types of fungi and usually require a prescription from a healthcare provider.

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  • How long does it take to treat an infection with an antifungal drug?

    How long it takes to clear an antifungal infection depends on the type and location of the infection. Some fungal skin infections can begin to clear within days to weeks, while systemic infections can take months to fully resolve. Always continue treatment throughout your treatment regimen.

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