Fungal diseases belong to the infectious diseases and represent a third large group of infectious diseases besides bacterial and viral infections. The medical profession uses the term mycosis (Greek: mykes – the fungus) for fungal diseases. Of course, not all of the many thousands of fungal species we know are dangerous for humans, but about 180 species can cause disease patterns relevant to humans.
From a medical point of view, a rough classification of fungi into filamentous fungi (dermatophytes), shoot fungi (yeasts) and molds makes sense. The pathogen group of fungi differs in some important characteristics from other pathogens such as bacteria or viruses, so that diagnostics and therapy options must be tailored to different fungal diseases. The appearance of fungal diseases is subject to a wide spectrum.
The most common fungal diseases are found on the surface and on the skin or nails. They are called tinea. These include the annoying but harmless athlete’s foot. Besides these superficial mycoses, there are also systemic infections affecting the whole body and internal organs. These can be life-threatening, but occur almost exclusively in seriously ill and weakened people on the basis of other basic diseases.
The exact severity of the symptoms depends on the pathogen and clinical picture. The most important general symptom of superficial fungal diseases is skin changes. They usually appear as round, but also spot-like diffuse redness.
The skin begins to flake. Depending on the severity, a yellowish-white secretion appears. In addition, those affected complain of a sometimes severe itching, which further promotes the spread of the fungus.
Hair falls out in hairy places, mucous membranes may show white coatings. Deeper going fungal diseases destroy the skin. If it is a systemic mycosis, symptoms of severe diseases occur such as fever, shortness of breath, unconsciousness and even death.
Fungal diseases are caused by a number of different circumstances. What they all have in common is that the fungus must be able to enter the body or skin in some form and multiply there. The transmission takes place thereby usually by direct contact from humans to humans, it can happen also indirectly.
The classic example of this is the athlete’s foot fungus, which one has picked up in a swimming pool. The fungi, or its spores, get onto the skin and can nest and multiply in the smallest skin folds or cracks. If the pathogen comes into contact with a blood vessel, systemic infections can develop.
After some time, the typical symptoms of fungal diseases develop. There are a number of risk factors that favour the development of a superficial fungal disease. These include all circumstances that affect the barrier function of the skin or disturb the immune system in its normal function.
Typically, diabetes mellitus or peripheral arterial occlusive disease (paVk) are mentioned as negative influencing factors. In the course of diabetes, sensitivity disorders occur, so that small lesions on the foot may not be noticed. Due to the reduced blood flow in the context of paVk, the skin is no longer fully capable of immediately repairing small skin damage, so that fungi can penetrate more easily.
Personal hygiene is also an important factor in the development of fungal diseases. A lack of hygiene can promote fungal diseases. On the other hand, fungal diseases of the skin occur just as frequently in people with excessive hygiene behavior.
The skin naturally has a natural protective mantle, which creates a slightly acidic environment. If this is attacked by constant washing, it makes it easier for pathogens to penetrate the skin. In some cases, fungal diseases are also transmitted via the air when a person inhales spores that have been coughed up.
An example of this is aspergillosis, which does not occur in healthy people. Severe fungal diseases occur in people with weakened immune systems. Here the body can no longer fight the infection, so that deep tissues and organs are attacked.