Antifungal medicines are used to treat fungal infections.
Fungi are plant-like organisms that feed by breaking down living tissue.
Fungi that cause infections in humans are known as dermatophytes. Dermatophytes are particularly attracted to a type of tissue called keratin, which is a tough, waterproof tissue found in many parts of the body such as in the:
- skin’s outer surface
This explains why fungal infections often occur on the skin, nails and scalp.
Common fungal infections
Antifungal medicines may be used to treat the following common fungal infections:
- ringworm – which causes a ring-like red rash on the skin of the body or scalp
- athlete’s foot – which affects the skin on the feet, causing it to become red, flaky and itchy
- fungal nail infection – which causes the toenails or fingernails to become thickened and discoloured, and sometimes brittle, with pieces of nail breaking off
- vaginal thrush – which causes irritation and swelling of the vagina and vulva (the female external sexual organs)
Invasive fungal infections
Invasive fungal infections are a less common, but more serious, type of fungal infection. They are infections that occur deep inside the body’s tissue or in one of the organs, such as in the:
- brain – for example, fungal meningitis, where a fungus causes an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord
- lungs – for example, aspergillosis, which is a lung infection caused by a fungal mould called aspergillus
People with a weakened immune system (the body’s natural defence system) are particularly vulnerable to invasive fungal infections. Those at risk include:
- people with HIV and AIDS
- people having high-dose chemotherapy to treat cancer
- people who are taking immunosuppresants – medicines to suppress the immune system (the body’s natural defence against infection and illness), often used after an organ transplant
How antifungal medicines work
Antifungal medicines work by either:
- killing the fungal cells – for example, by affecting a substance in the cell wall, causing the contents of the cell to leak out and the cell to die
- preventing the fungal cells from growing and reproducing
Types of antifungal medicines
Antifungal medicines are used in several ways, depending on your specific fungal infection. The main types of antifungal medicines include:
- topical antifungals, applied to the skin, hair or nails
- oral antifungals, swallowed in capsule, pill or liquid form
- intravenous antifungals, injected into your bloodstream
Read more about the types of antifungal medicines.
Things to consider
Before taking antifungal medicines, there are various things to consider, such as any existing conditions or allergies that may affect your treatment for fungal infection.
Read more about special considerations for antifungal medicines.
As with all medicines, antifungal medicines have side effects. These depend on the type of medication you're taking. In most cases, the side effects are mild and only last a short time, but there are rare cases of more serious problems.
Common side effects include:
In rare cases, liver damage can occur as a result of using antifungal medicines.
Read more about the side effects of antifungal medicines.
Interactions with other medicines
When two or more medicines are taken at the same time, they can sometimes affect how each other works, this is known as interaction.
There are several medicines that can interact with antifungal medicines.
Read more about medicines that can interact with antifungal medicines.
Your GP or pharmacist should advise on how to take or use your antifungal medicine. For further information, see the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine or the Medicines information tab above.
Speak to your GP or pharmacist if you take too much of your antifungal medicine. You may be advised to visit your nearest hospital’s accident and emergency (A&E) department. If you are advised to go to hospital, take the medication’s packaging with you so that the healthcare professionals who treat you know what you have taken.