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What are Antifungal Medications?

Antifungal medications treat and prevent fungal infections. Most of these infections involve the skin, hair, and nails. Some common fungal infections include

  • Severe cases of dandruff, which causes the scalp to flake and peel
  • Fingernail or toenail infections that cause thick, brittle, or discolored nails
  • Ringworms, a reddish circle-shaped fungal infection of the skin
  • Infections like athlete’s foot or jock itch that cause red, itchy, flaky skin on the feet or groin
  • Vaginal yeast infections that cause swelling, irritation, and redness of the vulva in women

Experiencing a fungal infection can be frustrating, uncomfortable, and sometimes even embarrassing. Fortunately, most of them rarely evolve into a serious health issue. However, some infections can become severe if not treated.

Treatment duration

Treatment length depends on the severity of the infection and your overall health. For example, a vaginal yeast infection only requires a few days of treatment. However, a ringworm infection on the scalp can take up to eight weeks before it completely heals.

How antifungal medications work

Antifungal medicines work by killing the fungi that cause infections. They do this by creating holes in the fungal cell membranes. Other medications work by keeping the fungal cells from growing or reproducing.

Types of antifungal medications

Antifungal medications come in several forms. The type of medication depends on the kind of fungal infection the patient has.

Antifungal medication types include skin or nail creams and ointments, vaginal suppositories, scalp and hair solutions or shampoos, oral tablets, capsules, and liquid syrups. More rarely, medical personnel may administer antifungal intravenous (IV) injections for system-wide infections.

Common antifungal medications list

There are many different brand names of antifungal medications, but most use the same generic ingredients. Some of these generic medications include

 The package lists the active ingredient for each medication. It also lists a product strength, either by percentage or in milligrams. Creams and topical applications usually display percentages, while oral or IV medications may list milligrams.

Treating invasive fungal infections

Antifungal medications are mostly used to treat mild infections. Some severe fungal infections are treated with antifungals too, such as fungal meningitis of the spinal cord and brain, or Aspergillus infections of the lungs.

Although antifungal medications can help clear up fungal infections, they may offer no relief from the itchiness that often accompanies these infections. To relieve the itching, patients may need to use anti-itch creams or powders until the infection has cleared.

At-risk groups

People with weak immune systems are at higher risk of contracting an invasive fungus. They include people with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Organ transplant patients are also at risk due to the immunosuppressant drugs they must take to prevent organ rejection.

Side effects of antifungal medications

In most cases, antifungal medications do not cause any noticeable side effects, but occasionally side effects may occur. Side effects are generally mild but resolve on their own.

  • Topical antifungal side effects - itching, redness, and mild skin irritation
  • Side effects of oral antifungal medications - headaches, rash, nausea, upset stomach, abdominal pain, diarrhea, gas, and indigestion
  • Side effects of intravenous antifungal injections - kidney problems, irregular heartbeat, blood pressure fluctuation, liver failure, fever and chills, muscle and joint pain, headache

Allergic reactions

Antifungal medications can cause severe reactions as well. Stop taking your medication and contact your current health care provider right away if you experience blistering or peeling skin. Get emergency medical help immediately if you show signs of a severe allergic reaction. These signs include facial, neck or tongue swelling or difficulty breathing.

Risks of taking oral antifungal medications

If the infection does not respond to topical creams or ointments, the doctor may prescribe an oral antifungal drug. Some of these medications carry additional risks, especially if you already take other medications or drink alcohol. Oral antifungals can affect liver or kidney function, so your current doctor may perform regular blood tests while you are taking it. You and a medical provider should weigh the benefits against the risks before deciding to take oral antifungal medication.

Antifungal medication interactions

Certain drugs may change the way antifungal medications work. The following list contains known drugs that interact with antifungals.

  • Anxiety and depression medications like benzodiazepine or tricyclic antidepressants
  • Immunosuppressant medications such as cyclosporine or tacrolimus
  • Cimetidine, a drug that treats ulcers and indigestion
  • Hydrochlorothiazide, a high blood pressure medication
  • Contraceptives such as estrogen or progesterone
  • Phenytoin, a drug that treats epilepsy
  • Rifampin, an antibiotic used to treat tuberculosis

This is not a full list of the drugs that may interact with antifungal medications. Make sure you tell your current doctor or pharmacist about any medications you already use, including over-the-counter drugs.

Home remedies for fungal infections

Some fungi may be developing a resistance to azole drugs, the primary type of medication for treating fungal infections. To combat this resistance, some people are turning to natural remedies. Here are a few popular options.

Probiotics

Normally, the vagina contains helpful microbes that keep harmful fungi like Candida in check. However, hormones and antibiotics can disrupt this delicate balance. Yogurt and other probiotic foods like kombucha contain friendly bacteria that may help treat vaginal yeast infections. A 2003 report suggested that Lactobacillus cultures show promise as a treatment for yeast infections.  

Eating yogurt is a natural way to help keep vaginal infections at bay. However, beware of purchasing brands with high amounts of sugar, which can feed the fungus instead of getting rid of it. You should also never place yogurt directly into the vagina since it could cause a secondary infection.

Garlic

Studies show that garlic more effectively combats athletes foot better than some prescription creams. Garlic contains a chemical compound called ajoene, which fights the fungus. Cut or mash a fresh clove and apply it to the affected area. However, be forewarned. If your feet did not have a strong smell before, they will now – at least temporarily.

Oregano essential oil

This plant-based antibiotic contains high amounts of antiseptic compounds called phenols. Phenols are effective at fighting fungus caused by bacteria. Studies showed Its antibacterial properties were effective against five kinds of harmful bacteria.

Although oregano oil can be effective, use it cautiously. Dilute it heavily with a carrier oil to prevent skin irritation. Using it on sensitive areas of the body is not recommended.

Tea tree oil

In laboratory studies, tea tree oil proved effective against various strains of Candida, the fungus responsible for vaginal yeast infections. The tests included both azole resistant and nonresistant strains of the fungus. Researchers also tested tea tree oil in rats, and the results were just as effective. Again, heavy dilution is recommended.

Coconut oil

This plant-based oil has several health benefits because it contains special fats that work like antiviral and antibacterial agents. It works to build and protect the immune system and prevent yeast and fungal infections. Coconut oil also helps fight fungal infections that can cause brittle, thickened, or discolored fingernails and toenails. You can include a spoonful in your diet each day or apply it topically.

Dill oil

This essential oil possesses antibacterial properties, making it a potential ingredient for new antifungal drugs. In laboratory experiments, the oil extracted from dill seeds disrupted the cell membrane of fungal bacteria, much like some antifungal drugs.

Caprylic acid

This supplement is known for its antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal benefits. Its ability to strengthen the immune system makes caprylic acids a vital ingredient in many topical fungicides.  Taken by mouth, caprylic acid naturally stunts yeast growth in the gastrointestinal tract so that healthy bacteria can thrive.

Boric acid

Boric acid also has antifungal properties, which makes it an economical home remedy for fungus. Boric acid suppositories are also effective against yeast infections, especially those caused by Candida. Treatment takes place nightly for a week to 10 days.

Although multiple medical journals tout its effectiveness, you should use boric acid under a doctor’s supervision. The substance can sometimes cause vaginal burning and should be diluted. Also, it is not suitable for frequent use or during pregnancy.

A little common sense goes a long way when choosing an antifungal medication. Whether you use a home remedy, over-the-counter medications, or a prescription, it is a good idea to discuss any treatment options with a doctor. With most antifungal treatments, consistency is key. Make sure you use the product for the recommended time and contact a doctor if you experience side effects or the infection worsens.

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