Mycosis – Definition, Types, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Definition of mycoses

Mycosis (Plural: mycoses) also known as fungal infection, is a disease caused by different types of fungi. Fungi are a diverse group of organisms that can grow in different environments, including soil, water, and plants. Some fungi can also live on or in the human body, and when they overgrow or invade tissues, they can cause various health problems. Mycoses can affect different parts of the body, including the skin, nails, hair, lungs, and other organs.

Types of fungi that cause mycosis

There are many different types of fungi that can cause mycoses in humans. These include:

  • Dermatophytes: These fungi are responsible for most cutaneous mycoses, which are fungal infections of the skin, hair, and nails. Examples of dermatophytes include Trichophyton, Microsporum, and Epidermophyton.
  • Candida: This type of yeast is a common cause of superficial and systemic mycosis. Candida can cause thrush (oral candidiasis), vaginal yeast infections, and invasive candidiasis, which can affect internal organs and lead to severe illness.
  • Aspergillus: These fungi are common in the environment and can cause various types of mycoses, including allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis, invasive aspergillosis, and aspergilloma.
  • Cryptococcus: This type of yeast can cause meningitis and other serious infections, especially in people with weakened immune systems.
  • Histoplasma: This fungus is found in soil and bird droppings and can cause histoplasmosis, a respiratory infection that can be severe in some people.
  • Pneumocystis: This fungus is a common cause of pneumonia in people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS.

Importance of mycosis in human health:

Mycoses can have a significant impact on human health, especially in people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or organ transplants. In these populations, mycoses can be life-threatening and difficult to treat.

In addition, mycosis can cause chronic skin and nail infections that can affect the quality of life of affected individuals. It also has economic implications, as they can result in high healthcare costs and lost productivity. Therefore, understanding the causes, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment of mycoses is essential for the prevention and management of these fungal infections.

Types of mycoses

Fungal infections can affect your skin, nails, mucous membranes, or other body surfaces (superficial or mucocutaneous), as well as your subcutaneous tissue and internal organs like your heart, lungs, or brain (deep infection).

Superficial mycosis

Your nails, skin, and mucous membranes are all affected by superficial fungal infections (like your mouth, throat, or vagina). Examples of fungal infections that are superficial include:

  • Ringworm (dermatophytosis): Ringworm is brought on by a class of fungi called dermatophytes, which feed on skin, hair, and nail cells. They can affect various parts of your body, including your feet (tinea pedis/foot), athlete’s foot and inner thighs (tinea cruris/jock itch), scalp (tinea capitis), hands (tinea manuum), facial hair and its surrounding skin (tinea barbae), and other areas (tinea corporis).
  • Onychomycosis: Your fingernails or toenails might become infected due to a variety of fungi. This may result in brittle and discolored nails.
  • Candidiasis: Candida (often Candida albicans) causes candidiasis, an infection of the skin and mucous membranes (mucocutaneous). They include candidal intertrigo, esophageal candidiasis, several forms of diaper rash, vaginal yeast infections (vulvovaginitis), and oral thrush.
  • Pityriasis versicolor (tinea versicolor). Skin darkening known as tinea versicolor or pityriasis versicolor is brought on by the fungus Malassezia.

Subcutaneous mycosis

If the fungus enters a cut or wound, typically by injury when dealing with plants, you may develop a fungal infection beneath the surface of your skin (subcutaneous) (like a scratch from a thorn). They result in skin conditions like rashes, ulcers, and other symptoms.

Tropical and subtropical regions of the world have a higher prevalence of subcutaneous fungal infections. Examples comprise:

Sporotrichosis (the disease of rose gardeners): The sporotrichosis-causing sporothrix fungus. Moreover, sporotrichosis might affect your lungs or other body organs.

Chromoblastomycosis: Chromoblastomycosis can be brought on by a wide variety of fungi. It might result in persistent (chronic) skin infections. It rarely spreads to other body parts.

Eumycetoma: The fungi that can cause eumycetoma are numerous. Your feet are typically the most affected.

Systemic mycosis

Other parts of your body than your skin, such as your lungs, blood, urinary system, or brain, can also have deep fungal infections. Certain infections are opportunistic, which means that they typically only make people sick when their immune systems are already compromised.

  • Fungal infections that are deep or invasive include:
  • Histoplasmosis: The fungus Histoplasma, which causes histoplasmosis, can infect your lungs, brain, or other organs. The valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers are frequent locations for it.
  • Coccidioidomycosis (Valley fever) Coccidioidomycosis, which is brought on by the fungus Coccidioides, can affect your lungs and, in rare cases, spread to other areas of your body. It is most prevalent In Arizona and California.
  • Blastomycosis: The fungi that cause blastomycosis, called Blastomyces, frequently affect your bones, skin, and lungs. Occasionally, it may also infect your spinal cord and brain.
  • Aspergillosis: A number of lung infections, including allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) and chronic pulmonary aspergillosis, can be brought on by Aspergillus, the mold that causes aspergillosis. It can create a fungal ball or spread to other areas of your body (aspergilloma).
  • Invasive candidiasis: It is caused by many Candida species. Your heart, blood (candidemia), brain, eyes (endophthalmitis), bones, UTI, or other body components may become infected with it. Most urinary tract infections (UTIs) are brought on by bacteria, however, others are brought on by yeast like Candida.
  • Pneumocystis pneumonia (PJP). Your lungs may become infected with the fungus Pneumocystis jirovecii, which can result in pneumonia (PJP).
  • Mucormycosis: Mucormycosis is brought on by a class of molds known as mucormycetes. Mucormycetes can infect your skin (cutaneous mucormycosis), lungs (pulmonary mucormycosis), gastrointestinal tract (gastrointestinal mucormycosis), sinuses (rhinocerebral mucormycosis), intestines, or multiple body areas simultaneously (disseminated mucormycosis).
  • Cryptococcosis: Cryptococcosis is Caused by Cryptococcus neoformans and Cryptococcus gattii. They mostly affect your lungs, but they can sometimes affect your brain and spinal cord as well (cryptococcal meningitis).

Risk factors of Mycosis

Environmental factors

Environmental factors play a significant role in the risk of developing mycoses. Fungi that cause mycoses are everywhere in the environment, and certain activities or living conditions can increase exposure to them.

For example, living in or visiting areas with high humidity or mold growth, such as damp basements or agricultural settings, can increase the risk of fungal infections. Other environmental factors that may increase the risk of mycoses include exposure to contaminated soil, water, or air.

Host factors

Host factors are individual characteristics that can affect the likelihood of developing mycoses. These factors can include age, immune status, underlying medical conditions, and medications.


Age is a significant risk factor for mycoses, with certain age groups being more susceptible to fungal infections. Infants and elderly individuals are particularly vulnerable to fungal infections due to weakened immune systems and other age-related factors.

Immune status

The immune system plays a critical role in protecting the body against fungal infections. Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or autoimmune diseases, are at increased risk of developing mycoses. Similarly, individuals who have undergone organ transplants or are taking immunosuppressive medications are also at increased risk of fungal infections.

Underlying medical conditions

Underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes or chronic lung disease, can also increase the risk of mycoses. These conditions can impair the body’s ability to fight off infections and create an environment that is conducive to fungal growth.


Certain medications can also increase the risk of developing mycoses. For example, broad-spectrum antibiotics can disrupt the natural balance of microorganisms in the body, leading to fungal overgrowth. Similarly, corticosteroids and other immunosuppressive medications can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of fungal infections.

Diagnosis of Mycosis

Clinical evaluation

Clinical evaluation is an important component of diagnosing mycoses. A healthcare provider will typically evaluate a patient’s medical history and symptoms, as well as conduct a physical examination.

Fungal infections can present with a wide range of symptoms, depending on the type of infection and the location of the infection. Common symptoms of mycoses include skin rashes, itching, redness, and flaking skin, as well as respiratory symptoms such as coughing and difficulty breathing.

Laboratory tests

Laboratory tests are essential for confirming a diagnosis of mycoses. Several types of laboratory tests can be used to detect fungal infections:

Microscopic examination

The microscopic examination involves using a microscope to examine a sample of tissue, skin, or bodily fluids for the presence of fungal elements. This can include looking for fungal hyphae (thread-like structures) or spores. Microscopic examination is often used for diagnosing superficial and cutaneous mycoses.


Culture involves growing fungi in a laboratory setting, allowing for further identification and characterization. Fungal cultures are typically grown on special media, and the resulting colonies can be observed for growth characteristics and other features. Culture is often used for diagnosing subcutaneous and systemic mycoses.


Serology involves measuring the levels of antibodies in the blood against specific fungal antigens. This can help to confirm a diagnosis of mycoses, as well as monitor response to treatment. Serology is often used for diagnosing systemic mycoses.

Molecular methods

Molecular methods involve using techniques such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to detect specific fungal DNA or RNA sequences. Molecular methods can be used to confirm a diagnosis of mycoses or identify the specific species of fungus causing the infection.

Antifungal drugs

Antifungal drugs are the mainstay of treatment for mycoses. There are several classes of antifungal drugs that can be used to treat fungal infections:


Azoles are a class of antifungal drugs that work by inhibiting the synthesis of fungal cell walls. They can be used to treat a wide range of fungal infections, including superficial, cutaneous, subcutaneous, and systemic mycosis. Examples of azoles include fluconazole, itraconazole, and voriconazole.


Polyenes are another class of antifungal drugs that work by binding to the fungal cell membrane and disrupting its structure. They are typically used to treat systemic mycoses, as well as some forms of cutaneous and subcutaneous mycoses. Examples of polyenes include amphotericin B and nystatin.


Echinocandins are a newer class of antifungal drugs that work by inhibiting the synthesis of fungal cell walls. They are typically used to treat invasive fungal infections, such as candidemia and invasive aspergillosis. Examples of echinocandins include caspofungin and micafungin.


In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat mycoses. This is particularly true for subcutaneous mycoses, where fungal infections can form abscesses or granulomas that require surgical drainage. Surgery may also be necessary for some forms of invasive fungal infections, such as aspergillosis or mucormycosis.


Immunotherapy involves the use of medications or treatments to boost the immune system’s ability to fight off fungal infections. This may be particularly important for patients with weakened immune systems or other underlying medical conditions that increase the risk of fungal infections. Examples of immunotherapy include the use of interferon-gamma or colony-stimulating factors.


Prevention of mycoses involves both environmental and host measures. Some ways to prevent fungal infections include:

Environmental measures

Proper hygiene: Maintaining good hygiene is an essential way to prevent fungal infections. This includes washing hands frequently, taking regular showers or baths, and keeping skin clean and dry.

Avoiding exposure to fungi: Fungi are present in many different environments, including soil, water, and air. To reduce the risk of exposure to fungi, it is important to avoid activities that can increase the risk of infection, such as handling contaminated soil, visiting areas with high levels of fungal spores, or inhaling contaminated dust or particles.

Host measures

Immune system support: A strong immune system is essential for fighting off fungal infections. To maintain a healthy immune system, it is important to follow a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and avoid habits that can weaken the immune system, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

Prophylaxis in high-risk individuals: Certain groups of people are at higher risk of developing fungal infections, such as those with weakened immune systems, HIV/AIDS, or undergoing chemotherapy. In these cases, prophylaxis with antifungal drugs may be necessary to prevent fungal infections.

Other measures that can help prevent mycoses include

Avoiding sharing personal items, such as towels or combs, with others

Wearing protective clothing, such as gloves or masks, when handling contaminated materials

Seeking prompt medical attention for skin infections or other signs of fungal infections

Using antifungal powders or sprays in shoes or on skin folds to reduce moisture and fungal growth.


In conclusion, mycoses are fungal infections that can affect various parts of the body and are caused by different types of fungi. The different types of mycoses include superficial, cutaneous, subcutaneous, and systemic mycoses, each with its own unique symptoms and treatments. Risk factors for mycoses include environmental and host factors, such as age, immune status, underlying medical conditions, and medications. Diagnosis of mycoses involves a combination of clinical evaluation and laboratory tests, such as microscopic examination, culture, serology, and molecular methods.


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Mubashir Iqbal
Mubashir Iqbal

Mubashir Iqbal is a highly dedicated and motivated Microbiologist with an MPhil in Microbiology from the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences. Currently, he is researching the efficacy of commercially available SARS Cov-2 vaccines to neutralize the omicron variant in Pakistan. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Microbiology and has experience in chemical and microbiological analysis of water samples, managing SOPs and documents according to standard ISO 17025. Additionally, he has worked as an internee in BSL 3, Institute of Microbiology, UVAS, where he gained experience in RNA extraction, sample processing, and microscopy.

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