We’ve all heard of bacterial and viral infections – but how common are fungal infections? They are very rare but occur in some people, namely industrial workers and farmers or those with weakened immune systems (who have undergone chemotherapy or organ transplant).
Fungi are in a completely different family than bacteria and viruses. They operate differently, infect differently, and present their hosts with different symptomology. While the immune system is usually able to fight off fungal infections easily, a compromised immune system often has a hard time.
Diseases such as diabetes, leukemia, lymphoma, congenital immunodeficiencies, overuse of antibiotics, taking anti-rejection medications after an organ transplant, and other immune-compromising conditions restrict the body’s ability to fight off a fungal infection.
Most cases of fungal sinusitis are noninvasive, meaning the infection is restricted to just the sinuses. However, in rare cases, fungal sinusitis can be invasive and spread to the blood vessels, eye area, and central nervous system; it has a high mortality rate.
Symptoms of Fungal Sinusitis:
- Nasal congestion
- Nasal drainage
- Facial pain/pressure
- Loss of smell or foul odor in the nose
In people with compromised immune systems, these symptoms may be accompanied by:
- Changes of the skin (turning pale or black)
- Numbness in the face
- Facial swelling (cheeks or eyelids)
What Causes Fungal Sinusitis?
There are 4 types of fungi that can cause sinusitis.
- Saprophytic fungus – grows on top of mucus or mucous crusts inside the nose; the fungus does not infect the nasal tissue, it just feeds off of the mucus.
- Fungus ball – fungus gets caught in one of the sinuses and forms clumps of material (often with bacteria too); usually occurs in people with normal immune systems.
- Allergic fungal rhinosinusitis – results from an allergic reaction to a common fungus, presents with allergy-like symptoms; usually occurs in people with normal immune systems
- Invasive fungal sinusitis – severe infection of the nasal and sinus linings that invades other nearby tissues (eyes, blood vessels, brain).
How To Treat Fungal Sinusitis
Depending on the type and severity, the treatment consists of either a procedure/surgery, an antifungal medication, or both. Procedures usually involve opening up the sinuses, draining them, and flushing them out. Sometimes, if tissues have been affected, the procedure is meant to remove the infected tissues.
Procedures can be minimally-invasive or more invasive, depending on the severity and type of the infection. Antifungal medications are used, but usually not without surgery. They are prescribed after draining the sinuses to prevent the fungus from regrowing.
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