Fungal infections of the skin, hair, and nails often can be diagnosed based on the characteristic appearance of affected areas. A KOH (potassium hydroxide) prep is a simple laboratory test to confirm the diagnosis. The test uses tissue samples treated with a 20% potassium hydroxide solution to detect fungi. Examining the skin with a Wood's ultraviolet lamp is another easy and convenient method to determine the presence of a fungus. Culture and sensitivity testing can be used if a more definitive diagnosis is required. Systemic fungal infections may be initially diagnosed from blood tests. Confirmation is determined by cultures made from sputum, blood, urine, bone marrow, or infected tissue samples.
When an infusion is used, the affected area should be washed or soaked in the herbal water for at least 15 minutes twice daily. Store-bought or homemade tea bags can be soaked in water or vinegar for about 10 minutes and then used as a poultice for the same effect. Herbal vinegars make excellent remedies for fungus, as vinegar is in itself antifungal. "Gourmet" vinegars with such antifungal ingredients as oregano and garlic are often readily available at grocery stores. The vinegar can be applied a few times daily with cotton or compresses. In addition, a bentonite clay dusting powder can be useful for drying out the environment of moist skin in which fungus thrives. It works best when mixed with powdered antifungal herbs such as myrrh or goldenseal. Dusting powder is especially helpful for athlete's foot.
Many herbs high in essential oils also have antifungal action, particularly tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), oregano, lavender (Lavandula officinalis), Eucalyptus spp., rose geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), peppermint (Mentha piperita), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), and myrrh. Peppermint oil is especially helpful in relieving the itching associated with many fungal infections. The simplest way to use aromatherapy to fight fungal infections is to add several drops of any single essential oil or combination of oils to bathwater. Essential oil can also be added to mixtures for soaking or compresses. Tea tree is the herb most frequently recommended for the treatment of superficial fungal infections. As with all essential oils, the full-strength oil should be diluted in a carrier. A dilution of tea tree oil can be made by adding the essential oil to a carrier oil. This mixture can be added directly to the site of a skin infection.
A healthy diet should be maintained. Foods that are high in yeast, such as beer and wine, breads, and baked goods should be avoided. Fermented foods and sugary foods, including honey and fruit juices, should also be avoided until symptoms have cleared. Antifungal culinary herbs such as garlic, tumeric, oregano, sage, and cinnamon should be used liberally in foods. Yogurt containing live cultures can be incorporated into the diet to supply needed gut bacteria, and help reduce digestive infections such as candidiasis and thrush. Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus can also be taken directly as supplements.
Supplements that can be taken for fungal infections include vitamins A, B complex, C, and E. Caprylic acid, an extract of the coconut plant, is also recommended as an antifungal, as well as grapefruit seed extract. Essential fatty acids, contained in evening primrose oil, fish liver oil, or flaxseed oil, can help reduce the inflammation of systemic or superficial fungal infections. A dose of one of these oils is recommended as a daily supplement.
Patience Paradox, Rebecca J. Frey PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,