Antifungal Drugs: Types & How they Work

Antifungal drugs, types, how they work and the symptoms of a fungal infection

What are Antifungal Drugs?

How do antifungal drugs such as miconazole and amphotericin b function? In this article you will learn about the antifungal drugs, types, how they work and the symptoms of a fungal infection.

Around the globe, fungi may be found in a variety of environments. The majority of fungi do not harm people. Some species, however, can afflict people with disease.

Antifungal drugs are prescribed to patients with fungal infections. The majority of fungal infections affect the skin and nails, however others can worsen and even be fatal illnesses like meningitis or pneumonia.

Antifungal drugs come in a variety of forms and are used to treat fungal infections.

How do antifungal drugs work

Antifungal drugs typically have two main modes of action: either they destroy the fungal cells directly or they stop them from proliferating. Yet how do they accomplish this?

In order to treat a fungal infection without harming your body’s cells, antifungal drugs target structures or activities that are essential to fungal cells but not to human cells.

The fungal cell wall and membrane are two components that are frequently targeted. The fungus cell is surrounded and safeguarded by both of these structures. The compromised one might cause the fungal cell to rupture and perish.

Types of antifungal drugs

Various antifungal drugs exist. They can be administered orally, topically or intravenously. The administration method for an antifungal drug relies on a number of variables, including the medicine in question, the kind of illness you have, and how serious it is.

Drugs that fight fungus are divided into groups based on their chemical structure and mode of action. Below, we’ll go through the many antifungal drug categories and provide some instances of the illnesses each one treats. Antifungal drugs list:

Azoles antifungal drugs

Some of the most widely used antifungals are azoles. They disrupt an enzyme necessary for the formation of the fungal cell membrane. The result is an unstable cell membrane that may eventually leak and cause cell death.

There are two subgroups of azole antifungals: imidazoles and triazoles.

Examples of imidazole antifungals and the conditions they treat are:

  • Ketoconazole: infections of the skin and hair, Candida infections of the skin and mucous membranes, blastomycosis, histoplasmosis
  • Clotrimazole: skin and mucous membrane infections
  • Miconazole: skin and mucous membrane infections

Some examples of triazoles and the conditions they treat are:

  • Fluconazole: Candida infections, including mucosal, systemic, and invasive infections; cryptococcosis
  • Itraconazole: aspergillosis, blastomycosis, histoplasmosis, mucosal Candida infections, coccidioidomycosis (off-label), and onychomycosis
  • Posaconazole: aspergillosis (off-label for treatment), mucosal and invasive Candida infections
  • Voriconazole: aspergillosis, mucosal or invasive Candida infections, infections with Fusarium species
  • Isavuconazole: aspergillosis and mucormycosis

Polyenes antifungal drugs

Polyenes kill fungi by increasing the porousness of their cell walls, which makes them more likely to burst.

The following are some examples of polyene antifungals:

  • Amphotericin B: various formulations are available to treat aspergillosis, blastomycosis, cryptococcosis, histoplasmosis (off-label), mucosal or invasive Candida infections, and coccidioidomycosis
  • Nystatin: Candida infections of the skin and mouth

Allylamines antifungal drugs

Similar to azole antifungals, allylamines block an enzyme essential for the formation of the fungal cell membrane. Terbinafine is an example of an allylamine and is frequently used to treat fungal infections of the skin.

Echinocandins antifungal drugs

Echinocandins are a more recent class of antifungal drug. They prevent the activity of an enzyme necessary for the synthesis of the fungal cell wall.

Some examples of echinocandins are:


There are a few further varieties of antifungal drugs. These have mechanisms that are distinct from the categories we’ve just covered.

Flucytosine is an antifungal that stops the production of nucleic acids and proteins in fungal cells. The cell can no longer develop and flourish as a result. Systemic infections with Candida or Cryptococcus species can be treated with flucytosine.

Griseofulvin: The action of griseofulvin is to stop the fungal cells from reproducing and proliferating. It can be used to treat infections of the skin, hair, and nails.

Fungal infections

The fungal infection comes in many different forms. By coming into contact with a fungus or environmental fungal spores, you can get a fungal infection. Some of the most common fungal infections are those of the skin, nails, and mucous membranes.

Examples include:

  • Ringworm (also known as tinea): a fungal infection of the skin that can occur on your scalp, on your feet (athlete’s foot), in your groin area (jock itch), and on other areas of your body
  • Nail fungus: an infection that typically affects your toenails but can also affect your fingernails
  • Vaginal yeast infection: an infection that occurs due to overgrowth of Candida yeast in and around the vagina
  • Oral thrush: a condition in which Candida yeast overgrows in your mouth

More severe fungal infections

Additionally, there are a few less frequent but more dangerous fungal infections that can result in systemic infections, fungal meningitis, or even fungal pneumonia.

Some examples of fungal that can result in more severe illnesses are:

  • Aspergillus
  • Blastomyces
  • Candida
  • Coccidioides
  • Cryptococcus
  • Histoplasma

Who’s at risk for a fungal infection?

Although they can affect anybody, fungal infections are more frequent in those with compromised immune systems.

Those that are susceptible to having compromised immune systems include:

  • currently hospitalized
  • taking medications that suppress the immune system
  • living with HIV or AIDS
  • undergoing treatment for cancer
  • transplant recipients

Symptoms of a fungal infection

Some of the typical fungal infection symptoms include the following:

  • Ringworm of the body: a ring-shaped rash on your torso, arms, or legs that is scaly and perhaps itchy
  • Ringworm of the scalp: localized plaques, pustules, or scaly spots on your scalp that itch, are perhaps sensitive, and cause hair loss
  • Athlete’s foot: scaly skin on the bottom of your feet
  • Jock itch: an itchy, red rash that appears in your groin area and on your inner thighs
  • Nail fungus: nails that become discolored, brittle, and deformed
  • Vaginal yeast infection: itching, redness, and swelling in the vaginal area — thick white vaginal discharge and a burning sensation when urinating may also occur
  • Oral thrush: development of white lesions in your mouth that may also be red and painful

Read Candida Overgrowth Symptoms: Causes and Treatment

Symptoms of severe fungal infections

Depending on the type of fungus involved and the afflicted part of your body, the symptoms of some of the more severe fungal infections might change.

They may include the following:

  • fever
  • night sweats
  • flu-like symptoms, such as headache, fatigue, and body aches and pains
  • respiratory symptoms like cough and shortness of breath
  • symptoms of meningitis, like severe headache, stiff neck, and light sensitivity

When to see a doctor for fungal infections

Set up a consultation with your doctor if:

  • over-the-counter (OTC) antifungals haven’t worked to relieve the symptoms of infections like ringworm, nail fungus, or a vaginal yeast infection
  • unexplained white lesions develop in your mouth
  • you have a fever, flu-like symptoms, or a worsening rash and/or you suspect a fungal infection

There are several symptoms for which you should never delay seeking medical care.

These include:

  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • coughing up blood
  • symptoms of meningitis, such as severe headache, stiff neck, and light sensitivity
  • unexplained weight loss, fever, or chills

Bottom line

Fungal infections are treated with antifungal drugs. In order to destroy fungal cells or stop them from growing, they target mechanisms and features that are exclusive to fungus.

Antifungal drugs come in a wide variety of forms and can be administered in several ways. The medication, as well as the kind and degree of the illness, might affect the kind of medication used and how it is taken. See Candida Overgrowth Symptoms

Although many fungal infections are manageable, others can be dangerous. Consult a physician if a fungal infection does not improve with over-the-counter medicines or if you think you may have a more serious fungal infection. Read Antifungal Medications: Types, Uses & Side Effects


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