Yeast infections are considered an overgrowth of yeast in the body, also known as Candida species. Yeast is a type of fungus that thrives in warm, moist environments. Also known as candidiasis, yeast infections are usually treatable. Yeast is naturally found in the body and is usually regulated by the immune system and other essential bacteria in the body.
The more common types of yeast infections include oral thrush and genital candidiasis, which can happen to both men and women. Yeast infections can also happen to other parts of the body as well. If left untreated, the organism may spread to the blood and infect the body as a whole. Genital candidiasis can also be passed back and forth between sexual partners if left untreated.
Symptoms and Warning Signs
Symptoms for oral thrush may include:
- Thick, white patches in the mouth and/or tongue
- Redness, inflammation, or swollenness inside the mouth
- Painful cracks around the corners of the mouth
- Pain and difficulty eating or swallowing
Symptoms for genital candidiasis may include:
- Rash on the penis and/or surrounding genital area
- Red, patchy sores near the foreskin
- Severe itching and/or burning sensation
- White, milky discharge near the head of the penis
- Thick, cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge
- Strong vaginal odor
- Vaginal irritation, itchiness, and/or inflammation
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Burning sensation when urinating
Any inflammation and irritation of the skin due to prolonged unventilated coverage may also be a sign of yeast infection, and not all symptoms need to be present for an infection to occur. If you are experiencing any of these warning signs, be sure to go to your doctor so he or she can prescribe the effective treatment. If symptoms worsen or are accompanied by chills and nausea, it may be a more serious illness caused by another organism.
Causes and Risk Factors
Yeast infections usually occur when immune systems are weakened. Hence, individuals suffering from immunodeficiency disorders, including but not limited to cancer patients, AIDS patients, and organ transplant receivers, may be more susceptible to candidiasis.
The Candida yeasts generally prefer warm, moist, and unventilated environments. Hence, skin areas not well-ventilated may be at risk for yeast infections, including but not limited to the skin in orthopedic casts used to set broken bones, genital areas, and even diaper rashes on babies.
Women are also more prone to yeast infections than men due to naturally occurring vaginal flora. A diet high in sugar and overly sweetened foods may also put an individual at risk, as it throws off the pH balance of the body. Unnecessary use of excessive antibiotic therapy can also increase risks due to decreased naturally-occurring essential bacteria that monitor the growth of yeast. Patients who have had yeast infections before are also at a higher risk of recurring infections. Thus, it is important to talk to your doctor when undergoing antibiotic treatments and follow the course of treatment completely as prescribed.
Prevention and Treatment
Simple lifestyle and diet changes can be made to help prevent yeast infection. Since yeasts prefer warm and moist environments, infections may be prevented by keeping the skin dry and well-ventilated. A decreased intake of sugars and overly sweetened foods may also help. For women undergoing antibiotic treatments for another illness, consuming foods rich in probiotics, such as yogurt, may help preserve vaginal flora and prevent yeast overgrowth.
Depending on the infection site, treatments consist of medication in different physical forms. Medicated mouth rinse liquids for oral thrush and topical ointments for the skin may be prescribed. Vaginal suppositories and creams, which are inserted into the vaginal canal via applicators, are also widely available for women as over-the-counter treatments.
It is important to consult your healthcare provider for the best course of treatment rather than seeking self-treatment, as Candida yeasts may also become resistant to antifungal medication over time if not properly diagnosed and treated by a physician. Treatment for yeast infections lasts between 3 to 7 days, and it is important to finish the entire course of treatment to avoid producing antifungal-resistant strains of yeast that may later re-infect the original site.
Tests and Diagnosis
To diagnose the problem, the doctor will usually take a culture sample of the growth from the infection site and examine it under a microscope to confirm the presence of the Candida yeast. Depending on the infection site, the culture sample may be saliva, vaginal or penile secretions, or a blood tissue sample. Usually, the sample will be examined under a microscope via wet mount to distinguish the yeast flora.
Since urinary tract infection for women also share very similar symptoms as that of genital candidiasis, doctors may also run a urine culture test for patients. It is important to have a medical professional diagnose the problem before any self-medication, so that proper treatment can be implemented.