Facts You Should Know About a Yeast Infection (Candida, Candidiasis)
Typical affected areas in babies include the mouth and diaper areas.
A yeast infection results from an overgrowth of yeast (a type of fungus) anywhere in the body. Candidiasis is by far the most common type of yeast infection. There are more than 20 species of Candida, the most common being Candida albicans. These fungi live on all surfaces of our bodies. Under certain conditions, they can become so numerous they cause infections, particularly in warm and moist areas. Examples of such infections are vaginal yeast infections, thrush (infection of tissues of the oral cavity), skin, including diaper rash, beneath large breasts, and nailbed infections.
- Candida infections commonly occur in warm moist body areas, such as underarms. Usually, your skin effectively blocks yeast, but any breakdown or cuts in the skin may allow this organism to penetrate.
- Typical affected areas in babies include the mouth and diaper areas.
- Vaginal yeast infection, which is the most common form of vaginitis is often referred to as vaginal Candidiasis.
- In adults, oral yeast infections become more common with increased age. Adults also can have yeast infections around dentures, in skin folds under the breast and lower abdomen, nailbeds, and beneath other skin folds. Most of these candida infections are superficial and clear up easily with treatment. Infections of the nailbeds often require prolonged therapy.
- Rarely, the yeast infection may spread throughout the body. In systemic candidal disease (in which the fungus enters the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body), up to 45% of people may die. Even common mouth and vaginal yeast infections can cause critical illness and can be more resistant to normal treatment.
- Yeast infections that return may be a sign of more serious diseases such as diabetes, leukemia, or AIDS.
What Causes Yeast Infections?
- In women, yeast infections are the second most common reason for vaginal burning, itching, and discharge. Yeast are found in the vagina of 20% to 50% of healthy women and can overgrow if the environment in the vagina changes. Antibiotic and steroid use is the most common reason for yeast overgrowth. However, pregnancy, menstruation, diabetes, and birth control pills also can contribute to getting a yeast infection. Yeast infections are more common after menopause
- In people who have a weakened immune system because of cancer treatments, steroids, or diseases such as AIDS, candida infections can occur throughout the entire body and can be life-threatening. The blood, brain, eye, kidney, and heart are most frequently affected, but Candida also can grow in the lungs, liver, and spleen. Candida is a leading cause of esophagitis (inflammation in the swallowing tube) in people with AIDS.
- Almost 15% of people with weakened immune systems develop a systemic illness caused by Candida. These infections enter into the bloodstream through breakdowns or cuts in the skin or mucous membranes. Candidal organisms may build up in an area because of frequent use of antibiotics, which kill the bacteria that normally keep them under control.
- Use of implanted devices and tubes that penetrate into the body like urinary catheters and IV ports/lines also provide access for the yeast to enter the body. IV drug users utilizing dirty needles may inject the yeast directly into their bloodstream or deep tissues.
What Are the Symptoms and Signs of a Yeast Infection?
Signs and symptoms of a Candida infection can vary depending on the location of the infection.
- In women, signs and symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are a white discharge that is thick and often described as having a cottage cheese appearance. The infection typically causes itching and irritates the vagina and surrounding outer tissues. On occasion there may be pain with sexual intercourse or burning with urination.
- Genital yeast infection in men: Men may develop symptoms of a genital yeast infection after intercourse with a woman who has a vaginal yeast infection. However, yeast infection is not considered to be a sexually-transmitted disease (STD) because women can have the yeast normally in the body and do not acquire it from an outside source. Most experts do not recommend treatment of male sex partners of women with Candida yeast infection unless they develop symptoms. Symptoms can include itching and burning of the penis as well as a rash on the skin of the penis.
- In infants and adults, a Candida infection can appear many different ways.
- Oral candidiasis is called thrush. Thick, white lacy patches on top of a red base can form on the tongue, palate, or elsewhere inside the mouth. These patches sometimes look like milk curds but cannot be wiped away as easily as milk can. If the white plaques are wiped away with a blade or cotton-tipped applicator, the underlying tissue may bleed. This infection also may make the tongue look red without the white coating. Thrush can be painful and make it difficult to eat. Care should be given to make sure a person with thrush does not become dehydrated. Thrush was formerly referred to as moniliasis, based upon an older name for Candid albicans (Monilia).
- Candida organisms naturally live on the skin, but breakdown of the outer layers of skin promote the yeast's overgrowth. This typically occurs when the environment is warm and moist such as in diaper areas and skin folds. Superficial Candida skin infections appear as a red flat rash with sharp scalloped edges. There are usually smaller patches of similar appearing rash nearby, known as "satellite lesions." These rashes may cause itching or pain.
- In people with weakened immune systems, yest infections can affect various internal organs and cause pain or dysfunction of the organ. People with suppressed immune systems due to AIDS, chemotherapy, steroids or other conditions may contract a yeast infection called esophagitis in their upper gastrointestinal (GI) systems. This infection is similar to thrush but extends down the mouth and esophagus to the stomach. Candida esophagitis can cause painful ulcers throughout the GI system, making it too painful to swallow even liquids. If the infection spreads into the intestines, food may be poorly absorbed. People with this condition are in danger of becoming dehydrated. There may be associated pain in the area of the sternum (breast bone), pain in the upper abdomen, and/or nausea and vomiting.
- If Candida gets into the bloodstream, the person may become sick with or without fever. If the infection spreads to the brain, they may have acute changes in mental function or behavior.
Can a Candida Yeast Infection Enter the Bloodstream? Can You Die?
Candida yeast infections may spread throughout the body. In systemic Candida disease (in which the fungus enters the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body), up to 45% of people may die. Even common mouth and vaginal yeast infections can cause critical illness and can be more resistant to normal treatment.
When Should You Call a Doctor for a Yeast Infection?
When to call the doctor
For healthy children and adults, if a medication is tried and fails, or symptoms become worse, consult your health care practitioner. All people with weakened immune systems should contact their health care practitioners with any new symptoms or infections.
- Various conditions can cause nonmenstrual vaginal discharge in women, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and bacterial vaginosis.
- If you are having abnormal vaginal discharge and are not sure whether you have a yeast infection, consult your health care professional.
- If yeast infections recur, see your doctor for a more thorough work-up. Candidiasis that recurs may be a symptom of a hidden disease such as diabetes, leukemia, or AIDS.
- Other symptoms such as bloody discharge, abdominal pain, fever, and increased urination also can indicate more serious problems, and you should seek medical help.
- Oral thrush needs a prescription medication and a prompt visit to the doctor. If children take no fluids for longer than 12 hours, contact your doctor. Any fever or prolonged problems with feeding also warrant a visit to a doctor.
- Diaper rash or other candida infections on the skin can be treated with over-the-counter nystatin powders (Mycostatin, Nilstat, Nystat-Rx, Nystex, O-V Staticin) or antifungal creams and lotions.
- If the rash worsens at any time, or if the lesions do not clear in 1-2 weeks, call your doctor.
- Fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, or the rash spreading to other parts of your body may be a sign of a more serious illness.
- People with weakened immune systems must take all forms of candidiasis seriously and treat them aggressively. The infection may indicate that your immune system is functioning poorly. Your doctor should evaluate any symptoms of candidal infections.
- If you already are being treated for a candidal infection and the symptoms worsen or do not improve, notify your doctor.
- Fevers, chills, vomiting, general illness, or worsening rash needs to be investigated promptly.
When to go to the hospital
Most cases of candidiasis do not have to be treated in the hospital. People with weakened immune systems may have more serious infections, however, and may need to be hospitalized.
- Women should go to the hospital when fever, chills, nausea and vomiting, or abdominal pain accompanies vaginal discharge. These symptoms can indicate a more serious problem such as kidney infections, appendicitis, or pelvic inflammatory disease. These potential conditions need to be investigated promptly.
- If thrush interferes with drinking liquids or eating for long periods of time, people may need to be hospitalized for more aggressive medications and replacement of body fluids.
- Candida skin infections rarely require hospital treatment.
- People with weak immune systems run the risk of the candidal organisms spreading to their blood or internal organs, which can cause life-threatening illness. IV medication may be necessary to combat this systemic illness. Your doctor should promptly investigate symptoms of illness or general malaise.
What Tests Diagnose a Candida Yeast Infection?
For healthy people, most physicians can diagnose a Candida yeast infection without laboratory tests. Occasionally, if the infection won't go away or involves the entire body, more extensive tests may need to be performed.
- The only definitive way to diagnose a vaginal yeast infection is to complete a full gynecologic exam.
- This exam includes a speculum exam, using a specialized instrument to hold open your vagina. The exam can be uncomfortable because of pressure against the tissues. The health care practitioner will take a swab of the discharge and may obtain other cultures to rule out other diseases. The swab for yeast will be mixed with a drop of potassium hydroxide and will be placed on a slide. If yeast are present, a specific branching pattern will be seen through the microscope.
- The doctor then may insert two fingers into your vagina and gently press on your uterus, ovaries, and surrounding areas to check for any tenderness or other problems. The health care practitioner also may take blood and urine specimens after this exam. You should not douche or have sexual intercourse 1-2 days before the exam, because doing so may make the diagnosis more difficult.
- In healthy children and adults, a quick exam of the mouth or skin usually confirms the diagnosis of candidiasis. If there is any confusion about the diagnosis, the health care practitioner may obtain a small scraping of the area, which will be placed on a slide with potassium hydroxide and examined for a branching pattern consistent with yeast.
- In people with weakened immune systems, oral, vaginal, and skin candida infections usually can be diagnosed by visual infection. When a person becomes sick, the health care practitioner may perform more invasive tests to confirm the diagnosis. Specimen collection may be necessary to check for Candida in the blood and urinary tracts. People with catheters may have their catheters changed and the catheter tips sent for culture. If a CT scan or MRI indicates candidiasis of the brain, health care practitioners may take a biopsy to distinguish between Candida and other diseases. Usually health care practitioner give IV medications for serious systemic infections.
What Is the Treatment for a Yeast Infection?
Treatment for Candidiasis yeast infection include over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medication creams and medications.
Are There Home Remedies and Over-the-Counter Medicines for Yeast Infections?
Most Candida infections can be treated at home with over-the-counter (OTC) remedies or prescription medications and can clear within a week. But if some other disease has weakened your immune system, consult a doctor for any new symptoms before attempting self-treatment.
- Most women can treat yeast infections at home with over-the-counter medications. A number of OTC remedies are available:
- Massage these remedies into your vagina and surrounding tissues for 1-7 days depending on the formulation. If increased irritation occurs to the area, discontinue the medication immediately.
- If you are pregnant, consult your doctor before using these treatments.
- A single dose of fluconazole (Diflucan) - (see medical treatments) is as effective as topical antifungal creams.
- If symptoms are recurrent or continue for more than 1 week, consult your doctor.
- These remedies also can be used to treat men with a genital yeast infection.
- In thrush, swish the antifungal agent nystatin (Bio-Statin, Mycostatin, Mycostatin Pastilles, Nilstat) around in the mouth. Take care to maintain excellent oral hygiene.
- All objects put into a child's mouth should be sterilized after each use.
- Women who are breastfeeding should be evaluated for Candida of the breast.
- If a person wear dentures, clean them thoroughly after each use and practice good oral hygiene.
- Adults have several treatment options not available to babies, such as troches (antifungal lozenges) or pills such as fluconazole (Diflucan), to help clear the infection in addition to nystatin.
Skin and diaper rash
- Clotrimazole (Mycelex) creams and lotions can be applied to superficial skin infections. Other medications need a prescription and a visit to a health care practitioner.
- The affected area should be kept clean and dry.
- For diaper rashes, frequent diaper changes and the use of barrier creams will speed recovery.
If the individual's immune system is weak, the doctor may handle minimal local infections with home care. More serious infections may need IV medications administered at the hospital.
What Antibiotic Creams, Lotion, and Pills Treat Yeast Infections?
A wide array of treatment options is available to treat candidiasis yeast infections. Options include creams, lotions, pills, troches (lozenges), and vaginal suppositories. Talk to your doctor to find the option that is right for you.
- Azole medications are a family of antifungal drugs that end in the suffix "-azole." They block the manufacture of ergosterol, a crucial material of the yeast cell wall. Without ergosterol, the yeast cell wall becomes leaky and the yeast die. Fortunately, ergosterol is not a component of human membranes, and azoles do not harm human cells. Examples include miconazole, tioconazole, clotrimazole, fluconazole, and butoconazole.
- Polyene antifungals include nystatin and amphotericin B. Nystatin is used for thrush and superficial candida infections. Doctors reserve amphotericin B for more serious systemic fungal infections. The antifungals work by attaching to the yeast cell wall building material, ergosterol. These medications then form artificial holes in the yeast-wall that causes the yeast to leak and die.
How Long Does It Take for a Yeast Infection to Go Away?
With proper treatment, most Candida infections resolve without further problems. Vaginal yeast infections, thrush, and diaper rash usually clear in 1-2 weeks. In people with weakened immune systems, these infections can recur and become difficult to treat.
What Does a Candidiasis Yeast Infection Look Like?
A moist patch of the skin surrounding the anus. (Images courtesy of Matthew C. Lambiase, DO) Condition caused by candidiasis developed within hours of birth on the hand of an otherwise healthy newborn. (Images courtesy of Matthew C. Lambiase, DO) Dry, red scaly patches of candidiasis on the penis (Images courtesy of Matthew C. Lambiase, DO) White plaques representing thrush are present inside the cheek and under the tongue. When wiped off, the plaques leave red erosive areas (Images courtesy of Matthew C. Lambiase, DO). Rash of candidiasis in the armpit (Images courtesy of Matthew C. Lambiase, DO). Candidiasis (Image courtesy of Hon Pak, MD). A fingernail with candidal infection becomes red, swollen, and tender with an occasional discharge. (Images courtesy of Matthew C. Lambiase, DO). Soreness and cracks at the sides of the mouth is a frequent expression of candidal infection in the elderly. (Images courtesy of Matthew C. Lambiase, DO).
Reviewed on 9/2/2021
Hidalgo, J.A., et al. "Candidiasis." Medscape. Jan. 17, 2020. <https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/213853-overview>.