What is a Yeast Infection? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments
Yeast is a type of fungus. Although it’s most often associated with baking, people of all ages also naturally carry yeast in or on different parts of the body. Yeast is found on the skin, the digestive system, the vagina, around the mouth, and many other areas. Most of the time, we don’t even realize it’s there. Naturally occurring yeast, known as Candida, typically does not cause any problems in healthy individuals. However, changes in immune function and other factors can lead to a yeast infection, known as candidiasis. This is an overgrowth of yeast in one or more areas of the body. Yeast infections are very common, especially vaginal yeast infections. It affects around 3 in every 4 females at some point during their lives. Fortunately, most yeast infections are not serious and are highly treatable.
Symptoms of a Different Types of Yeast Infection
Because yeast infections can occur in different parts of the body, the symptoms often vary based on the location of the infection. Yeast infections are usually described by the area they affect, with some types being much more common than others.
Vaginal Yeast Infections
Females of any age can get a vaginal yeast infection. Most of the time, the vagina and vulva maintain good health without much effort. However, when a vaginal yeast infection occurs, you’re likely to experience uncomfortable symptoms like itching, burning, soreness, and pain. Other vaginal yeast infection symptoms include:
- Thick, white, odor-free discharge resembling cottage cheese
- Watery discharge
- Redness and swelling
- Discomfort when peeing or having sex
- Vaginal tears, cracks, and sores in severe cases
Vaginal yeast infections rarely lead to serious problems, but they often cause a lot of temporary discomfort and embarrassment. Females of all ages can be affected by yeast infections, but they’re much more common after puberty and before menopause. Additional risk factors for yeast infections of the vagina include:
- Being pregnant
- Using douches or vaginal sprays, which can affect the bacteria balance in the vaginal area
- Using hormonal birth control with high levels of estrogen
Thrush is a type of yeast infection that is very common in babies but fairly rare in adults. It causes white patches to form inside the mouth, on the tongue, and inside the cheeks. These patches are raised and can have the appearance of cottage cheese. Usually, thrush symptoms cause pain and redness in the mouth. If thrush occurs in the throat, it may be difficult to swallow.
Skin Yeast Infection
Skin yeast infections most often occur when the skin has been damaged. A skin yeast infection typically appears in the skin folds or the navel because the fungus thrives in a warm, moist environment. It can cause a rash, pimples, patches oozing clear fluid, itching, and burning.
Other Yeast Infections
Other areas, including under the nails, around the mouth, and the skin on the penis, can also develop a yeast infection. These areas can become red, painful, and cracked. The nail area can develop pus, whereas the skin of the penis can become scaly and develop a rash.
Cause of a Yeast Infection
Yeast infections are caused by the overgrowth of Candida in or on the body. Typically, this is due to a change in the environment of the genitals, skin, or mouth. Changes in your hormones, the medications you take, or how your immune system functions can all lead to a yeast infection.
It is fairly uncommon to get a yeast infection from another person, but it can happen. Yeast infection transmission between adults is most common during sexual contact. Sex can also cause irritation to get worse in someone who already has a yeast infection.
Risk Factors For Yeast Infections
A yeast infection can happen to anyone at any age. But, you might be more likely to develop a yeast infection if you have any of the following risk factors:
- Taking antibiotics, which kill healthy bacteria in the body that keep the yeast from overgrowing
- Health conditions affecting immune system function
- Undergoing cancer treatments
- High blood sugar
- Wear dentures
Because of their underdeveloped immune systems, infants are also more likely to develop certain types of yeast infections, especially thrush. Mothers and babies can pass thrush back and forth through breastfeeding.
If you think you might have a yeast infection, you should call your doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can get medication to help you feel better. Your doctor will start by asking about your symptoms, medical history, and any medications you’re taking.
Depending on the area where you’re experiencing symptoms, the doctor will most likely take samples from your skin or nails. If you think you might have a vaginal yeast infection, the doctor will typically perform a pelvic exam and take a swab of your vaginal fluid. Collected samples will be sent out for testing to find out if you do indeed have an infection and what is causing it. To diagnose thrush, the doctor might perform an endoscopy, which uses a small light and camera mounted on a tube to view your throat, stomach, or upper intestines.
Yeast Infection Treatments
The good news about yeast infections is that they’re usually easy to treat. Antifungal medications are reliable and effective for treating most yeast infections quickly. These medications come in many different forms. Some are available over-the-counter, and others require a prescription.
Depending on the type of yeast infection you’re dealing with, your doctor might prescribe or recommend anti-yeast medication in one of the following forms:
- Oral (pill)
- Cream or ointment
- Suppository (a device that’s inserted into the body to deliver medication)
- Medicated mouthwash or lozenges
- Intravenous medication
Antifungal medications quickly clear up yeast infection symptoms for most people. Those with more complex yeast infections might need additional anti-yeast medications and ongoing medical supervision.
It’s important to take your medication exactly as your doctor recommends, even if you start to feel better after a day or two. If you stop taking the medication early, your symptoms might come back. Some people find over-the-counter treatments ineffective and seek help from a doctor.
Yeast Infection Prevention
Sometimes, changes in the body make yeast grow faster than normal, and preventing this from happening is difficult. However, there are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of developing a yeast infection. These include:
- Keeping blood sugar under control
- Staying consistent with good oral hygiene habits, including brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash
- Keeping skin clean and dry
- Avoiding tight clothing and underwear
- Wearing breathable fabrics and underwear with a cotton crotch
- Changing out of wet or sweaty clothing as quickly as possible
- Opting for warm or cool baths and showers and avoiding hot tubs
- Never using vaginal douches and sprays
- Avoiding perfumed products in the genital area
- Taking probiotics
- Keeping antibiotic use to a minimum, only as necessary
If you have any risk factors for developing yeast infections, taking preventative steps is especially important.
If you’re noticing any possible symptoms of a yeast infection, then you’ll want to reach out to your doctor for advice. They might be able to recommend an over-the-counter antifungal product to clear up your infection or ask you to come in for an exam. Most oral medications require a prescription, and you might need something stronger than you can buy at the drugstore.
Yeast infections are uncomfortable, but most people only get them every once in a while. If you’re noticing yeast infection symptoms regularly, talk with your doctor about long-term management options to reduce your risk of developing new infections.