Yeast infections are uncomfortable, but not usually serious. This article will describe the symptoms and causes of these very common infections, how to find relief (sometimes right at home!), and when to see a doctor. Please note that this article is about non-vaginal yeast infections. Read our other article if you have questions about vaginal yeast infections.
What Is a Yeast Infection?
The fungus that typically causes yeast infections is called candida. It can cause an infection if too much of it grows in or on your body. The fungus affects various parts of your body in different ways, depending on where it occurs:
- Yeast infections of the mouth (oral thrush): Such infections cause white patches in your mouth. Thrush in adults is common and easily treated.
- Yeast infections of the esophagus (candida esophagitis): These infections result from oral thrush spreading to your esophagus, the tube that takes food from your mouth to your stomach. It can make it hard or painful to swallow.
- Skin yeast infections (cutaneous candidiasis): These cause itching and a rash.
- Penile yeast infections: Men can get yeast infections on the glans of their penis which can cause soreness, a red rash and white patches.
- Vaginal yeast infections: Many women will get a vaginal yeast infection at some point in their lives. Click here to learn more about this common infection.
- Diaper rash: Infants and toddlers with wet diapers can get a yeast infection that causes a rash.
The good news is that all of these types of yeast infections can usually be treated quickly and effectively with medication.
Another type of yeast infection is called invasive candidiasis, or candidemia. This is when a yeast infection enters the bloodstream and affects other organs such as your heart, liver, brain, eyes, and bones. It usually happens to people who are already very ill and develop the infection in a hospital or in a healthcare facility, such as a nursing home.
Like other types of yeast infections, if you have diabetes or a weakened immune system, you are at a greater risk of developing an invasive candidiasis/candidemia. The most common symptoms are fever and chills that do not improve after antibiotic treatment for suspected bacterial infections. In America, candidemia occurs on average in 9 out of 100,000 people.
Yeast Infections in Men
Men can get candida yeast infections on their penis, although such infections are uncommon. They are usually due to poor hygiene and are more often seen in uncircumcised men. The most common predisposing medical condition associated with these infections is diabetes mellitus and they are more likely to be found in men with uncontrolled diabetes.
The symptoms of yeast infections in men include small white spots, redness, or a dry, peeling rash on the penis accompanied by itching, irritation, or burning. Treatment generally includes topical antifungals and improvement in hygiene. It can take several weeks of treatment before the infection resolves.
Yeast Infection Symptoms
Yeast infection symptoms vary depending on where the infection is located in your body. In the table below you can see the most common symptoms, but you may have other symptoms as well.
Causes and Risk Factors of Yeast Infections
Candida is normally found on various parts of your body, including your skin, mouth, esophagus, and genitals (vagina or penis). When too much yeast grows in these areas of your body, it can cause an infection called candidiasis. The most common of the 150 candida species is candida albicans.
Factors that can increase your risk of developing a yeast infection include:
If you have an infection, your doctor may prescribe you a broad-spectrum antibiotic such as tetracycline or amoxicillin. Antibiotics act to kill bacteria causing an infection. The problem is that they also kill healthy bacteria that keep the yeast in check. Therefore, if you have recently been on antibiotics or take antibiotics frequently, you are at a greater risk of developing a yeast infection.
An Impaired Immune System
Yeast infections may be a sign of a weakened immune system, and they are more likely to occur in babies and older adults who have reduced immunity. People with conditions such as HIV or who are taking immunosuppressive medication, such as steroids and chemotherapy, may also be at a higher risk. If you have a weakened immune system, the symptoms may be more severe and the infection may be more difficult to treat.
If you use inhaler medication with corticosteroids (a common treatment for asthma and COPD), you may have a higher risk of oral thrush.
Untreated or uncontrolled diabetes can cause high concentrations of sugar in your saliva. This creates an ideal environment for candida growth because the fungus feeds on the sugar and can lead to oral thrush.
If you wear dentures, you are more likely to develop oral thrush.
If you are overweight, you may have more skin folds, which can create a moist, warm environment in which candida can grow.
Yeast infections thrive on warm, moist skin so tight-fitting clothing, especially if made from synthetic materials, promotes these ideal conditions for candida.
Note that yeast infections of the penis can lead to a condition known as balanitis where there is inflammation of the head of the penis. The risk of getting balanitis is higher in men who are uncircumcised. It may be uncomfortable and sometimes painful, but it is not usually serious. You can get it treated with topical medication.
Yeast Infections of the Nipple in a Nursing Mother
This type of yeast infection can be passed between mothers and breastfeeding babies. If you notice that your breasts and nipples are sore and itchy and/or your baby has an oral thrush infection, you may have a yeast infection. Unfortunately, these infections can be challenging to get rid of, and it is possible that both mother and baby will need to be treated for a yeast infection. The mother may also consider seeking help from a lactation consultant to ensure proper latch and decrease chances of nipple trauma, which can put her at risk of further infection.
How Is a Yeast Infection Diagnosed?
A doctor will start by first taking your medical history and performing a physical exam. If you have oral thrush, for example, your doctor can usually diagnose it by looking inside your mouth, but sometimes a small scraping will be sent to a lab for testing.
Candidiasis in the esophagus can be diagnosed during an endoscopy. This is where your doctor examines your upper digestive tract using a camera, which goes into your mouth and down your throat. You are sedated during this procedure.
To diagnose yeast infections on the skin or nails, your doctor will use a blunt-edged instrument to scrape off a small bit of skin or nail for examination. You may feel some pressure and a little discomfort, but it is not painful.
Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor can treat your yeast infection with medication.
Yeast Infection Prevention – What You Can Do at Home
You can help prevent yeast infections by carrying out the following:
- Maintain good oral health.
- Rinse your mouth or brush your teeth after using inhaled corticosteroids.
- Stop smoking.
- Clean your dentures thoroughly each night.
- Wear cotton underwear and avoid sitting in wet or sweaty clothes to help prevent a genital yeast infection.
- Keep areas where skin rubs up against skin clean and dry.
- Maintain a proper diet, sleep cycle, and exercise regimen to keep a strong immune system.
- If you have diabetes, it is important to keep your blood sugar levels under control.
- Change babies’ diapers often to prevent a rash and irritated skin which increases the risk of a yeast infection.
Yeast Infection Treatment Options
Yeast infections can usually be treated effectively with medications. The treatments depend on the severity and frequency of your infections. Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter antifungal medicine or prescribe an antifungal medicine. Depending on where your infection is, the medicine will be applied directly to the skin, or taken by mouth. For example, the treatment for mild to moderate infections in the mouth or throat is usually an antifungal medicine (such as clotrimazole, miconazole, or nystatin) applied to the inside of the mouth for 7 to 14 days. For more serious thrush or esophageal yeast infections, your doctor may prescribe you a medicine such as fluconazole, which is a pill taken orally.
It is vital that you take your medication as prescribed by your doctor, even if your symptoms go away before the end of your treatment course. Many yeast infections clear up after a few days or weeks of treatment, but some may need more long-term treatment.
There may be other causes of your symptoms, which can mimic those of a yeast infection. Possible causes of thrush-like symptoms which are not due to a yeast infection include:
Coated or White Tongue
This is where the tongue’s surface is covered by dead cells and bacteria. These become trapped between small nodules on the tongue producing a white coating. This is usually harmless, but may make your breath smell bad. Practice good oral hygiene and avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
This is where your tongue has smooth red patches with an irregular light-colored border. The patch varies in size and can move around every few days. This condition is harmless and normally resolves with time.
Oral Lichen Planus
This is where there are white, almost lacy, streaks and patches in the mouth. It is a chronic condition that can be uncomfortable but is usually mild. If not painful, it does not need treatment. Although there is no cure, you can get symptomatic treatment with topical numbing agents to lessen the pain, and corticosteroid gel, ointment or mouthwash to reduce inflammation.
This is a white patch or plaque in the mouth. It is often persistent and cannot be removed by brushing or scraping. This can be a sign of something more serious and should be evaluated by a physician.
Aphthous Mouth Ulcers
These are painful sores inside the mouth and are also known as canker sores. They are common, usually harmless, and disappear on their own.
When to See a Doctor
If you leave a yeast infection untreated, the symptoms can increase in severity so it is worthwhile to see a doctor as soon as possible. If you self-treat with an over-the-counter antifungal and find no relief, it is time to see a doctor. This is especially important if you develop any other symptoms. Your doctor will be able to determine what if any further testing or treatment is indicated.
Since other conditions can mimic a yeast infection, it is important to check with a doctor if your symptoms have resolved within 14 days.