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The surface of the skin, as well as the digestive system and vaginal area, have a balanced mix of yeast, a type of beneficial fungus, and bacterium that prevents the overgrowth of harmful yeast and bacteria.
However, this balance can become disrupted. When too much yeast grows on your skin or in the digestive system, circulatory system, and genital areas, it can cause a yeast infection known as candidiasis.
A yeast (or candida) infection is most often caused by an overgrowth of yeast in warm and humid conditions. The multiplication of the yeast cells causes redness and intense itchiness.
A yeast infection is usually harmless, but irritating, and can last anywhere from a few days to two weeks for more severe infections. Mild yeast infections can go away on their own, but it is always recommended to seek treatment regardless of the severity of the infection to prevent it from coming back.
Besides warm and humid conditions, yeast infections can also arise from the following:
Although anyone can get a yeast infection, those at higher risk for developing one include:
Yeast infections affect different parts of the body in different ways. The following types of yeast infections (candidiasis) are based on where they originate in the body, including:
Cutaneous candidiasis. Yeast infections of the skin, caused by a fungal infection in warm, moist areas on the surface of the body. It is often a result of diaper rash for infants and those who wear adult diapers.
Candidemia (invasive candidiasis). A life-threatening yeast infection of the bloodstream that occurs in some people who are at higher risk of infection due to a weak immune system. When the fungus enters the bloodstream, the disease spreads throughout the body. This can worsen critical illness and result in death if left untreated.
Thrush. Yeast infections of the mouth.
Esophageal thrush. A type of thrush that spreads through the mucous membrane into the esophagus (the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach).
Vaginal yeast infection (vaginal candidiasis). Caused by fungal overgrowth of candida albicans in the tissue that makes up the opening of the vagina, resulting in vaginitis (or candidal vulvovaginitis/vulvovaginal candidiasis). A vaginal infection is not considered a sexually transmitted infection.
Vaginal candidiasis is very common. An estimated 75% of women will have one infection in their lifetime.
Penile yeast infection. Similar to a vaginal yeast infection, the skin around the genital area as well as the penis have an overgrowth of candida fungus, often caused by poor hygiene or unprotected intercourse with someone who has a vaginal yeast infection.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and health history, which may include past infections and STIs.
Your provider will also give you a physical exam, part of which may include a pelvic exam to examine the external genitals for signs of infection and in some instances using an instrument to inspect inside the genitals.
For yeast infections of the vagina, a sample of vaginal fluid (secretion) may be sent for testing to determine the type of fungus that may be causing the infection.
The healthcare practitioner may scrape off a bit of skin or remove part of a nail and check it to confirm the diagnosis for yeast infections of the skin.
Yeast infections are often treated with the help of antifungal medication, medicated suppositories (a cone-shaped medication inserted into the vagina or rectum to administer treatment), or medicated creams. These medications are prescribed based on the location of the yeast infection.
If yeast infections are left untreated, they may lead to certain complications and exacerbated symptoms, as well as an increased likelihood of the yeast infection returning. Be sure to contact your healthcare practitioner right away if you have any signs or symptoms of a yeast infection, as this will make treatment and recovery faster and easier.
You may be at risk of a complicated yeast infection if you have any of the following conditions or symptoms:
Complicated yeast infections are still treatable, but may include a longer treatment protocol,. extra doses of medication, or long-term use of topical anti-yeast medicine for those with recurring yeast infections.
If standard treatment for a yeast infection is proving unresponsive, or if your symptoms have changed or gotten worse, it is possible you may have another condition.
Some skin conditions and bacterial infections can mimic the symptoms of a yeast infection. These include:
Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis and the proper treatment protocol, for yeast infections or otherwise.
If you often have yeast infections, it is likely you understand exactly what caused it, such as antibiotics. Whether or not you know the cause, take note of the following “do’s and dont’s” to combat recurrent yeast infections:
Yeast infections are common, but quick diagnosis and treatment help the discomfort and symptoms go away quickly. Take preventative measures against future infections, and talk to your doctor if you have recurrent symptoms.