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Yeast Infection

Yeast infections are caused by fungus or yeast, which are microscopic in size. The medical term for yeast infections is candidiasis. The name derives from the species of fungus called Candida. Yeast infections are extremely common among the human population, in particular the species Candida albicans. Yeast infection can occur all over the body including between the toes (athletes foot), in the groin area (vaginitis) and even inside the mouth (thrush).
In many cases, if the infected person has a strong immune system and the yeast infection is treated properly, candidiasis is relatively harmless. In other cases, where the immune system is weakened due to immunodeficiency disorders, yeast infections can be much more harmful and very difficult to treat.

Yeast infections occur on the warm, moist parts of the body; the underarms, the groin area, between the toes and in the mouth to name a few. Candida fungus can also penetrate openings in the skin (wounds, dermatological conditions) and cause infection. Typical areas of infection include:

• Between the toes, common with athletes who wear closed toed shoes while performing sports or sports training. Cool, dark locker/shower rooms are conducive to the growth of fungus, which can cause the fungus to spread.

• The groin area: Yeast infections in the groin area of women, called yeast vaginitis, is another common type of yeast infection in women of all ages.

• Babies, with lower immune systems, are more susceptible to candidiasis with the mouth and diaper area being the most common areas of infection.

• Elderly people have a higher chance of contracting a yeast infection in the mouth, especially if they use dentures. This is commonly called oral thrush.

• Other areas of infection can be under the breasts, under the arms and in the folds of the skin.

What Causes Yeast Infections

Yeasts and fungi are present in all people, but are kept to a minimum by the immune system and by other bacteria and enzymes present in the body. A yeast infection simply occurs when yeast is present but not kept in check by these regulating factors. The yeast continues to grow and multiply, affecting an area of the body conducive to it’s growth. A lowered immune system due to unrelated factors is the most common reason for a yeast infection. People with HIV or AIDS have a much higher chance of contracting a yeast infection which can become systemic and infiltrate the entire body. Systemic yeast infections can be fatal.
For people with lowered immune systems, such as the elderly, newborns, or people with other illnesses, yeast infections are more common but are not likely to become systemic. In some cases, the yeast or fungus can be transferred (by sharing clothes and towels or by having intercourse for example).

Other factors can contribute to the accelerated growth of fungus and the resulting infection. Steroid use, for medical or aesthetic purposes, can make the body more prone to yeast infections. Certain antibiotics have also been linked to yeast infection outbreaks in some patients. Antibiotics usually kill other bacteria that normally keep the Candida in check, thus allowing it to flourish, replicate and create an infection.

Simple hormonal changes can also cause the Candida fungus to multiply and cause an infection. For vaginitis, a simple change in hormone levels has been shown to be the cause of some yeast infections. Diabetes mellitus has also been linked to yeast infections. Lack of hygiene, especially in combination with malnutrition or poor eating habits can greatly increase the chances of a yeast infection.

Yeast Infection Symptoms

There are many symptoms of yeast infections, usually dependant on their location on the body. Below are some symptoms of the more common yeast infections.

• Oral Thrush: Yeast infections of the mouth and throat are fairly common in newborns and elderly. Symptoms include a redness of the tongue, palette or inside of the cheeks usually followed by the onset of a thick, whitish covering. The whitish areas usually manifest in patches, and appear to be easily removed but are often difficult to remove and can be very painful. Pain similar to canker sores, oral thrush can cause difficulty in eating, speaking and wearing oral hardware.

• Vaginitis: The most common yeast infection among women, vaginitis has symptoms of extreme burning and itchiness. Sometimes there is a milky discharge from the affected region. There is sometimes a curd-like appearance to heavily affected areas. Vaginitis can also infect the vulva. It should be mentioned that although much less common, men can also experience yeast infections in the groin area, known as penile yeast infections. These infections usually cause a red, burning, itching rash near the end of the penis and under the foreskin. Colored discharges are possible but not as common as with vaginitis.

• Candidiasis of the skin: Yeast infections occurring on other parts of the body usually start out as itchy, slightly burning patches on the skin. The skin eventually becomes covered in a red rash with scalloped edges. Other smaller rashes may start to appear near the main rash or the originally infected area. Once the rash is present, the area may be extremely itchy or have a painful burning sensation.

Yeast infections, in some cases, can be much more serious than simple or superficial infections. With people who have immunodeficiency diseases, the Candida fungus can spread into the digestive tract. In extreme cases, the yeast infection can spread to internal organs, and even into the bloodstream. When the Candida infection becomes this extreme, there are a whole multitude of symptoms depending on what area is infected. People with these diseases should have their doctor performing regular checkups and should record any strange rashes or pains to be presented to their physician upon every visit.

Yeast Infection Treatment

Yeast infections are treated differently depending on where the infection is located. Treatments range from home remedies to over-the-counter drugs to medical prescriptions. Below are some common treatments for yeast infections.

Natural Medication

Tea tree oil, in particular the compound terpinen-4-ol, has been used to treat yeast infections naturally for years. The oil is applied directly to the affected area as a topical medication. Note: dilute tea tree oil before applying to sensitive areas such as the vagina.
Probiotics have been shown to regulate the Candida fungus in the body. Taking probiotics (which are themselves bacteria that are helpful to the body) may help maintain internal balance and keep the Candida fungus in check, thereby curing yeast infection while preventing them.

Over the counter medication

Clotrimazole is found in many creams and lotions and can be used as a topical medication for superficial infections (infections on the skin).
Miconazole is a very common antifungal agent used for fungus infections on all parts of the body (except the mouth). Miconazole is the active ingredient in Monostat.
Other antifungal agents (antimycotics) include nystatin, fluconazole and ketoconazole. These antifungal agents can be found in a variety of retail creams, lotions and tablets for the purpose of fighting superficial fungal and yeast infections.

Prescription Medication

In some cases, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or steroids to fight a fungal infection. However, the use of antibiotics for fungal infections is diminishing due to two factors: yeast infections and fungus are able to adapt and evolve, making prolonged antibiotic treatments useless, and; antibiotics can inadvertently kill other bacteria in the body that usually keeps yeast infections (and other fungi and viruses) in check.

When to See a Physician

Below are examples of when to see your physician. This does not mean it is not acceptable to visit your physician without these symptoms. This section simply recommends seeing your physician if you haven’t seen him/her yet and you are showing the following symptoms.


• Vaginal discharge for over a week
• Bloody - discharge, abdominal pain, fever accompanying infection
• Persistent infection even after at home treatment
Oral Thrush
• Oral thrush, particularly in children, should be properly diagnosed by a physician
• Treatment, usually nystatin, is not effective.
• Inability to eat or intake fluids due to pain (particularly with children)
Superficial Infections (underarms, between the toes, under the breasts)
• When regular over the counter treatment is not working
• The infected area is spreading to other parts of the body (eg: from one armpit to the other)
• Nausea or vomiting is associated with the rash/infection
Needless to say, if you have an immunodeficiency disorder it is important to notify your doctor if any yeast infection symptoms arise. If your rash is associated with nausea and vomiting, you should contact your physician immediately.

Preventing Yeast Infections

Yeast infection prevention is not always 100% effective, but there are preventative measures that can be taken to greatly reduce your chances of infection.
Hygiene: Proper hygiene cannot be stressed enough. Although people with good hygiene can still get a yeast infection, good hygiene can help ward off fungus in the starting stages. Besides warding off a number of other infections, good hygiene can reduce the chances of getting a yeast infection. When cleaning, pay particular attention to the underarms, groin area, between the toes and under the breasts. After washing, make sure these areas are completely dry.


As with a vast amount of other conditions, diet plays a key role in helping your body maintain a healthy balance. Poor nutrition can result in a lowered immune system, making yeast outbreaks more common. Further, if your diet does not include certain bacteria found in a variety of foods (particularly dairy foods), then your body may not have enough ‘friendly’ bacteria to keep yeast infections or other fungi in check.

Remember, if you get a yeast infection, don’t panic. If it’s your first yeast infection, speak to your doctor. After reading this article you will already be knowledgeable in the basic causes and treatment options available.



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