What is a yeast infection?
A yeast infection is an overgrowth of a yeast fungi called candida that are naturally present in the body. Candida fungi live in:
- The mouth
- The throat
- The vagina
- The stomach and digestive system
Yeast infections, also called candidiasis or thrush, happen when something changes in your body’s chemistry to create an inviting environment for the yeast to multiply in. Yeast infections in the mouth can also affect people who have low immunity.
The main symptoms of a yeast infection in the mouth are:
- White bumps or lesions on the tongue, inside of your cheeks, or roof of your mouth
- Red, sore spots in the mouth
- Red spots that bleed when the white lesion is wiped away
- Cracked, dry corners of the mouth
- Loss of taste
- Pain while chewing or swallowing
- Dry cotton mouth
It’s also possible for the fungus to infect the throat and esophagus, the long tube that leads from the throat to the stomach. The symptoms of an infection of the esophagus are:
- Pain or difficulty swallowing
- White bumps at the very back of your throat
- The feeling of something stuck in your throat
Who can get it
Oral thrush is a common condition in babies because they have low immunity. It can be passed from the mother to the baby if the mother had a vaginal yeast infection at the time of birth.
You can tell if your baby has a yeast infection of the mouth if they:
Have milky white bumps on the tongue and lining of the mouth
- Resist feeding
- Are very gassy
- Are extremely fussy or upset
Because infants can often get oral thrush, breastfeeding mothers can also become infected. The infection can pass from baby to mother and back, making it difficult to get rid of. Symptoms of a candidiasis passed from a baby to a breastfeeding mother are:
- Painful, burning or cracked nipples
- Extreme pain during or after breastfeeding
- Crusts or a rash around the nipples
- Shooting pain through the breast
New parents should take their baby to the pediatrician (doctor who treats children) if they show signs of oral thrush. You can usually continue to breastfeed while receiving treatment for candidiasis.
Other groups of people are also at higher risk for oral thrush. These are people with lowered immunity who:
Diagnosing a yeast infection in your mouth
Your doctor may be able to recognize oral thrush by looking at your symptoms. They may examine the back of your throat and ask you questions to determine if the yeast infection has spread to your throat.
If the doctor suspects it has spread to your throat, they may recommend a procedure called endoscopy. This is done by inserting a small camera into the back of the throat and stomach to see if there is candida growth.
They might also scrape the inside of your mouth or throat and send it to a laboratory for results. This can take a few days. Once you’ve been diagnosed, they will treat the infection.
Treatments for a yeast infection in your mouth
Typically, your doctor will prescribe a topical antifungal medicine to get rid of the yeast infection. The medication is applied directly to the affected area multiple times a day for one to two weeks. This is often the treatment option for uncomplicated cases.
You will need to take an antifungal medication to get rid of a yeast infection in your mouth. You can buy these over the counter at a drugstore or get a prescription. These medicines are usually prescribed for oral thrush:
For breastfeeding mothers, the doctor usually prescribes antifungal drops or gel. If the mother is also infected, the doctor may recommend some medicine to soothe nipple irritation.
It’s possible to prevent a yeast infection in the mouth. Some ways to do so are:
- Brush your teeth after taking corticosteroids like inhalers.
- If you wear dentures, brush them after every meal, remove them at night, and make sure they fit properly.
- Avoid foods like processed sugar and wheat. They can create an inviting environment for candida.
- For infants, sterilize bottles and pacifiers after each use.
- Don’t freeze your breast milk if you or your baby have thrush. The fungus can survive cold temperatures and may reinfect your infant.
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Complications of oral thrush
Oral thrush usually isn’t a long-term problem for people with healthy immune systems. It will go away in a short time with proper medication. However, it can cause more significant problems and repeat infections in people with serious immune deficiency.
The fungus can spread to the back of the throat and esophagus (Candida esophagitis). Candida esophagitis is common in people who live with HIV/AIDS. If left untreated, the fungus can spread to other parts of the body and become systemic.
Systemic candidiasis is a serious condition that can affect the membrane linings of the heart and brain.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Dr. Brown’s: “Preventing Thrush in Breastfeeding Moms.”
National Health Service: “Oral thrush (mouth thrush).”
National Organization for Rare Disorders: “Candidiasis.”
The Pharmaceutical Journal: “Oral candidiasis: causes, types, and treatment.”
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