What are yeast? What is a yeast infection?
Yeast are microscopic fungi consisting of oval cells that reproduce by forming buds. There are many types of yeast. Some yeast types are important in baking and brewing (baker's yeast, brewer's yeast). Thus, most yeast are harmless to humans. However, Candida albicans, or Candida, is a yeast that can infect humans and cause illness.
Most commonly, yeast can cause infection of skin and mucous membranes. Such infections are called mucocutaneous candidiasis. They occur mainly in warm, moist areas of the body where the skin is often folded together (groin, armpits, underneath the breasts and occasionally, fingernails). Candida infections are the major cause of diaper rash in children.
Candida also can infect:
Is a yeast infection contagious?
Most yeast infections are not contagious. They usually occur when conditions on the skin, mouth (mucosal surface), vagina and penis/foreskin develop extra moisture and warmth, often associated with a suppressed immune system. It is in these situations where Candida can ideally grow and multiply. Infrequently, the yeast infection can be transferred between men and women during sex. However, since most yeast infections are not transferred from person to person, a yeast infection in the vagina or penis/foreskin is not considered to be a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Vaginal Itching Causes
Vaginal itching is the hallmark of yeast infections and other vaginal
infections (including sexually transmitted diseases [STDs]); however, vaginal itching
also can be caused by decreased estrogen levels in women during menopause, and due to chemical irritants that may be found in:
- detergents or soaps,
- douches and vaginal creams,
- toilet paper,
- bath products,
- feminine hygiene products, and
- vaginal contraceptive products.
How do I know if I have a yeast infection?
Yeast infections in skin folds include the following symptoms:
- reddish rash
- itching or burning of the skin
- skin bumps or pimple-like structures
- skin patches that ooze a clear or slightly yellowish fluid
Symptoms of a yeast infection also may be specific to the area infected.
- Symptoms of yeast infection of the mouth (thrush) include thick, whitish patches on the tongue and/or inside of the cheeks and pain, especially when eating or drinking. Thrush may be a sign that the patient may be immune depressed.
- Vaginal or penile yeast infection produce symptoms similar to those seen on the skin and can include burning with urination.
- Infrequently, yeast infections can occur almost anywhere inside the body's organs, especially the gastrointestinal tract. These infections are seen mainly in persons with suppressed immune systems (such as patients with HIV infections, cancer, and chemotherapy).
- Some people on long-term antibiotic therapy may also develop yeast or other fungal infections.
Most yeast infections are diagnosed from a person's medical history and physical examination. During the physical examination the health-care professional will take a skin scraping to examine the cells under a microscope. A culture of the yeast also may be ordered. Usually, no other tests are done; however, the FDA approved a new rapid blood test for Candida's genetic material (PCR or polymerase chain reaction test) in 2014. These tests also help distinguish between yeast and other skin infections such herpes or bacterial skin infection (cellulitis), and concurrent infections with other bacteria, fungi, or viruses.
How will I know if I am cured of a yeast infection?
Once the symptoms disappear, most individuals are cured of the yeast infection. However, yeast infections can recur.
- Skin yeast infections are usually treated with medicated creams containing antifungals such as clotrimazole, miconazole, nystatin or many others.
- Oral infections (thrush) are usually treated with medicated mouthwash or lozenges that dissolve.
- Medicated suppositories or creams are used to treat vaginal infections. These agents contain similar antifungals as described above for skin infections. However, some patients may require systemic therapy with antifungal agent, such as Itraconazole.
Symptoms usually decrease or are gone in about 2 to 4 days after treatment is started. In more severe infections, systemic therapy (intravenous therapy) may last for about 14 to 21 days. Other treatments may last longer depending on the extent of infection and the patient's response to treatment. Consultation with an infectious disease specialist is often recommended for severe infections.
Home remedies for yeast infection
Home remedies for treatment of yeast infections are numerous, but it is recommended that you consult with your physician before trying these home remedies. Examples include:
When should I seek medical care for yeast infection?
The majority of yeast infections can be treated without medical care (diaper rash, vaginal yeast infection); however, if OTC (over-the-counter treatments) fail (no improvement in symptoms within 2 to 3 days), individuals should seek medical care. Some health-care professionals' recommend that individuals seek medical care for any type of yeast infection to be sure they are not suffering from some underlying disease. Individuals that develop any white patches on their mouth lining should seek medical care because they may have additional medical problems.
If you have a known medical condition that results in immunity suppression (for example, diabetes, chemotherapy, cancer) and develop whitish patches on your mouth lining, you should seek medical care quickly.
In general, pregnant women that develop a skin or vaginal yeast infection usually can use OTC medical treatment for the infection. However, it is always best to check with your OB/GYN physician before using any medication while you're pregnant.
Medically Reviewed on 10/30/2017
Hidalgo, JA. MD. "Candidiasis." Medscape. Updated: Nov 04, 2016.
"Vaginal Yeast Infection." Womenshealth.gov. Updated Jan. 6, 2015.