What is candidiasis?
Candidiasis is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of a type of yeast that lives on your body (Candida albicans). A candidiasis infection often appears on your skin, vagina or mouth, where Candida naturally lives in small amounts. Healthy bacteria on your body prevent yeast overgrowth. Imagine you have a two-armed scale with healthy bacteria on one side and yeast on the other. The scale stays balanced until disruption occurs from stress, a poor diet, a weakened immune system or an uncontrolled medical condition. When something disrupts your scale, a Candidiasis infection occurs.
What types of candidiasis exist?
Since yeast naturally lives in your body, there are different types of candidiasis based on the location of the infection. Types of candidiasis include:
- Vaginal candidiasis (vaginitis): A common infection that causes burning, itching, redness and discharge from your vagina.
- Cutaneous candidiasis: An infection on your skin that creates a raised, red patch with small, itchy bumps that form in folds of your skin, like in your underarms, under your breasts and near your buttocks (diaper rash) or groin.
- Oral candidiasis (thrush): An infection that causes white sores in your mouth, throat, esophagus, or tongue.
- Candida granuloma: A severe, chronic infection that targets your skin, scalp, mouth or fingernails.
- Invasive candidiasis (systemic candidiasis): A serious infection that occurs throughout your body, often in your bloodstream or on the membrane lining of your heart or skull, as a result of an immune deficiency.
Who does candidiasis affect?
Candidiasis could affect anyone because yeast naturally lives in our bodies and it's easy to disrupt the balance of yeast and healthy bacteria. Candidiasis can affect both healthy people and those who are immunocompromised. Candidiasis most often affects:
- People with diabetes.
- People who are pregnant.
- Babies and infants.
- People who wear dentures.
- Hospitalized individuals.
- Catheter users.
How common is candidiasis?
Candidiasis is a common condition. The most frequent type of candidiasis is a vaginal yeast infection, which affects around 75% of people with a vagina at least once in their lifetime. Although rare, serious cases of invasive candidiasis affect nearly 25,000 individuals in the U.S. each year.
How does candidiasis affect my body?
Candidiasis causes discomfort, itching and irritation until you find treatment, but is not a major threat to your overall health. Like any other infection that you might get from an injury, it's best to treat the infection at the first sign to alleviate your symptoms. If candidiasis is left untreated, severe infections could spread to other parts of your body, including your blood, heart and brain.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of candidiasis?
Symptoms of candidiasis vary depending on the location of the infection. Symptoms of candidiasis include:
- Red patch of skin (rash) with small, raised bumps (pustules).
- Burning sensation.
- Vaginal discharge (white or yellow).
- White patches or sores in your mouth that cause loss of taste or pain when eating or swallowing.
- Swelling (inflammation).
What causes candidiasis?
A candidiasis infection is the result of an overgrowth of Candida yeast due to an imbalance of healthy bacteria and yeast in your body. Triggers that disrupt the balance of bacteria and yeast include:
- Taking antibiotics, steroids, oral contraceptives, medicines that cause dry mouth or medicines that turn off healthy bacteria.
- Feeling stressed.
- Eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugar or yeast.
- Having uncontrolled diabetes, HIV, cancer or a compromised immune system.
- Experiencing hormonal changes (pregnancy).
Is candidiasis contagious?
Candida yeast can spread from person to person, but that doesn’t mean it's contagious like the flu virus. If you come in contact with someone who has candidiasis, you won’t necessarily develop the infection because the yeast on another person didn’t change the balance of yeast and bacteria in your body, but it's a possibility that it could change your balance and cause an infection.
For parents who are chestfeeding (breastfeeding) a newborn, if your child acquires oral candidiasis (thrush), that infection can transfer to you via your baby’s saliva. If this occurs, your healthcare provider will recommend treatment for both you and your baby’s infections at the same time to prevent the infections from coming back.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is candidiasis diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will diagnose candidiasis after a physical examination of the affected area. They will also ask you questions about your symptoms, including the severity of your symptoms and how long you’ve experienced them. Your healthcare provider will also test the infection to identify the type of yeast that is overgrown, which better determines your treatment options.
What tests help diagnose candidiasis?
Your healthcare provider will test the infection to determine the best treatment plan to combat the overgrowth of yeast. A culture test identifies the type of yeast and bacteria in your infection. For this test, your healthcare provider will swab the infected area with sterile cotton, then examine the sample under a microscope.
If your healthcare provider suspects invasive candidiasis, they may draw a sample of your blood to examine whether or not yeast and bacteria spread into your bloodstream.
Management and Treatment
How do I get rid of candidiasis?
After diagnosis, your healthcare provider will recommend several different treatment options depending on the type of candidiasis you have. All candidiasis treatment involves using or taking an antifungal medication that is either oral (pill, lozenge or liquid) or topical (cream or ointment). Each antifungal medicine has specific instructions, so make sure you ask your healthcare provider to explain how to apply or take the medication and how long you should take it.
Even if your symptoms stop early, it's best to continue your treatment plan as advised by your healthcare provider to eliminate the infection and prevent it from returning.
Can I take over-the-counter medications to treat candidiasis?
Yes, you can take over-the-counter antifungal medicines to treat yeast infections, but the success of over-the-counter medicine is dependent on knowing which type of yeast you are trying to treat. This can be difficult to identify without visiting your healthcare provider who will perform a culture test of the infection and give you a specific plan catered to treat your infection.
How long does candidiasis last?
Most mild to moderate cases of candidiasis will clear up in two to three days after you complete treatment. More severe cases of candidiasis may take a couple of weeks to clear up completely after treatment.
How can I prevent candidiasis?
You can prevent candidiasis by:
- Maintaining good physical and oral hygiene.
- Minimizing unhealthy foods from your diet like refined carbohydrates and sugar.
- Managing your stress.
- Treating current medical conditions like diabetes, cancer or HIV.
- Talking with your healthcare provider about current medications you are taking that might cause candidiasis as a side effect.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have candidiasis?
Treatment for candidiasis is extremely effective. Symptoms are bothersome but will start to fade after treatment begins and infections will clear up completely between two to three days or up to two weeks, depending on the type and severity of infection. If left untreated, symptoms of candidiasis will cause irritation and discomfort and could increase in severity over time. Sometimes candidiasis will return after treatment, so it's best to work with your healthcare provider on a treatment plan to target the specific type of yeast that caused the overgrowth on your body and follow through on treatment as directed.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
You should contact your healthcare provider when you notice any symptoms of candidiasis, including rash, itchiness, pain or swelling in folds of your skin, in your mouth or near your groin. Untreated candidiasis symptoms could become worse over time, so it is best to visit your healthcare provider at the first sign of symptoms to treat the infection.
What questions should I ask my doctor?
- How do I use the antifungal medicine that you prescribed?
- Is my diagnosis a side effect of any medications I’m currently taking?
- Will my infection return after I finish treatment?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
While symptoms of candidiasis cause discomfort, treatment with an antifungal medication is very successful in eliminating the infection. Always follow the treatment instructions prescribed by your healthcare provider from beginning to end to make sure the infection doesn’t return.
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