Yeast or candidiasis is a type of fungus that lives inside the body. Ordinarily, a person’s immune system keeps the yeast under control. However, certain factors can cause the yeast to multiply, resulting in an infection.
Yeast infections can occur in different parts of the body. Sometimes these infections may be long-lasting or chronic.
This article outlines the different parts of the body that are susceptible to chronic yeast infections. We also discuss the causes of yeast infections and provide tips on treatment and prevention.
Yeast infections can develop in different areas of the body. We outline some examples below.
Yeast infections commonly affect the genitals and include a vaginal yeast infection and a penile yeast infection.
A chronic, or recurrent vaginal yeast infection is one that occurs four or more times in a year. The symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include:
- a white, odorless vaginal discharge
- itching and irritation around the vagina
- soreness and discomfort during sex, or when urinating
The symptoms of a penile yeast infection include:
- a white penile discharge
- an unpleasant odor around the genitals
- redness and irritation around the head of the penis, and under the foreskin
- difficulty pulling back the foreskin
The mouth and throat
Oral thrush is a yeast infection of the mouth or throat. Symptoms include:
- white patches inside the mouth
- cracks at the corners of the mouth
- loss of taste, or an unpleasant taste in the mouth
- redness inside the mouth or throat
- pain when eating or swallowing
Sometimes, oral thrush can spread to the esophagus, which is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. Doctors refer to this type of yeast infection as esophageal thrush. It is more common among people who have a compromised immune system.
The primary symptoms of esophageal thrush are pain and difficulty swallowing.
Cutaneous candidiasis is a yeast infection of the skin. These infections tend to develop in warm, moist areas of the body that have little airflow, such as the armpits and groin.
The symptoms of cutaneous candidiasis include:
- a red skin rash that increases in size
- a rash that develops along a crease or fold in the skin, or where two parts of the body meet
- an infection of the hair follicles, which may resemble pimples
Other parts of the body
Invasive candidiasis is a more severe form of yeast infection that can affect the brain, heart, blood, and other parts of the body.
People who have a weakened immune system or spend time in the hospital are at higher risk of developing invasive candidiasis.
Many different factors can cause a chronic yeast infection to develop somewhere in the body. Examples include:
Underlying health conditions
The following underlying health conditions can increase the risk of chronic and recurrent yeast infections.
Typically, people who have diabetes have hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar levels. Hyperglycemia encourages the growth of yeast, which increases the risk of yeast infections. Keeping blood sugar levels under control will help prevent such infections.
Weakened immune system
The immune system protects the body from harmful pathogens and disease. Some underlying health conditions can weaken the immune system, making a person more susceptible to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Examples include:
- influenza, or the flu
- HIV and AIDS
- viral hepatitis
- some cancers
- severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID)
Failure to eliminate a previous infection
Sometimes, what seems like a repeat yeast infection is actually a previous yeast infection that did not entirely go away.
Antifungal medications are the typical treatment for yeast infections. A person must take the full course of treatment, even if the symptoms disappear.
Sometimes, the first treatment for a yeast infection does not work. A doctor may recommend continuing the treatment for a more extended period or changing to a different antifungal medication.
Some medications can increase the risk of a yeast infection developing somewhere in the body. Examples include:
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics change the normal balance of microbes inside the body. Taking strong antibiotics or an extended dose can trigger yeast infections.
- Corticosteroids: These medications suppress the immune system, which might increase a person’s risk of developing a serious yeast infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), inhaled corticosteroids increase the risk of oral candidiasis.
- Hormonal birth control: Birth control that contains a high level of estrogen can increase the risk of vaginal yeast infections.
- TNF inhibitors: These drugs reduce inflammation by inhibiting the release of a protein called tumor necrosis factor-α or “TNF-α.” A 2013 review notes that inhibiting TNF-a can lead to immune deficiency, thereby increasing the risk of infections.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy treatment can temporarily weaken the immune system, which also increases the risk of infections.
Some physical disabilities can increase a person’s risk of developing cutaneous yeast infections.
Yeast thrives in warm, moist environments that lack airflow. People who have physical disabilities may have reduced airflow to the skin because of limited movement, or continued pressure on certain parts of their body.
The most common treatment for a yeast infection is an antifungal medication. These medications are available in many forms, including:
The type of antifungal medication a person requires depends on the location of the infection and its severity.
Some people may require prescription antifungal medications to treat recurrent yeast infections.
A doctor may recommend maintenance treatment for some types of recurrent yeast infections. This involves using medication weekly for up to 6 months to help prevent a yeast infection returning. Once this treatment has ended, a person should experience fewer or no infections.
Steps a person can take to lower their risk of developing certain yeast infections include:
Preventing vaginal yeast infections
The following tips can help to reduce the risk of vaginal yeast infections:
- Avoiding douching: Douching can reduce levels of healthy bacteria in the vagina, allowing vaginal yeast infections to develop.
- Avoiding scented hygiene products: Scented bubble baths, shower gels, and sanitary pads can irritate the sensitive skin around the vagina, increasing the risk of infections. People should use mild, unperfumed products as an alternative.
- Practicing good feminine hygiene: Changing tampons, panty liners, and pads often helps reduce the risk of vaginal yeast infections. It is also important to wipe from front to back after using the bathroom.
- Wearing loose, breathable underwear: Wearing cotton underwear is a good idea, as the fabric allows excess moisture to escape from warm, damp areas of the body.
Preventing cutaneous yeast infections
The following tips can help to reduce the risk of cutaneous yeast infections:
- Wearing loose, breathable clothing: Yeast thrives in parts of the body that are warm and damp, with limited airflow. Wearing loose, breathable clothing allows excess heat and moisture to escape from the skin’s surface. Cotton and linen are good fabric choices.
- Changing out of damp clothes: Damp clothes are an ideal environment for yeast. People should change out of swimwear and workout clothes as soon as they have finished exercising.
Preventing oral thrush
The following tips can help to reduce the risk of oral thrush:
- Maintaining good oral hygiene: Good oral hygiene prevents the accumulation of yeast inside the mouth. The American Dental Association recommend brushing the teeth twice a day and flossing between teeth once per day.
- Avoiding wearing ill-fitting dentures: Ill-fitting dentures can cause sores on the oral mucosa, which is the mucus membrane that lines the inside of the mouth. As the cells of the oral mucosa die, they provide nourishment for yeast inside the mouth. This can result in oral thrush.
- Quitting smoking: Smoking can irritate the oral mucosa, making it easier for yeasts to thrive.
A person should see a doctor if they have any of the following:
- a persistent or recurrent yeast infection that is not responding to over-the-counter (OTC) treatments
- symptoms that appear unrelated to the yeast infection
- an underlying medical condition that weakens their immune system
A doctor may want to inspect the affected body part to rule out other conditions. This is because some other conditions cause symptoms that mimic those of a yeast infection. For example, the symptoms of vaginal candidiasis can mimic those of bacterial vaginosis. The latter can be more severe and requires different treatment.
If a yeast infection is present, the doctor will likely prescribe stronger antifungal medications to treat the infection.
Yeast infections can occur in various parts of the body, including the genitals, skin, mouth, and throat.
Chronic yeast infections are those that persist for a prolonged period. Certain medications and underlying health conditions can increase a person’s risk of developing chronic yeast infections, as can certain lifestyle factors.
People should see a doctor if their yeast infection does not respond to OTC treatment. A doctor will inspect the area carefully to rule out other conditions. If a yeast infection is present, the doctor will prescribe stronger antifungal medications to eliminate the infection.