Yeast is a type of fungus, called candida, which lives on our bodies and thrives in warm, moist environments. Ordinarily, the yeast doesn’t bother us, but in certain conditions, it can multiply rapidly and cause an infection. Most infections occur in the mouth, groin, nail beds or in the folds of the skin.
Yeast infections tend to cause the skin to become extremely itchy and irritated. The skin also takes on a red, shiny color. If the infection is in the mouth, a condition known as thrush, you might see white patches that look like milk curds on the tongue or cheeks. You can tell that it’s thrush because these patches cannot be easily wiped away.
Rarely, a yeast infection can be so severe that it invades the bloodstream and causes a systemic infection.
Yeast in Women
The most common yeast infection in women occurs in the vaginal tract. Symptoms include intense vaginal itching, a white cottage cheese-like discharge and foul odor. These can usually be treated with an over-the-counter cream like Monistat or gyne-lotrimin, though there is a prescription pill called Diflucan (generic name fluconazole), that can treat the infection and symptoms quicker.
These symptoms can sometimes mimic those of a more serious infection, like bacterial vaginosis, gonorrhea or chlamydia, so you should check with your doctor if they don’t go away with self-care. To help prevent a yeast infection, keep the groin clean and dry and avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing.
Yeast in Men
It is also possible for men to get a yeast infection on their penis. Most commonly, the infection is transmitted from their sexual partner so it is very important for both partners to be treated so they don’t pass the infection back and forth. Both partners should avoid sexual contact until the infection has completely cleared up.
The symptoms are very similar to the symptoms a woman experiences: itchy and irritated genitals and a milky white or creamy discharge from the head of the penis. Again, these symptoms can mimic those of other sexually transmitted infections, so check with a doctor if the infection worsens or doesn’t clear up with an over-the-counter remedy. Men can also use Monistat, applied directly to the head of the penis to manage a yeast infection. If this doesn’t work, your doctor will probably prescribe a medication like Diflucan.
Treating Yeast Infections
There are over-the-counter topical creams and powders available that can treat the infection; make sure to follow the instructions on the package exactly. Check with your pharmacist or physician for a recommendation.
If the infection does not resolve with treatment, worsens, or if you have an underlying medical condition (especially immune suppressive disorders like HIV or certain types of cancers), make sure to call your doctor immediately. More aggressive testing or treatment may be required.