What is a Yeast Infection?
Yeast is naturally present in the body. In most cases, it is not a sign of illness or poor health. In fact, most healthy mouths and vaginal areas have yeast cells, which are a type of fungus of the Candida genus. Sometimes, too much yeast may grow or the balance of bacteria and yeast may become disrupted. When this occurs, it can cause a yeast infection, also known as candidiasis. The most common type of Candida to cause a yeast infection is Candida albicans (x).
Yeast infections can affect males and females (x, x). They typically occur in the genital area where there is little light or air flow. Infants can also suffer from yeast infections in the diaper area, as well as oral yeast infections known as thrush. Male genital yeast infections can cause itching on the head of the penis as well as inside the tip. Vaginal yeast infections are estimated to affect 75 percent of all women at least once in their lifetime. It causes the tissue around the vaginal opening to become irritated, inflamed and itchy. In extreme cases, it can cause an odd-smelling discharge.
Yeast infections may share some symptoms with other conditions like urinary tract infections or bacterial vaginosis, but they are very different ailments. A simple test for squamous epithelial cells in the urine can help a doctor determine if your symptoms are caused by a yeast infection or if it may be caused by another illness (x).
Yeast infections are usually easy to treat with prescription medication or home remedies and symptoms usually clear up within a few days. Serious or chronic infections may take longer to resolve and require more aggressive treatment and dietary changes. However they typically only persist for around two weeks.
Yeast Infection Symptoms
Yeast infections cause a wide variety of symptoms such as the following (x):
- Genital pain
- Watery discharge
- Vaginal pain
- Intense itching
- Swelling in the genitals
- Pain or burning during sex
- Cottage cheese-type discharge
During sex, yeast infections can cause pain and discomfort for both sexes. In extreme but rare instances, they may result in sores on the vulva. There is also a chance of fissures erupting around the vagina or the head of the penis. The longer a yeast infection is left untreated, the worse the symptoms will likely become.
In vaginal yeast infections, discharge that resembles clotted cheese is common. This clumpy discharge is white or off-white in color. It is thick like mucus, though it is not usually sticky. In many cases, it will not have a strong odor, or it will only have a slight bread-like smell. Men may notice a clear or cloudy discharge from the head of their penis that has little or no odor. Both sexes may also have a creamy coating of white discharge around the genitals or for women, inside of the vaginal opening.
Most yeast infections are not problematic, but severe infections may require more aggressive treatment. Factors that may complicate an infection include:
- The type of fungus causing the infection (x)
- Uncontrolled diabetes (x)
- Pregnancy (x)
- Infections that return four or more times annually (x)
- Extreme symptoms that cause sores, cracks or tears (x)
- Immuno-compromised health states like HIV (x)
Children can also suffer from yeast infections. They can appear in the mouth, genital area, or even in folds of the fleshy skin like necks and armpits (x).
Causes of Yeast Infections
Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of Candida and can occur on the genitals of women, men and babies, as well as in the mouth (called thrush), or in the folds of warm, moist skin (x).
Vaginal yeast infections happen as a result of the Candida in the vagina growing unchecked (x). When the chemistry in the vaginal area is disrupted, it will change the natural balance that prevents an overgrowth of yeast. Men can also suffer from yeast infections of the scrotum and penis, although it is not as prevalent as with women (x).
Imbalances can be caused by hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, antibiotic consumption, cortisone injections, pregnancy, uncontrolled diabetes, a weakened immune system or a natural reaction to the genital chemistry of another person (x).
While yeast infections are not a sexually transmitted disease, they can be triggered by sexual contact. Each person has a unique PH balance and genital chemistry. Introducing a new set of healthy genital yeast and bacteria may result in a bad reaction. This reaction can lead to yeast infections due to the natural balance being disrupted (x).
A weak immune system may cause oral or genital yeast infections in all age groups. Poor eating habits and large amounts of sugar tend to be the cause of thrush in children or adults. High levels of stress, especially when paired with minimal amounts of sleep, can also cause yeast infections in adults (x).
Once a person has developed a yeast infection, it is easier for the body to become infected again, even though the person may have been cured. Some forms of yeast infections are harder to treat than others. In this case, it is often due to being infected with a more rare form of Candida (x).
Yeast Infection Remedies
The severity of the yeast infection determines how long they will last and which treatment will be most effective. Generally, a simple infection will clear up within seven days with the proper treatment. Yeast infections are common and easy to treat, though there may be some instances where the infection is more stubborn than usual (x).
Mild infections can resolve without treatment over time; however, it is extremely rare. You should always treat a yeast infection to keep it from spreading or getting worse. The longer a yeast infection is left untreated, the easier it is for a similar infection to take root after it has been healed (x).
Treating yeast infections help to soothe the irritated area and restore the balance of bacteria and yeast in the affected area. Some common medications include (x):
- Butoconazole (Gynazole)
- Canesten cream
- Clotrimazole (Lotrimin)
Every person is different, and so is each yeast infection. Most can be cured with a topical ointment. Tablets or suppositories under a three-day treatment plan may also be prescribed. Many of these are available over the counter, not only by prescription. Those who choose to treat themselves with over the counter options should follow up with their doctor once the infection clears. If symptoms return within two months, your doctor may prescribe a more aggressive form of treatment (x).
Those who are sexually active should have their partners treated for a yeast infection to prevent becoming infected again. It is important to use a condom during sexual activity to slow or prevent its spread (x). Children can be treated for yeast infections with topical creams or oral medications. Proper diet, hygiene and rest are important to prevent further occurrences (x).
Prescription medication is not the only way to treat a yeast infection. There are several effective natural methods that you can employ. You can use natural topical ointments or you can take supplements to help restore the balance to the yeast and bacteria in your body.
Natural yogurt contains healthy bacteria named Lactobacillus. This bacterium generates hydrogen peroxide, which can eliminate any excess amounts of Candida. Studies show that sugar-free natural yogurt applied to the affected area is more effective than Clotrimazole (x).
Elderberry Extract Powder
Elderberry extract powder is a natural way to fight inflammation, calm swelling and improve how well the immune system works. People who are taking laxatives, diuretics or immunosuppressant drugs should not take elderberry supplements (x, x). The recommended daily dosage is 1,000 to 3,000 mg daily, depending on your desired effect.
Milk Thistle Extract Powder
Milk thistle extract powder contains a powerful active ingredient called silymarin. This helps with controlling blood sugar, boosting the immune system and detoxing the system. Milk thistle does interact with the liver, so make sure to speak with your doctor if you are taking other medications (x, x). The recommended daily dosage is up to 250 mg daily with or without food.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has been proven as an effective way to fight the Candida fungus in all of its forms. You can make a cream, apply the oil topically or you can add a few drops on a tampon and wear it overnight. Tea tree oil is also available as a suppository, which can be used to treat a yeast infection (x, x).
Grapefruit Seed Extract
Grapefruit seed extract comes from the pulp of grapefruit membranes and seeds. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions such as yeast infections, athlete’s foot, thrush and other skin conditions. Its antifungal and antimicrobial properties make it a safe yet natural cure that has little to no side effects (x, x). The recommended daily dosage is no more than a single capsule once daily.
Calendula has shown to be an effective natural treatment for yeast infections. It can be applied topically on the skin on both sexes to reduce the irritation and overabundance of yeast. It is also used to treat menstrual problems and inflammation (x).
Echinacea Extract Powder
Echinacea extract powder has been used for centuries to help bolster the immune system and fight off infections. When used in conjunction with a topical antifungal cream, it has proven effective in reducing the occurrence of repeated yeast infection (x, x). The recommended daily dosage is 450 mg no more than twice daily.
Boric acid is one of the oldest natural remedies for yeast infections. You can purchase premade suppositories of boric acid, or you can make your own. Simply add 600 mg of boric acid into a gel capsule and insert the capsule in the affected area. Boric acid is generally safe; however, some people may experience burning or discharge with its use. Boric acid is not recommended for pregnant women (x).
It is important that you wash your hands prior to touching your genitals or applying topical creams. You should also wash well with antibacterial soap following application to kill germs and prevent the spread of bacteria. Even if you choose to treat a yeast infection with a natural cure, it is vital to have your infection properly diagnosed by a medical professional. Sometimes, symptoms may resemble a yeast infection but may be caused by an unrelated illness. If you are taking medication, you should also speak with your doctor to prevent any harmful interactions.
The Bottom Line
Yeast infections are not very dangerous; however, they can be incredibly uncomfortable. Most yeast infections in adults present in the genital area, although they can also appear on the skin or in the mouth. Yeast infections in children can occur in the mouth, diaper area or in the folds of the skin. These types of infection are common and are easily treatable. People who have weakened immune systems, poor eating habits, high-stress jobs or those on certain medications are more at risk of developing a yeast infection. A urinary tract infection and a yeast infection both have similar symptoms, but they are not related or contracted the same way. Yeast infections are also not a result of sexual activity, although it can be spread to others or to other body parts through sex.
Treating this condition is as simple as taking an oral prescription from your doctor or applying a topical cream to kill the excess yeast and restore a healthy balance. For those who prefer not to take prescription medication, there are several natural remedies that are equally as effective. Milk thistle, tea tree oil and grapefruit seed extracts are examples of great options that have little to no lasting side effects. To prevent a yeast infection from returning, practice good hygiene, eat a balanced diet and avoid unnecessary stress. If you think you may be suffering from a yeast infection, speak with your doctor to rule out other illnesses prior to taking herbal supplements or applying over the counter creams.