Healthy Living

What Is Candida?

What is Candida?

Candida is a type of fungus which lives on the skin and an overgrowth of this fungus can cause an infection. This fungus can be present on different parts of the body. In a normal situation, the fungus is present in small quantity and does not cause any harm, but when it starts to grow, it causes an infection. As per CDC (Centre for Disease Control & Prevention), there are more than 150 species of Candida, but the infection is mostly caused by a specific species known as the Candida albicans.

In most cases, the candida infection is not very serious and can be treated with the right medications. However,if it is not treated in time, it could lead to life-threatening complications, particularly in those suffering from a weak immune system. Therefore, it is important to seek medical care and start treatment at the earliest to avoid the spreading of the fungus and getting healed from the infection.

Types of Candida Infection

  • Oral Thrush (Oropharyngeal Candidiasis) - When the candida fungus begins to overgrow in the mouth and throat, it causes an oral thrush infection. This infection is very common in newborn babies, older adults and those with an impaired immune system.

    Some others who are more at risk of suffering from thrush are:

    • People being treated for cancer
    • People under medications like corticosteroids and wide spectrum antibiotics
    • People who wear dentures
    • People having diabetes

       Some of the symptoms of thrush are as follows:

    • Patches either yellow or white in colour, which are formed in the tongue, lips, gums, top area inside the mouth and inner area of the cheeks
    • Redness and soreness inside the mouth and throat
    • Cracks in the corner of the mouth
    • Difficulty in swallowing, when the infection spreads to the throat
  • Genital Yeast Infection - Three out of four women suffer from yeast infection at least once in their entire life. This usually occurs when there is overgrowth of yeast in the vagina. Even men can suffer from genital yeast infections, but this happens rarely as compared to women.

    The yeast infection is caused when there are certain changes in the vagina and this occurs if the women is:

    • Pregnant
    • Suffering from diabetes
    • Taking certain medications
    • Using certain lubricants
    • with a weak immune system

           Rarely can the infection spread from one person to the other during sexual intercourse.

           Some of the symptoms of genital yeast infections are as follows:

    • Severe itching in the vagina
    • Redness and inflammation of the vagina and the outer area of the genitals
    • Pain and burning sensation while urinating
    • Uneasiness during sex
    • Thick, white discharge from the vagina

          Men who suffer from genital yeast infection may have itchiness and rashes on the penis. 
          Since the symptoms caused by this infection in women are very similar to other infections, it is very important to consult a doctor to know the                 exact cause.

  • Diaper Rash from Yeast Infection - Babies suffer from diaper rash usually when the baby is kept in a wet or soiled diaper for many hours. But when there is skin irritation caused due to this, there is a possibility of an infection. So if there is no improvement in the diaper rash, the parents should check if the bottom area is red, sensitive and if there are any red borders surrounding the sores. If these symptoms are visible, visit the doctor to examine if there is presence of candida fungus. This condition can be treated with certain antifungal creams prescribed by the doctor.

    Therefore, always keep the baby’s bottom clean and avoid keeping them in the same diaper for a long period of time to prevent diaper rash and candidiasis.

  • Invasive Candidiasis - This occurs when the yeast enters the blood stream of a person, normally through any medical equipment and reaches different parts like the heart, brain, eyes, bones etc. This leads to a life-threatening infection. This condition mostly affects those who have been recently admitted to the hospital for some treatment or stay in a health care facility, for instance, a nursing home.

        Some of the risk factors that increase the chances of a person to be infected from invasive candidiasis are:

    • Diabetes
    • Impaired immune system
    • Kidney failure
    • Taking certain medications

        The symptoms of this condition are fever and chills. This condition mostly affects a person who is already suffering from some illness, so it becomes very difficult to diagnose.

Causes and Risk Factors of Candida Infection

Candida infection can develop on any part of the body, but it mostly occurs where two skin areas touch or rub against each other. For instance, the fungus mostly grows in armpits, skin folds, groin area and between fingers and toes. The fungus thrives in warm and moist conditions.

In normal situations, the skin creates a barrier for development of any type of infections. But if there are any cuts or injury on the outer layer of the skin, the fungus grows in large numbers to cause an infection. Candida fungus multiplies in a favourable environment. So, hot and humid weather conditions, poor hygiene or some restrictive clothing can be a suitable environment for the fungus to grow.

Apart from the above risk factors, a candida infection is more likely to affect the following people:

  • Babies
  • People who are overweight
  • People with diabetes
  • People who have hypothyroidism
  • People who have inflammatory problems
  • People who have a weak immune system
  • People who work in wet conditions
  • Pregnant women

Also, specific medication can increase the risk of Candida infection, for example, topical corticosteroids. Apart from these, even birth control pills and certain antibiotics can cause this infection in some people. Therefore, if one is under these type of medications, it is important to regularly check the skin for any signs of candida infection.

Symptoms of Candida Infection

The signs and symptoms of Candida infection will vary as per the locations it has affected, but some of the common symptoms are:

  • Rashes
  • Redness
  • Patchy surface
  • White and blistering substance over the affected skin
  • Cracks on the skin
  • Soreness
  • Scales or shedding of skin
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Intestinal distress
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Skin problems
  • Severe seasonal allergies
  • Red and white lesions in the mouth, in case of oral thrush

Diagnosis of Candida Infection

The diagnosis of candida infection is mainly based on the appearance of the skin and skin sampling. The doctor will take a sample of the skin, nail clippings or pluck a hair from the affected area and place it on a slide for scrutiny. Once the doctor has diagnosed candida infection, the very first step will be to identify the cause of the infection. And basis the cause, one may have to make certain lifestyle changes, live more hygienically, lose extra weight in case they are overweight or control diabetes, if the patient is diabetic.

It is best to visit the doctor as soon as one observes certain signs and symptoms of candida infection. The doctor will be able to diagnose the infection correctly and help you identify the cause of the problem. The doctor will be able to work out a good treatment option and the infection can be cured in the early stage itself. Candida infection can reoccur and the preventive measures can be discussed with the doctor in advance to avoid such a scenario.

Treatment of Candida Infection

The treatment of candida infection is quite simple. One does not have to get hospitalized unless the person has a weak immune system or the infection has entered the bloodstream. The doctor will prescribe anti-fungal creams, ointments or lotions based on the location of the infection and the severity. 

The doctor usually prescribes over-the-counter anti-fungal drugs which are termed as azoles like ketoconazole or clotrimazole, that can be applied on topically on the skin. These antifungal drugs are available in the form of ointment, tablet or cream.

The medicines will be based on the type and the location of the infection. Some of the examples are given below:

  • For vaginal yeast infection: The doctor will prescribe vaginal gels or creams like miconazole.
  • For thrush: The doctor will prescribe anti-fungals either in lozenges, tablets or liquid mouthwash form.
  • For athlete’s foot: The doctor will recommend sprays, powders or ointments.

In case of severe infections, the doctor will suggest oral and sometimes, even intravenous medicines. In most of the cases, the medicines must be used atleast twice a day. But only follow the recommendation of the doctor in terms of usage and quantity.

If the patient is pregnant, miconazole and clotrimazole are some medications that can be used for treating Candida infection. But always consult with the doctor before using any medication during pregnancy.

These medications can have some side effects. Some of the side effects of anti-fungals are as follows:

  • Itchiness in the area where it is applied
  • Redness and mild burning sensation in the area where it is applied
  • Headache
  • Indigestion or stomach upset
  • Rashes

Some of the side effects of intravenous anti-fungals are as follows:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sick feeling
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle and joint ache
  • Rashes

In some rare cases, antifungals can lead to severe allergies and skin problems which includes peeling and scaling of skin.

People suffering from some liver problems should avoid using antifungals unless advised by the doctor since anti-fungals can cause liver damage and the effect can be severe in patients who are already having some liver problem.

Candida Infections in Children

Children are at higher risk of suffering from Candida infection compared to youngsters and adults. And children suffer from sinus infection, rashes on skin, oral thrush and ear aches due to excessive growth of candida fungus.

Some of the symptoms of candida infection in infants are:

  • Continuous and severe diaper rashes
  • Skin rashes that are similar to eczema
  • Patches either yellow or white in colour inside the mouth, cheeks or on the tongue
  • Being colicky for more than three months
  • Reoccurrence of ear problems

Some of the symptoms in older children are as follows:

  • Continuous craving for sweets
  • Learning problems
  • Irritability
  • Reoccurrence of ear problems

The treatment for children will also depend on the type and location of Candida infection. It may be topical medicines that can be applied on the skin that is affected and even anti-fungal medications which at times may have to be taken orally.

The treatment course may be for about two weeks and there is a possibility of the infection to reoccur.

Prevention of Candida Infection

There are certain simple steps one can take to prevent getting the candida infection. Some of the preventive measures are:

  • Wear dry clothes that restrict moisture formation on the skin.
  • Keep armpits, groin area and other parts that are more susceptible to infection clean and dry.
  • Always take a shower after doing any activity that makes you sweat profusely like running, working out in the gym etc. and dry yourself properly.
  • If one is overweight, take special care to dry the skin folds to avoid infection.
  • Always wear footwear when it is warm.
  • Regularly change underwear and socks after usage.

Final Thoughts

In adults who are healthy, Candida infection is a rare condition and the treatment is also simple. Doctors usually prescribe over-the-counter medications and sometimes, oral or intravenous medicines depending on the location and severity of the infection. The infection is more difficult for older adults, children and people with a weak immune system. In such people, the infection can spread faster to various other parts, especially if it is oral thrush.

The locations the infection can spread to are:

  • Esophagus
  • Heart valves
  • Intestines
  • Liver
  • Lungs

By taking certain preventive steps, making lifestyle changes and treating the infection in the early stage can help stop Candida overgrowth. The sooner a person suffering from Candida infections starts the treatment, the better and faster he/she can get rid of the infection. One must seek immediate medical care if he/she has rashes which is accompanied with pain in the abdomen and high fever.