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What is a yeast infection?
The yeast infection, also known as candidiasis, is a very common infection caused by a yeast-like fungus called candida. Small amounts of candida in the form of minute organisms are normally present in our bodies but we usually have the right balance of bacteria to prevent them from multiplying too much. Sometimes these yeast-like fungi do start to grow and this can cause an infection.
Both men and women can have a yeast infection in any part of the body such as the underarms, the nails, the mouth, the genitals and between the toes. These infections usually appear in the warm and moist parts of the body. The infection can have different names when it appears in different parts of the body – for example thrush when in the mouth or a woman’s vagina and balanitis when affecting a man’s penis.
Women and vaginal yeast infections
Fifty to seventy five per cent of all women will have at least one vaginal yeast infection (candida or thrush) during their lifetime. This is the most common type of yeast infection and the medical term is vulvovagina candidiasis. In the vagina, the acidity level prevents yeast from growing. If the level of acidity in the vagina decreases due to any reason, then too much yeast growth causes the vaginal yeast infection. Some of the reasons for this decrease in the level of acidity could be due to diabetes, pregnancy, immune deficiency, poor nutrition or some medications such as antibiotics and birth control pills.
The signs and symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are itching and irritation in the vagina as well as swelling and redness of the vulva. The folds of skin outside the vagina are called the vulva. There may also be a thick, white discharge from the vagina and a burning sensation when urinating and/or intercourse as well as general discomfort in the area around the outside of the vagina. The discharge has been described as having a cottage-cheese, white appearance but it can vary from watery to thick. Sometimes, these symptoms can be quite mild and clear up on their own while other times they can be very bothersome and need treatment.
If you are at all concerned, it is important to seek medical advice in order to get a correct diagnosis because it is possible to confuse the symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection with those of sexually transmitted diseases as well as other vaginal infections. A fever and an unpleasant odor from any discharge would be a cause for concern. Your doctor or clinic may take a small sample of the discharge with a swab if the cause is not clear and this is sent to the lab for confirmation. You can then commence treatment.
Many women know when they have thrush and treat it themselves as soon as possible. The yeast infection should be treated as soon as it is detected as it can enter the blood stream leading to sore joints, chest pain and sinus problems.