Yeast Infection – What it is and What it is Not

Yeast infection, known in the medical world as Candidiasis and in the laymen’s terms as thrush, is a fungal infection commonly caused by the organism, Candida albicans. Unknown to many, this type of yeast is actually a part of the body’s normal flora. It can be found in the mouth, esophagus, digestive tract, bladder, and the vagina, in particular.

Their numbers, however, are being kept in check by the other microorganisms that are likewise part of that flora. They all coexist symbiotically inside the body, on a never-ending check and balance state, up until a disturbance will arise, or a change in temperature or pH, perhaps. At this stage, it becomes every species for itself, thus giving rise to what are called opportunistic infections.

Candidiasis is one of the more common opportunistic infections to plague mankind. The condition can range from superficial infections, such as vaginitis and oral thrush, to systemic and even life-threatening ones, especially for those whose immune systems have been severely compromised, as in the case of AIDS, cancer, or transplant patients.

Apart from a weakened immune system, the other risk factors to the development of this disease would include pregnancy, diet, the use of oral contraceptives, steroids, antibiotics, and douching. The common thread to all of these factors is its creation of a suitable environment that allows the yeast cells to multiply uncontrollably.

Manifestations would depend on where the overgrowth is. For oral thrush, it would present as white patches around the mouth or on the tongue and soft palate. For vaginitis, on the other hand, symptoms would include severe itching, soreness, and irritation on the vulva, and the appearance of a white or whitish-gray, curd-like discharge. Penile candidiasis, although uncommon, may also occur from having sexual intercourse with an infected person. Sores that are red and patchy may appear on the head of the penis or on the foreskin, along with the itchiness, the soreness, and even the whitish discharge.

Rarely does a yeast infection become systemic. This only happens when a person’s immune system has been severely compromised. Nevertheless, this should be taken very seriously because it can become fatal. In fact, three out of four patients with systemic candidal disease may die.

Candida albicans normally starts forming in single oval cells. In this form, it can duplicate itself through a process called budding. This makes them produce genetic clones of the parent cell and replicates by producing bubbles that grow out of the initial cell. They then attach themselves to the parent cells momentarily before they eventually separate.

Common treatment methods for candidiasis include the use of antifungal medications, like clotrimazole, nystatin, fluconazole, and ketoconazole. Severe infections may need stronger meds, such as amphotericin B, caspofungin, or voriconazole. Local treatment may also be used. These include vaginal suppositories or medicated douches.

Yeast infection may become a recurring nuisance, whenever the optimal conditions for overgrowth are given; therefore, prevention is definitely better than cure. Hygiene and a strong immune system are the keys to keeping this opportunistic organism in check.

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