How Do You Get Candida Infections and How Are They Treated?

Candida is one of many types of yeast that find a home in our bodies. Usually, it inhabits the mouth, the belly, or the skin in small amounts, and in these quantities it is not dangerous. However, with the proper setting, this yeast can grow out of proportion and start to multiply.

What exactly is Candida and what are its main types? More importantly, how do you get Candida and what are the best ways to prevent that from happening? Read on to learn the answers to these questions.

What Is Candidiasis?

The yeasts belonging to the Candida genus cause a fungal infection named candidiasis. More than twenty species of Candida yeasts can infect humans, but the most common is Candida albicans.

While these yeasts are in our intestinal tract, mucous membranes, and on our skin, they do not cause infections unless they multiply. In that case, symptoms will start developing. These symptoms will vary depending on the area of infection.

Types of Candidiasis

There are three main types of candidiasis.

  • Oropharyngeal candidiasis develops in the throat or mouth. It is also called thrush.
  • Esophageal candidiasis develops in the esophagus, the tube connecting the throat and the stomach.
  • Vaginal candidiasis develops in the female reproductive organ and is usually referred to as yeast infection.
  • Invasive candidiasis develops when species of Candida get in the bloodstream and spread over the entire body.

Candida Infections of the Esophagus, Mouth, and Throat

Candida can develop inside the esophagus, mouth, and throat if the environment in the mouth is susceptible to fungal growth due to some changes.

These changes can trigger various symptoms, including the following:

  • Loss of taste
  • Soreness or redness
  • Pain when eating and swallowing
  • Cracks in the corners of the mouth
  • White patches inside the mouth (on the tongue, mouth roof, inner cheeks, etc.)

Healthy adults should not be at risk of this infection. The following groups of patients are more at risk of this type of candidiasis:

  • People infected with HIV (AIDS) often develop esophageal candidiasis
  • People with diabetes
  • Cancer patients
  • People who wear prosthetics inside their mouth
  • Newborn babies
  • People who smoke

Some medications and antibiotics can also have an impact on this infection, e.g. medication which dries the mouth and corticosteroids used for conditions like asthma.

To prevent candidiasis in the esophagus, mouth, and throat simply maintain proper oral hygiene. Brush your teeth, rinse the mouth, and use mouthwash regularly.

This type of Candida spreads due to:

  • The weakness of the immune system
  • Antibiotics interfering with the natural balance of microbes
  • Various other reasons

Doctors can usually tell if somebody has oropharyngeal candidiasis just by examining their mouth or throat. Esophageal candidiasis is diagnosed by endoscopy. As part of this method, your healthcare provider uses a tube with a camera and light to inspect your digestive tract.

The treatment for these types of Candida is simple – the doctor prescribes you antifungal medicine for 1-2 weeks. For more severe cases, they usually prescribe fluconazole, also a type of antifungal medicine.

Vaginal Candidiasis

Vaginal candidiasis or vaginal yeast infection causes itchiness, irritation, and discharge from the vagina and vulva (vaginal opening tissue). It is very common, with about 75% of women having experienced it at some point. Generally, it is not considered to be sexually transmitted, but the infection might be connected to oral sex.

Yeast infection symptoms can be less severe and include:

  • Redness and swelling of the vulva
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Soreness and pain in the vagina
  • Burning sensation while urinating or having intercourse
  • Itchiness and irritation of the vagina and vulva

In case of a complicated vaginal infection, the symptoms can be more severe. Yeast infection can also occur more than once. The following are most at risk of recurring yeast infections:

  • Women who are pregnant
  • People whose swelling and itching lead to sores or tears
  • People infected with an atypical type of fungus
  • People with diabetes
  • People with a weakened immune system (e.g. due to HIV)
  • People who previously had over four yeast infections within one year

The most common cause of yeast infections is Candida albicans, which is not as serious as other types of Candida fungi. An infection can also be caused by a disruption of the natural balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina. Some bacteria like lactobacillus serve as a shield against multiplying yeast. When there’s too few of them, yeast can freely multiply and cause infection.

Some antibiotics can cause a yeast infection because they kill all sorts of bacteria, including the good ones, which protect the vagina from yeast infections.

To prevent yeast infections, you should avoid:

  • Tight underwear and pantyhose
  • Showering or bathing in hot water
  • Douches
  • Tampons and pads which are scented

Yeast infections are also treated with antifungal medicine applied inside the vagina or fluconazole, which is taken orally in a single dose. Severe infections are treated with a higher dosage of fluconazole.

Invasive Candidiasis

Invasive candidiasis is a type of yeast infection which spreads through the bloodstream. It gets there via medical devices and equipment. The infection can then spread to the brain, heart, and bones, which could escalate into a severe and potentially deadly infection.

How do you get Candida like this? Well, it happens due to human carelessness. In most cases, it occurs to people who live in nursing homes or had recently been admitted into health care facilities. Their own Candida can spread to the bloodstream, or it can be spread through the medical workers’ hands.

The most common symptoms are chills and a fever. They can be difficult to track because, in most cases, the person is already sick from some other condition.

People at a higher risk of invasive candidiasis infection include:

  • Patients who had surgery
  • Patients who are on hemodialysis or had kidney failure
  • Patients with diabetes
  • Patients who have a central venous catheter
  • Patients in intensive care

The treatment for invasive candidiasis includes antifungal medication taken orally or intravenously.

The Takeaway

If you haven’t had Candida yourself, chances are someone in your family has. Candida is very common these days, so it’s important to be aware of the causes, risk factors, symptoms, and treatments.

Women should take extra care of their private parts because yeast infections are particularly common. When it comes to Candida, it is never a bad thing to be overly cautious.