Candidiasis is not a familiar term for most of us, but " yeast infection" certainly is, especially for women, as nearly three quarters of the females in the world are expected to suffer at least one yeast infection during their lifetime, fifty percent of them before their twenty-fifth birthday.
Candidiasis is the scientific term for overgrowth by the most common yeast species in the human body, Candida albicans. This is usually a gentle organism, that quietly does its part in maintaining the balance of flora in our digestive and genital tracts, but like the roses in our gardens it has to be kept in check by some outside agent - in this case beneficial bacteria. Without constant "trimming back", yeast will grow far beyond our body's ability to cope.
Unfortunately, there are several factors which can destroy the balance between yeast and bacteria in our systems. The use of prescription antibiotics, as well as steroid medications like asthma inhalers and even certain oral contraceptives, has become one of the most common causes of yeast infection, as these powerful drugs can kill off helpful organisms and keep the body from maintaining a healthy balance.
Douching or the introduction of harmful bacteria can also upset the normal tug-of-war between fungus and bacteria in the body. Such bacteria might be introduced through poor wiping habits or unsafe sexual practices, or poor hygiene regarding tampons or condoms.
Even without a foreign agent, stress, pollutants, poor nutrition or other factors that put a strain on our immune system can cause an imbalance which leads to a yeast infection. Naturally those with serious immune diseases like HIV/AIDS are very susceptible to this sort of affliction.
Once yeast colonies begin to grow, they require sugar to feed upon. Because of this, people suffering from diabetes mellitus, or any other disorder that increases blood sugar levels, are likely to have more trouble with extensive and/or a longer-lasting yeast infection. Some patients report an increased craving for sugary foods, and for starches and alcohol which are quickly metabolized into sugars.
Yeasts also thrive in moist, airless environments, so sitting for an extended period in a wet bathing suit or tight jeans may foster a dramatic upswing in the growth of an otherwise benign yeast colony that may lead to a yeast infection.
A yeast infection in the mouth or throat is known as "thrush", and is more common in young children as their bodies work to establish the balance of microorganisms that will serve them throughout the rest of their life. When an oral infection occurs in adults, it is sometimes known as candidosis or moniliasis. Yeast colonies also occasionally find a foothold in the moist folds of skin in the diaper area, causing or aggravating diaper rash. This can be curbed by keeping the area clean and dry, and exposing it to air as much as possible.
By far the most common form of yeast infection is the vaginal or vulvo-vaginal yeast infection, where the fungus spreads along the mucus membranes lining the vaginal cavity. "Vaginitis" is a general term for any inflammation of the vaginal mucosa, and can include inflammation caused by hormonal shifts (such as puberty or menopause) and by external irritants. However, the term vaginitis is most commonly applied to Candida albicans overgrowth or yeast infection. Infections caused by bacteria are even more common than a yeast infection, but are called "bacterial vaginosis" or "vaginal bacteriosis".
It is very important to establish whether a vaginal infection is fungal or bacterial, as antifungal agents will be ineffective against harmful bacteria - and potentially deprive helpful bacteria of food - while antibiotics are not just ineffective against yeast, they will indiscriminately destroy helpful and harmful bacteria alike, severely aggravating an existing yeast problem including a yeast infection.
The most prominent symptom of yeast infection is intense burning and itching of the vulva and vaginal membranes, which is not soothed by scratching, cooling, bathing, or showering. Other symptoms include general soreness and swelling, pain during intercourse, and a bread-like or beer-like smell. A grayish or whitish discharge, which may vary in consistency from thin silvery fluid to a thick lumpy substance with the texture of cottage cheese, is often but not always present.
Some doctors believe that a yeast infection on the surface of the mucosa, if left untreated, can shift to a deep-rooted fungal form, which can sink rhizomes under the surface of the vaginal lining, and cause wider and less specific systemic symptoms. Systemic candidiasis might adversely contribute to fatigue, pre- menstrual symptoms, asthma, sexual dysfunction, muscle pain, and even digestive and urinary problems.
A yeast infection can be diagnosed by examining a prepared swab of the affected area under a microscope, or by culturing a swab in a growth medium for several days. Either method will confirm the precise organism responsible for the infection. Doctors who practice alternative medicine also advocate muscle testing which can detect systemic yeast sensitivities.
The first time these symptoms are encountered, a woman should always consult her doctor, as they could possibly be indicators of some other, more serious disease, or a non-fungal disorder such as trichomonas or bacterial vaginosis. Once a woman has gained experience with her body and her individual symptoms of yeast infection, however, she may be able to treat a future recurrence of overgrowth on her own, unless she is pregnant or diabetic.
There are over-the-counter creams and suppositories widely available at drug stores/chemist's shops and grocery stores for the treatment of the vaginal yeast infection. Popular brand names for yeast infection treatment include Monistat, Gyne- Lotrimin, and Terazol.
There are several home remedies which can also be effective. Simply eating ordinary yogurt can replenish the helpful bacterial strain known as lactobacillus, which can help to reset the balance throughout the body. Plain, unsweetened yogurt (lacking the sugars that yeasts thrive upon) can even be applied directly to the vulva and vagina, as can garlic cloves, gently crushed to release the non-toxic antifungal agent allicin. Health food stores may offer tablets, capsules or salves containing garlic, acidophilus or boric acid, or probiotic pills containing live bacteria.
A tough yeast infection may require a prescription from a medical doctor, who will have much more powerful antifungal medications at his or her disposal, including clotrimazole, nystatin, fluconazole, or ketoconazole. There are even more potent variants of these drugs available for hospitalized patients. These medications may take the form of salves, creams, suppositories, medicated douches, or pills taken orally.
Some women prefer a topical treatment delivered directly to the site of the problem, while others prefer not to deal with the discomfort and mess of topical self-medication, and opt for an oral medication such as Diflucan instead; they are equally effective in strength, although the oral drugs may take a little longer to relieve the symptoms.
When trying to eradicate a yeast infection, antibiotics, birth control pills, and steroids should be avoided as much as possible, if the patient's medical situation allows it. Harsh chemicals, vinegar, and household molds should also be avoided; substituting more natural detergents, deodorants and household cleaners can speed recovery. As with any disorder affected by stress, fresh air, sunshine, and moderate exercise can also contribute to a quicker remission of symptoms.
Many practitioners favor a yeast free diet (or an anti-yeast diet) as their treatment of choice, in which the patient seeks to minimize the amount of molds, starches, dairy products, alcohols and sugars in the diet, and maximize vitamins and fiber. A chronic yeast infection can be cured but the yeast overgrowth within the body must be addressed if a long term solution from a recurring yeast infection is desired.