Candida Explained

Medically Reviewed By Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
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Candida is a type of fungus that causes infections. These infections are generally superficial, but they are sometimes invasive. This article will discuss what Candida is. It will also talk about the types of Candida infections, symptoms, and causes. It will also go over the risk factors and treatments for these infections.

What is Candida?

Female sticking out her tongue
Berena Alvarez/Stocksy United (person appearing is a model and used for illustrative purposes only)

Candida is a fungus or yeast that causes infections. Candida lives naturally on the skin and inside the body in areas like the throat, mouth, and vagina without causing any issues. However, when it grows out of control and enters deep into your body, it can cause infection. The most common type of Candida that causes infections is Candida albicans.

There are many different types of infections that are due to Candida. Candidiasis and thrush are common types of Candida infections.

Read about Candida albicans infections.

What are the types of Candida infections?

There are many infections that are due to Candida. These infections include:

  • candidiasis
  • cutaneous Candida
  • thrush
  • genital Candida
  • systemic Candida

Systemic or invasive Candida is the most serious type of infection. It can affect many areas of your body and is typically due to an immune deficiency.

What are the symptoms of Candida infections?

Symptoms of Candida depend on the site and the type of infection.

Symptoms of cutaneous Candida

Cutaneous or skin Candida infections have some characteristic features, including:

  • skin feels warm in the affected area
  • itchy skin
  • lesions in moist areas such as under skin folds
  • lesions that cluster and run together
  • pus-filled bumps
  • red, inflamed, weepy skin
  • scalloped borders around the skin lesions
  • scaly areas over the reddened skin

Symptoms of thrush

Candida can cause infection and inflammation in the mouth, nasal passages, and throat. This is known as thrush, or oropharyngeal candidiasis. Symptoms of thrush include:

  • burning feeling or painful sensation in the mouth or on the tongue
  • difficulty swallowing
  • redness
  • splitting or cracking of the corners of the mouth
  • thickened white patches visible inside the mouth and on the tongue

Read more about oral thrush.

Symptoms of genital Candida

Although it is more common in people assigned female at birth, genital candidiasis also occurs in those assigned male at birth. Symptoms of genital Candida or yeast infection include:

  • burning feeling or feeling of warmth in the affected area
  • itching feeling
  • pain during sexual intercourse
  • pain with urination
  • red, inflamed, weepy skin
  • scalloped borders around the skin lesions
  • scaly areas over the reddened skin
  • swelling
  • thick, white vaginal discharge with a texture similar to cottage cheese

Read more about candidiasis.

Symptoms of systemic Candida

Systemic Candida infections do not always cause symptoms. When they do, the symptoms may be nonspecific unless a particular organ is involved. Symptoms of systemic Candida infections include:

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of systemic Candida, contact your doctor right away.

What are the risk factors for Candida infection?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing cutaneous Candida infections. Not all people with risk factors will get Candida infections. Risk factors for cutaneous Candida infection include:

  • diabetes
  • diaper use or infrequent undergarment changes
  • obesity
  • weakened immune system
  • hot weather
  • restrictive clothing
  • poor hygiene

Many factors increase the risk of developing oral candidiasis, or thrush, including:

  • smoking
  • using dentures
  • being an infant
  • taking corticosteroids or antibiotics
  • having a weakened immune status
  • taking medication that causes dry mouth
  • having diabetes or cancer

Many factors increase the risk of developing genital Candida infections, including:

  • antibiotics
  • diabetes
  • oral contraceptives
  • pregnancy
  • douches or vaginal sprays
  • weakened immune status

Systemic Candida infections are uncommon, but certain people have a higher risk than others. Risk factors for systemic Candida infections include:

  • spending a lot of time in the intensive care unit (ICU)
  • having a central venous catheter
  • having a weakened immune system
  • having recently had surgery
  • having received antibiotics in the hospital
  • having kidney failure
  • having diabetes
  • being a pre-term infant
  • receiving parenteral nutrition or food through your vein

Reducing your risk of Candida

You can reduce your risk of developing a Candida infection by:

  • avoiding douches and feminine hygiene sprays
  • changing baby diapers frequently
  • eating yogurt with live cultures while taking antibiotics
  • keeping your blood sugar levels under control
  • keeping your skin clean and dry
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • practicing proper hygiene
  • using a soft toothbrush
  • washing with warm water only and avoiding scented soaps or wipes
  • wearing loose, airy clothing

How is Candida treated?

Treatment for Candida typically involves the use of antifungal medications. However, oral thrush in infants often goes away on its own.

The type of antifungal therapy depends on the site and severity of the infection and whether any past treatment was effective. Antifungal medications may be topical, oral, or intravenous.

It is important for you to complete the entire course of treatment to prevent recurrence and reduce the risk of complications of Candida infections. Also, it is possible for Candida to become resistant to antifungal medications. Completing the entire course of medication as recommended and using antifungal medications only when a candidal or other fungal infection is present helps prevent antifungal resistance.

What you can do to improve your Candida

In addition to managing your risk factors, you can also soothe some of the symptoms of your Candida infection by:

  • applying warm compresses on genital infections and gently patting the area dry afterward
  • avoiding scratching or picking at the infected areas
  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • using OTC hydrocortisone creams temporarily as needed for itching

Summary

Candida is a type of fungus or yeast that naturally occurs on and in the body. When it grows out of control, it can lead to infection.

Candida infections can affect the skin, mouth or throat, or genital area. Systemic or invasive Candida is the most serious type of infection. It typically affects the bloodstream, heart, or other areas of the body.

Infections due to Candida are typically treatable with antifungal medications. Take the entire course of medication as directed by your doctor, even if you begin to feel better. This is to help prevent recurrence and complications.

If you are experiencing symptoms of a Candida infection, contact your doctor.

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Medical Reviewer: Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 20
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