Candida infection: What is behind the fungal infection and what helps

Fungi occur naturally on the skin. A healthy immune system and a strong skin flora manage to keep the fungi in check.

But they can also cause diseases if they multiply rapidly. This is the case with a Candida infection.

A Candida infection, also known as candidiasis, is an overgrowth of yeasts of the genus Candida. This multiplication can happen in many areas of the body – inside and outside: in the mouth and throat, on the skin or in the intimate area. Vaginal thrush, for example, is one of the most common infections in the genital area in women. Yeast fungi can also be found in the intestines. How to recognize candida infections and what helps.

When do fungi cause problems?

The most commonly detected Candida yeast is Candida albicans. You can’t protect yourself from fungal colonization: “Most of the time, fungi get onto the baby’s skin during the birth process,” says Dr. Uta Schlossberger, dermatologist from Cologne. “A healthy immune system and other useful microorganisms on the skin and mucous membranes protect against diseased proliferation.” If the immune system is weakened or the natural defense function of the skin and mucous membranes is disturbed, the risk of a fungal infection increases.

Mushrooms like moist body parts

A Candida overgrowth can trigger various clinical pictures, which are shown by different symptoms. “Fungi feel particularly comfortable in a warm and humid environment,” explains Schlossberger. “As a result, fungal infections are commonly found in skin folds such as the groin and armpits, the private parts, the diaper area, and the mouth and throat.”

Symptoms of Candida infection

If the fungal overgrowth in the woman’s intimate area prevails, doctors speak of vaginal candidiasis or vaginal mycosis, colloquially known as vaginal thrush. In the case of a fungal infection of the vagina, the affected women often notice burning and itching.

Pain can also occur, for example during sexual intercourse, when using tampons or when urinating. The intimate area may be red and slightly swollen. Furthermore, a changed discharge often occurs. This can, for example, be whitish and crumbly or white-yellowish and runny.

In men, a fungus-related inflammation of the penis is called balanitis. The main symptoms of fungus-related glans inflammation in men are raised redness, itching, burning and/or a whitish coating on the glans or vesicles and pustules.

Oral thrush: Yeast infection in the mouth does not only affect children

In children, the so-called diaper thrush in the diaper area and oral thrush in the mouth, colloquially also known as lazy licks, often appear in the diaper area. “Parents usually recognize an overgrowth of Candida albicans by a sore and red buttocks, the formation of pimples and pustules, possibly open and scaly skin areas,” explains Schlossberger. Diaper thrush can also occur in adulthood, for example in people with incontinence or in people who are bedridden.

In the case of oral thrush, also known as oral candidiasis, a whitish-grey coating on the tongue and on the mucous membrane of the cheeks is clearly visible. The coating is difficult to wipe off. Small bleeding often occurs underneath. Even if children in particular suffer from oral thrush: “Adults can also get a fungal infection in their mouth,” says the dermatologist. “Most of the elderly and immunocompromised people are affected. Taking cortisone, for example in the form of asthma sprays, but also antibiotics promote oral thrush in adults.”

Fungal infestation is also quite common between the toes. In shoes it is warm and damp. If the skin swells or the protective barrier of the skin is weakened, yeast fungi have an easier time penetrating the skin. But: Athlete’s foot is not often caused by yeast. Thread fungi, so-called dermatophytes, are usually the cause of athlete’s foot.

If left untreated, fungal infections are a risk

In the case of a fungal infection – no matter where in the body – early treatment is important. Otherwise it can happen that the fungus spreads further, becomes difficult to treat and causes other unpleasant symptoms such as severe inflammation.

In severe cases, fungi can spread through the blood vessels in the body and cause life-threatening sepsis (blood poisoning). The risk is particularly high in people whose immune systems are severely weakened, for example due to illnesses such as cancer, AIDS or inflammatory rheumatic diseases.

People who have to take immunosuppressive drugs after an organ transplant are also at increased risk. The risk of fungi is also increased in the case of the metabolic disease diabetes mellitus (diabetes).

Treatment: What helps against a fungal attack

Candida infections are treated with antifungal (antifungal) drugs. The active ingredients used kill the yeast fungus. Commonly used antimycotics for candidiasis therapy are nystatin, clotrimazole, miconazole, ciclopiroxolamine and fluconazole. How active ingredients are administered according to the affected area as ointments, creams, suppositories, tablets, mouthwash solutions or lacquers.

It is important that the antifungal is used for a sufficiently long time and in the dosage recommended by the doctor. If the fungus is not healed, it will quickly come back. In order to prevent renewed infection with yeast fungi, appropriate hygiene is also of great importance.

Careful hygiene prevents fungi

“In order to prevent diaper thrush, frequent diaper changes and keeping the skin dry are important,” says Schlossberger. “To reduce the risk of oral thrush, good oral hygiene, such as thorough cleaning of oral prostheses, is important. If there is a fungal infection in the skin folds, gauze strips can help keep the areas dry.”

And three more tips especially for women:

Always wipe from front to back on the toilet.
Preferably wear cotton underwear. It is breathable and supports a dry climate in the intimate area.
If vaginal thrush keeps coming back, hormonal influences and a possible fungal infection in the partner should be considered.
Less is more when it comes to hygiene to prevent vaginal thrush and a fungal infection in the man’s intimate area. Surfactants and perfume attack the protective layer of the skin and it becomes more vulnerable. Gynecologists therefore advise washing the intimate area regularly and preferably only with warm water.

If you don’t want to do without a washing gel, you should make sure that it is adapted to the pH value of the intimate area and is fragrance-free.

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