Yeast Infections: Myths & Misconceptions
Yeast infections occur when the fungus Candida—the scientific term for yeast—multiplies and leads to an infection. Our immune system typically keeps this fungus at healthy levels—but not always.
We gathered a few of the most common myths about yeast infections, and also provide you with the information you need to know to prevent and treat them.
Myth: Yeast infections are harmless.
Reality: Yeast infections may seem like a simple and uncomfortable fungal infection, but if left untreated, they can result in serious health complications. For example, yeast infections can lead to additional skin infections if you scratch the infected area and it becomes cracked or raw.
Untreated vaginal yeast infections can lead to vaginitis, which can cause more pain, itching and discharge.
Myth: Men can’t get yeast infections.
Reality: Though it’s not as common, men can develop yeast infections, too. The common affliction known as jock itch is a form of yeast infection, for example. Men’s symptoms of a penile yeast infection include redness, itching or burning on the tip of the penis or the foreskin; white discharge that may smell like bread; white patches of skin; sores and swelling around the tip of the penis; and a difficult time urinating and keeping an erection.
Penile yeast infections are more likely to occur in uncircumcised men, so circumcision may be recommended for men who have recurring yeast infections.
Myth: Yeast infections are embarrassing.
Reality: Though yeast infections indicate a bacterial imbalance, they’re nothing to be ashamed of, and they don’t mean you practice poor hygiene. About 75 percent of women will experience a vaginal yeast infection in their lifetime, and this doesn’t even include other kinds of yeast infections.
A few factors contribute to the development of a yeast infection. For instance, you’re more likely to develop a yeast infection if you have diabetes, are overweight, use steroids or have a weak immune system. Your risk of a yeast infection often increases when you’re taking antibiotics, because the drugs can affect the vagina’s bacterial balance. Also, while yeast infections aren’t sexually transmitted infections (STIs), keep in mind that it is possible to transfer them during intercourse.
Fortunately, yeast infections are easy to treat. A doctor may recommend an over-the-counter antifungal, a topical steroid or an oral medication that should clear up the infection in a few days to a week.
You can help prevent yeast infections with a few simple actions: remove sweaty or wet clothing quickly, lose weight, manage your diabetes, use a condom with a partner who has a yeast infection, and wear loose cotton underwear.
Myth: Yeast infections occur only in the groin.
Reality: Yeast can be found all over your body, and you can develop a yeast infection almost anywhere, especially in areas of your body that are warm and moist. Your feet, mouth, breasts, armpits and genitals can all develop yeast infections, so it’s important to know what to look for.
Oral thrush is a yeast infection that occurs in the mouth. It takes the appearance of a white rash on the tongue and the insides of the cheeks. Thrush can spread to the esophagus and make it difficult to swallow. Oral thrush usually develops in babies, but people with immune deficiency and those who use steroid sprays may also be at risk. It is also common in older adults who use dentures.
If other areas of your skin—your armpits or stomach are two possibilities—develop a yeast infection, the infected areas will appear red and possibly raw. You may have patches of inflammation that vary in size and shape. These patches may become itchy and flaky, and may form pustules.
Being familiar with these myths about yeast infections will allow you to better conduct yourself in a way that encourages prevention (you know what to look for) and treatment (if you ever develop one).