Although yeast infections are annoying and uncomfortable, they are, in most cases, not dangerous. Nonetheless, you should never ignore signs of yeast infections. Symptoms can range from odd-smelling discharges to itching and burning in affected areas.
In rare cases, symptoms of systemic yeast infections (infections throughout the body, not just in a localized area) can occur, and these can potentially be more serious. In any case, yeast infections are not something you should ignore.
What Are Yeast Infections?
Yeast—the same microorganism that makes bread rise—occurs naturally on the skin and other external tissues of the body, usually in the form of Candida albans, or “white yeast.” Yeast is present in the environment, and usually is benign in its effects on the human body.
However, sometimes the body’s natural controlling mechanism—its acidity, or pH balance—gets altered. Often, this alteration occurs in connection with pregnancy, but it can also occur as a result of taking antibiotics or steroids. Since yeast grows best in moist, dark places, yeast infections most commonly occur in protected areas like the vagina, genital area, or armpits.
Babies often experience yeast infections commonly called “diaper rash.” Yeast infections in the mouth are called “thrush.” Women can have yeast infections as a result of intercourse, since sperm and seminal fluid can promote the growth of yeast cells. Hormonal changes associated with pregnancy or taking birth control pills can also change the body’s pH balance, leading to signs and symptoms of yeast infections.
As mentioned above, one of the most common symptoms or signs of yeast infection is an itching or burning sensation in the affected area. Sufferers may also notice a whitish, yellowish, or greenish discharge, similar in consistency to cottage cheese. With thrush, a whitish coating or discharge is noticed in the mouth.
Yeast Infections and Immunodeficiency
For persons suffering from compromised immune systems, perhaps because of radiation or chemotherapy or diseases of the immune system like AIDS, yeast infection signs and symptoms should be very carefully monitored. Systemic infections can occur in such cases, with very serious, if not fatal results.
Yeast organisms can enter the bloodstream through cuts or breakdowns in the mucous membrane, and thus spread to other organs and tissues. About 15 percent of persons with compromised immune systems develop some form of systemic yeast infection. These can become very serious, including inflammation of the esophagus.
Usually, yeast infections can be successfully treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams or ointments. In some cases, doctors may prescribe oral, systemic medicines. In most cases, signs and symptoms of yeast infection will disappear within seven days after beginning treatment.