What is Candidiasis?
Candidiasis or thrush as it is commonly called is an fungal irritation of the body's mucous membranes. The organism responsible is usually a yeast called candida albicans. Thrush can affect the mouth (oral thrush), under the foreskin of the penis (balanitis), inside the vagina (vaginitis) or vulva (vulvitis). Under special circumstances, eg a person with an impaired immune system, the infection can also be seen in other areas. But it is usually found in moist areas in the body. It is not considered a sexually transmitted disease as it can occur without sexual intercourse.
Vaginal thrush manifests as an itch and irritation of the mucous membrane of the vagina. A whitish discharge is often seen and the person suffering from thrush often is plagued with intense itching and pain on urination or intercourse. Symptoms may get worse in the week prior to the menstrual cycle - cyclical vulvitis is and example. In men, balanitis often produces a reddish rash on the head of the penis and this results in itching and a white discharge - this condition is more common in uncircumcised men. Oral thrush produces a sore mouth and tongue and is commonly seen in denture wearers that exhibit poor hygiene habits - stagnation of fluid under a denture can create a favourable environment for thrush.
Swabs taken from the affected areas will help your doctor make a diagnosis. Sometimes by observing the discharge under a microscope can show up the candidal spores and helps make a rapid diagnosis.
What Causes Thrush?
The thing to note is that candida albicans is commonly present in the fluid lubricating the mucous membranes (mouth, penis, vagina, etc) and normally it does not pose a problem and may even contribute to the regions stable microbiota. However, a change in the local environment may cause the overgrowing of the yeast and the factors that may cause these changes are:
- Antibiotics - may kill normal bacteria and allow the yeast to gain an advantage. Antibiotics normal given for UTIs, throat or chest infections may cause an imbalance leading to thrush.
- Sexual Transmission.
- Pregnancy - this causes a hormonal imbalance which may affect the bacterial/yeast populations.
- Diabetes mellitus
- A reduced immune capacity - people on long term steroids or HIV/AIDS sufferers.
Aggravating factors, or factors encouraging infection are:
- Minor skin abrasions due to sex or tight and restrictive clothing.
- skin diseases involving the genitalia - dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis.
- Oral sex may be associated with recurrent thrush infections of the vagina or the head of the penis.
Treatment of thrush is a two pronged approach with personal hygiene playing a large role. Antifungal creams, pressaries or lozenges help reduce the yeast population allowing your body's natural defenses to overcome the candidal infection. Salt water baths can help sooth the inflammation (1 cup of salt into the bath). Steriod creams and antifungals can be used together to both kill the infection and sooth the inflammation. Generally, you should try to maintain a high level of personal hygiene and avoid wearing tight and restrictive clothing for long periods of time.Return to Vulvo-Vaginitis
As women seem to be more prone to thrush, the following is a brief guide to maintaining vaginal health and for preventing a candidal infection.
- Use mild soaps or soap alternatives in cleaning the genital area - harsh soaps may cause damage to the skin and increase the risk of infection.
- Do not use douches or antiseptics and/or deodorants.
- Do not use talcum powder in the vulval region.
- Wear loose pants and trousers and try to avoid pantyhose - especially if you are prone to thrush.
- If the infections tend to coincide with your period, try using pads instead of tampons.
- Use a water based lubricant during sex - especially with condoms.
- Always wipe and wash your bottom from the front back - this prevents the introduction of bacteria to the vagina.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle!
candidal spores yeasts, being plants, form spores (which are seedlike) and these can be indentified under the microscope.
mircobiota a population of bacteria.
mucous membranes this is the name given to the layer of 'skin' covering the inside of the mouth, vagina and the head of the penis. It is similar in structure to skin except that it does not have the layer of dead cells (keratinization) seen in normal skin. This makes it softer and allows it to absorb and retain moisture better but also makes it prone to damage. The word mucous comes from the presence of mucous (a slimy secretion) cells in the skin layer that lubricates the lining of the mouth, vagina and penis.