Candida is a strain of fungus that can cause an infection in your skin, among other locations. In normal conditions, your skin may host small amounts of this fungus. Problems arise when it begins to multiply and creates an overgrowth. More than 150 species of candida exist, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, the majority of infections are caused by a species called Candida albicans.
Types of candida fungus skin infections include:
- athlete’s foot
- oral thrush
- vaginal yeast infection
- nail fungus
- jock itch
- diaper rash
Seventy-five percent of adult women will have a yeast infection at some point, according to the CDC. AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses notes that 90 percent of all people with AIDS will develop oral thrush or candida overgrowth in the mouth. This rarely occurs in adults with healthy immune systems.
Invasive candidiasis occurs when candida enters the bloodstream. According to the CDC, there are about 46,000 cases in the United States each year.
The outlook for candida infection is often very good. Generally, the condition isn’t serious and can be easily treated. However, uncontrolled infections can lead to potentially life-threatening problems — especially in those with weakened immune systems. Quick treatment can help stop the spread of the fungus, while also improving, and potentially saving, your life.
Candida skin infections can occur on almost any area of the body, but they are more commonly found in intertriginous regions. This is where two skin areas touch or rub together. Such areas include the armpits, groin, and skin folds, as well as the area between your fingers and toes. The fungus thrives in warm, moist, and sweaty conditions.
Normally, your skin acts as an effective barrier against infection. However, any cuts or breakdown in the superficial layers of the skin may allow the fungus to cause infection. Candida becomes pathogenic, or capable of causing disease, when conditions are favorable for it to multiply. Hot and humid weather, poor hygiene, or restrictive clothing may produce these conditions.
These aren’t the only risk factors to consider. Candida infections also tend to be more prevalent in:
- people who are overweight
- people with diabetes
- people with an underactive thyroid gland, or hypothyroidism
- people with inflammatory disorders
- people with a weakened immune system
- people working in wet conditions
- pregnant women
Certain medications may also increase the risk for this type of fungal infection. Topical corticosteroid medications are the most problematic, but birth control pills and antibiotics are other possible causes. If you take these types of medications, you should monitor your skin regularly for signs of candida infection.
Symptoms vary depending on body location, but include the following:
- red or purple patches (area with an altered surface)
- white, flaky substance over affected areas
- scaling, or shedding of the skin with flakes
- cracks in the skin
- erythema, which results in areas of redness
- maceration, or the appearance of soft white skin
- creamy satellite pustules at margins of affected areas (pimples filled with pus)
- red and white lesions in your mouth, as seen in oral thrush
Diagnosis of candida infection primarily relies on appearance and skin sampling. Your doctor will take skin scrapings, nail clippings, or plucked hair from the affected area and mount them on a slide for examination. Once a candida infection is diagnosed, the first step is to address the underlying cause. This may include changing your lifestyle to be more clean, losing weight if you are overweight, or managing your diabetes.
It is typically recommended that you make an appointment with your doctor the first time that you experience an infection. This allows the doctor to diagnose it properly and to give you the best treatment options. Candida is often recurring. However, visiting a pharmacist and asking a few questions is typically all that’s needed at subsequent visits.
Treatment for candida skin infection is usually simple. You don’t need to be hospitalized unless you have problems with your immune system or the candida has spread to the bloodstream. Your doctor may prescribe drying agents with antifungal creams, ointments, or lotions that are applied to your skin. Suppositories and oral medications are also available.
You will probably be prescribed over-the-counter drugs, such as ketoconazole or clotrimazole, both of which are topical (you apply on top of the skin) and from a class of antifungal drugs known as azoles. They are available in forms like ointments, tablets, and creams. They don’t have the same serious side effects as other antifungal agents such as nystatin or amphotericin B. Amphotericin B is an intravenous medication only used in the hospital setting.
Different kinds of drugs will be used based on the type of infection and the affected body part. For example:
- Vaginal gels or creams, such as miconazole, are often used for vaginal yeast infections.
- Thrush is often treated with antifungals in the form of lozenges, tablets, or liquid mouthwash that you swallow.
- Athlete’s foot is most often treated with sprays, powders, and ointments.
- Severe infections are most often treated with oral or even intravenous medications.
Most medications will be used once or twice a day.
Some medications, such as miconazole and clotrimazole, can be safely used to treat candida infection in any trimester of pregnancy. Ask your doctor or pharmacist what is safe for you to use.
All medications have potential side effects. Side effects for antifungals most often include:
- itching at the site of application
- redness or mild burning at the site of topical application
- indigestion or upset stomach
- rashes on the skin
Intravenous antifungals are more likely to cause negative side effects, which can include:
- loss of appetite
- feeling sick
- muscle and joint pain
In rare cases, antifungals may cause severe allergic reactions or severe skin reactions, including peeling or blistered skin.
Those with liver damage should not use antifungal medicine without a doctor’s oversight. Antifungals can result in liver damage in healthy patients, but it’s more likely to be severe in those who already have liver damage.
Medications that may interact with antifungals include:
Children can more prone to candida fungus skin infections when compared to adults. Children are most likely to develop sinus infections, skin rashes (including diaper rash), oral thrush, and earaches from candida overgrowth.
Symptoms in babies and toddlers can include:
- persistent and heavy diaper rash
- skin rashes that resemble eczema
- white or yellow patches on the tongue or inside of the mouth or cheeks
- being colicky for longer than three months
- recurrent ear problems
- symptoms that worsen in damp environments or in damp weather
Symptoms in older children include:
- constantly craving sweets
- learning disabilities
- often being irritable or unhappy
- recurrent ear problems
- symptoms that worsen in damp environments or in damp weather
Treatment will depend on the specific type of candida infection. It may be topical medication for skin infections or antifungal medications, which are sometimes oral.
Treatment can take up to two weeks, though recurrence is fairly common.
There are simple steps you may take to reduce your risk of developing candida infections. For example:
- Wear “dri-fit” clothing that helps wick away moisture from your skin.
- Keep your armpits, groin area, and other areas that are prone to infection clean and dry.
- Always shower and dry yourself thoroughly after activities where you sweat.
- If you are overweight or obese, properly dry your skin folds.
- Wear sandals or other open-toe footwear when it’s warm.
- Change your socks and underwear regularly.
In healthy adults, candidiasis is often minor and is easily treated. The infection can be more problematic in older adults and young children, as well as other groups that have weaker immune systems. This can cause a spread of the infection to other parts of the body, especially in cases of oral thrush. The areas it can spread to include the:
- heart valves
Preventive measures as well as early treatment can go a long way in preventing candida growth. The sooner you seek treatment for suspected candidiasis, the better the outcome. Seek emergency care if your rash is accompanied by abdominal pain or a high fever.
You asked, we answered
- Are there any natural remedies or home treatments that are effective against candida infections?
The best, most effective and proven treatment against candida is an antifungal medication. There are in fact no proven home remedies to cure a fungal infection once it is present. Treatments such as dipping a tampon in yogurt or tea tree oil and placing it in your vagina to treat a yeast infection are not proven and can be dangerous. As mentioned above, there are things that you can do to prevent a fungal infection. Other things you can do for a healthy immune system: get a solid eight hours of sleep nightly, exercise, and have a healthy, balanced diet.- Modern Weng, D.O.