What are Yeast Infections?
The term ‘yeast infection’ covers a broad spectrum of fungal infections that vary grandly in severity and symptoms. Yeast infections are but one subset of fungal infection, but they can take on almost any form. There are actually a few common individual infections that can be implied by the words ‘yeast infection’ in society’s general zeitgeist, and a dozen others that are far less common. Most individuals suffer from some form of yeast infection at some point in their lives, and many are never aware of it.
There are very, very many kinds of yeast infections. The blanket term for yeast infections is ‘candidiasis’, named for ‘candida’, the yeast responsible for all of them. What varies between different kinds of yeast infections—and even some different yeast infections of the same kind—is what strain of candida has come to the fore to cause the infection.
Who gets Yeast Infections?
Yeast infections are most commonly associated with women. While they can afflict anyone, they are most generally considered a ‘feminine problem’, and have a tendency to affect the female primary sex organ. Various studies conducted have indicated that one in five women have a yeast infection at any given time, and that three out of four will suffer from a yeast infection at some point in their lives.
The incidence of yeast infections in men is marginal, but they do still occur. Most yeast infections in men are penile, and while yeast infections are not considered sexually transmitted infections, it is not unheard of for the mycoid pathogens to be exchanged during intercourse.
The funguses that cause yeast infections are suppressed on a constant basis by the immune system. This is why many individuals have all the makings of a yeast infection with no relevant symptoms, and why many never notice that they have one until something goes explicitly very wrong. That said, anyone who suffers from suppression of the immune system becomes far more likely to suffer from a yeast infection that is symptomatic and requires treatment. Anyone suffering from a suppressed immune system for any individual reason is therefore at greater risk for a yeast infection.
What causes Yeast Infections?
Yeast infections are caused by the spread of a fungal pathogen. This is the origin of all fungal infections; what varies primarily is what other circumstantial factors are in play besides the presence of the appropriate species of candida, the fungus responsible for fungal infections. The number of individual possible sparks for a full-blown candida infection are rather staggering. This is because candida itself is so very common; strains of it are present in a huge number of individuals, frequently as a nonharmful culture. It is only when a circumstantial factor intervenes that the fungus explodes and creates a set of symptoms.
The first and foremost cause of yeast infections is the suppression of the immune system. Because candida is so very common, the immune system holds it at bay almost constantly. This means that while everyone is carrying the appropriate fungus for a yeast infection, it is kept in a sort of biological stasis and never actually gets to do anything that might cause overt and noticable symptoms. When the immune system stops doing what it is supposed to do, this results in a yeast infection.
The number of events and circumstances that can themselves result in the suppression of the immune system are nearly staggering. The most common form of immunosuppression occurs as a result of aging. As bodies age, they have a harder and harder time with cell division. Cell division is the process that keeps our bodies healing. When cells cannot divide, they cannot reproduce, and when cells cannot reproduce, everything starts to slow down: our bodies begin to heal more slowly and our immune system cannot gain strength as easily as it used to. Lower cell reproduction means lower white cells to fight off infectious pathogens. Thus, the likelihood of a yeast infection goes up and up and up relative to age, as correlated with the inevitable slowing of the immune system; this is, in addition to other complications, why ailments like pneumonia and influenza can be shrugged off by young adults but will be fatal in some elderly individuals: the diseases are given much more time to propagate, and more strongly and powerfully so because they are not held back by the immune system, and the same applies here.
Similarly, being very young can have an impact on the immune system. This is simply a factor of experience. The immune system functions by developing an immunity to inbound pathogens. However, no immunity can be developed against these pathogens if they do not present themselves first. The only way to develop an immunity to pathogens is for the immune system to encounter them, realize that they are harmful and develop the ability to tag them as harmful, and signal to other components of the immune system that the invaders need to be attacked and removed from the body. Individuals who are very young have weaker immune systems simply because their immune systems have not had the time to encounter the things that it will have to contend with. Thus, while younger individuals are much less likely to encounter candida, they are also much less likely to have anything in the way of resistance to it.
There are a number of drugs that have immunosuppressant effects. In some cases this is intentional; in others it is purely incidental. Immunosuppressant drugs may be prescribed for many reasons. The most common reason is to prevent a harmful or otherwise problematic immune response. Steroids are powerful immunosuppressants and are used to good ends treating and preventing acne and other ailments that involve the overreaction of the body’s defense mechanisms in such a way as to cause complicating symptoms. However, the use of these drugs can also weaken the immune system and leave one open to infection. This holds especially true for individuals that are skirting multiple relevant conditions, such as immunosuppressant use in old age, as may be necessary for some more severe autoimmune conditions.
Last of the most pertinent conditions that can weaken the immune system is a handful of diseases that have immunosuppressant effects. Among these are HIV/AIDS, which operates by reducing the body’s ability to utilize its immune system at all. What results is not that the body takes any true damage from the virus, but that all of the other pathogens it generally resists on a constant basis—like candida—are given an open invitation to come in and cause harm. While any individual virus, like a cold, may not be particularly damaging, this tends to get out of control when all of the conditions are stacked on top of one another and there is no end in sight for any of them without major medical intervention.
Yeast exposure may occur through a broad variety of means. Yeast infections can stem from sexual contact, from diet and from other factors: all that must be maintained is an environment that candida can survive and flourish in. Again, this generally requires the suppression of the immune system, as most individuals are already carrying the strains of the fungus necessary for a yeast infection. It stands to reason, however, that an individual cannot suffer from a yeast infection without first undergoing yeast exposure and it is entirely possible to develop a yeast infection from exposure alone if one’s immune system is already too weak to fight it off.
There are some who believe that yeast infections may have a societal cause. Individuals carrying this belief are generally proponents of alternative medicine. The postulation is that yeast infections are most common because of societal influences, and that the nature of modern diets in civilization and other social factors is causing hypersensitivity to candida. This theory has some momentum relative to the number of supporters, but there is unfortunately little evidence on the table regarding this train of thought as of yet. This may change in the future, but for now it is not clear that there is any direct societal link between yeast infections and any one cultural influence.
While the most common source of yeast infections is simple weakness and helplessness to fight them off with one’s immune system in a weakened state, there is a particular extension of this that is also relevant: exposure to new strains of candida to which one does not possess any immunity can also make one quite vulnerable to a subsequent infection. The reason for this is the same as any other reason for vulnerability: the body simply lacks the experiential resources necessary to fight off the fungal infection at hand.
In the instance of a new type of candida, if the body is incapable of mounting an effective defense in time to prevent an infection, that is exactly what will occur. There are a number of sources for fresh yeasts. One of the most common is the consumption of raw flour, which is not intended to be eaten without being properly cooked through first. It frequently can carry strains of yeast that the body is not familiar with, and consuming it can cause infections easily. Other forms of candida may also be spread through simple personal exposure. This can be avoided by simply not consuming raw flour, although there are few if any reasons to do so intentionally, and to ensure all dishes containing flour as a component are thoroughly cooked. The same goes, naturally, for the consumption of any products containing yeast: raw yeast consumption is less heard of, as there are even fewer reasons to consume raw yeast on purpose, but doing so can also lead to yeast infection risks.
With yeast infections as common as they are, there are naturally several rumors circulating about what causes them, some of which are less-than-accurate. As a for-instance, there is no present link to the consumption of mushrooms and the development of a yeast infection. This misconception seems to stem from the mycological nature of both yeast infections and edible mushrooms. However, the connections between the yeasts responsible for yeast infections and even their nearest edible cousins are tenuous at best. There is no presently-understood link between the two; any dietary or ‘simple’ explanations for yeast infections should have a critical eye cast on them. If they make it sound like every individual habit one carries with them through the day will cause a yeast infection, there is a grain of untruth or unnecessary emphasis present somewhere.
What does Yeast Infections cause?
Yeast infections cause a number of symptoms, none of them pleasant. Yeast infections are known for their particularly uncomfortable sexual connotations in women, in whom they are the most common. There are many different kinds of yeast infections, and all of them array with them their own unique symptomatic profiles, but it follows that there are some symptoms that can be generally expected when one mentions a yeast infection in conversation or in culture. Unfortunately, again, while they are all very commonplace, none of them are pleasant.
Unpleasant odors are one possible consequence of yeast infections. This is a result of the presence of the fungus itself, and its being broken down. This is roughly equitable to how dead bacteria can cause bad odors in infections and in things as commonplace as sweat. These unpleasant odors can be masked with a number of products and are generally most noticeable to the infected individual, but they are still naturally possible for others to perceive in some situations or degrees of severity.
Itching is a common symptom in yeast infections. This is a product of two primary factors: the irritation of the yeast itself causing damage to the tissue and irritating the nerves, and the swelling and immune response that results from the presence of the fungus. Swelling is not uncommon in areas affected by yeast infections as the body responds in its normal habitual fashion and floods the area with more T-cells in pus. Unfortunately, this also causes a burning and itching sensation that frequently cannot be relieved with scratching. In fact, the only reliable way to eliminate the itching is to eliminate the fungus, although there are other methods and products that may at least assuage it temporarily.
What does Yeast Infections treatment look like?
Treatment for Yeast Infections varies significantly. There are several options on the table but these vary broadly depending on what sort of yeast infection is being discussed. Some vaginal yeast infections of a sort may be treated with a single dose of an antifungal agent, which is usually more than enough to clear the fungus out and be done with it. Others are significantly more stubborn and require more elaborate and extended treatment options.
The first option for yeast infection treatment is simply avoiding yeast infections altogether. This is naturally easier said than done, but as expressed, the primary factor in developing a yeast infection is being vulnerable to the relevant yeasts, either because one is made vulnerable to them because of a suppressed or otherwise weakened immune system or because they are exposed to a fresh type of yeast. There are a number of ways to avoid this, however, most of which simply involve being at least moderately mindful of what one consumes. First and foremost is avoiding the consumption of raw flour; there is no particular reason for this to be desirable in the first place, but it should be assured that flour in various dishes, like gravy, is thoroughly cooked, as if it is not this may leave one susceptible to a fresh yeast infection. Flour mixed into other products and then consumed raw can also be a problem, such as in cookie dough, but the greater threat in that instance is generally thought to be the risk of salmonella from the consumption of uncooked eggs. All in all, eating things that are meant to be cooked is simply not the best idea—but regarding yeast infections, raw flour is simply the worst.
Antifungals are the standard method of treatment for yeast infections, as is only natural. However, different antifungals have different consequences; many of them can cause damage on their own or in combination with other drugs. Some are unsuitable for individuals that are breastfeeding, and others may be ideal for individuals who are—in some ways they are much like antibiotics. Unfortunately, their similarities to antibiotics includes the ability of various candida strains to develop resistance and immunity to anti-fungal treatment. When this occurs, there are two options: stop treatment or change treatment. Unfortunately, some candida infections will simply continue to mutate and develop new resistances as treatment options (generally in order of best to worst) are slowly worn down over time, ultimately leaving a truly hardy strain of candida likely vulnerable only to the body’s own immune system. Thankfully, fungal infections are much slower to reproduce, repopulate and thus develop immunities as when compared to bacteria. The possibility that they will mutate and develop a resistance to a particular antimycotic agent is very real, but it is sufficiently less likely as compared to the possibility that an infection will develop a resistance to an antibiotic; the overuse of antibiotics over the years has led to the existence of what are known as ‘superbugs’, which are bacteria that are resistant to nearly all antibiotic treatments. They are naturally very bad news and can take a very long time to kill off. Thankfully, there are not as of yet any similar ‘superyeasts’ to fill the same role for yeast infections. They simply do not spread enough or reproduce fast enough for this to occur without the intervention of, say, a laboratory.
That said, while the body’s immune system can fight candida, there is no way to vaccinate for yeast infections that is yet known. There are no real options for treatment available for fungal infections that are not simply antimycotic drugs or steps to prevent fungal infections in the first place, aside from perhaps the bolstering of the immune system through various means to deal with yeast infections indirectly. There are a number of experimental treatments proposed, but none that seem to be close to approval just yet, although his may change very quickly, as yeast infections are a problem that is growing significantly.
Contrary to what seems to have become a popular myth in recent years, yeast infections are not brought about by the consumption of any particular mushrooms are fungus. This seems to stem from yeast infections being fungal in nature and requiring antimycotic treatment most of the time for the purposes of purging them. While yeast infections are fungal in nature, they are functionally and mycologically very different from even their nearest edible mushroom cousins. There is no link between the consumption of mushrooms and yeast infections that is presently known or worth being concerned about for the sake of preventing yeast infections in the future.
How do I know if I have Yeast Infections?
Yeast infections can be detected by their symptoms, but a proper diagnosis requires microscopic examination or culturing done by a medical professional. This process allows for a positive diagnosis of what strain of candida is being suffered from, which can communicate much about the most effective means of candida treatment for the situation.
For the microscopic analysis, a scraping is taken from the infected area, and an acid is applied that will spare any possible yeast growth but clear away residual skin cells. This allows a clear and plain image of what fungus is growing and its nature. This is a fairly simply sampling process that is employed with many kinds of fungal infections in addition to candida.
For culturing, a sample is taken with a sterile swab and incubated in a petri dish until it propagates and grows into something more recognizable. Once the fungus has spread within the dish it may be visually identified for color and other qualities, which will allow a medical professional to determine more about what fungus is causing the infection and how to fight it properly.