If you’ve ever baked bread, you know that sugar feeds on yeast. Unfortunately that’s true beyond the kitchen, and yeast infections can be a common frustration for people with diabetes. Because of high blood sugar and weakened immune systems, people with diabetes are more likely to have to deal with yeast infections. Yeast infections are common enough in people with diabetes to be considered an indicator of the disease.
But there seems to be some confusion about what a yeast infection actually is and who it can affect. Here we’ll talk about what they are, where they occur, and how to avoid them!
What is a yeast infection?
A yeast infection is caused by a type of fungus that lives naturally in the human body, the Candida fungus. This fungus is a type of yeast, and Candida isn’t harmful as long as its balanced out with naturally occurring bacteria. It’s when that balance is disturbed, and the Candida fungus gets the upper hand, that infections occur. The most common type of infection occurs with the fungus Candida albicans.
Yeast infections thrive in warm, moist environments and occur most often on the genitals (male and female), mouth, and under folds of skin. High blood sugar contributes to yeast infections, as does a weakened immune system, so people with diabetes are at a higher risk. Other things that can disturb the yeast/bacteria balance in your body and cause an infection include certain antibiotics, birth control pills, an impaired immune system, sexual activity, pregnancy, and poor hygiene practices.
Dry mouth is contributing factor to oral thrush, which occurs when Candida albicans infects the mouth. A drier mouth means less saliva and a higher concentration of glucose, and this creates an ideal environment for Candida to grow out of control.
Types of yeast infections
Oral thrush is a common type of yeast infection, though it’s often not thought of as such. Oral thrush causes white lesions on the inside of the mouth that may spread to the throat in serious cases. Untreated, oral thrush may cause a systemic infection, but it is usually easily treatable. The infection is common in babies and young children, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems.
In addition to the raised lesions, symptoms may include redness and burning, difficulty swallowing, bleeding if lesions are irritated, cracking and redness on the mouth, and/or loss of taste.
A good oral thrush prevention plan includes:
- Good dental hygiene, including brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and visiting your dentist regularly
- Good denture hygiene if applicable
- Limiting the amount of sugary foods you eat
- Treating dry mouth
- Treating genital yeast infections promptly
Treatment for oral thrush usually includes anti-fungal medication.
Candida Balantis (Thrush in Men)
Candida Balanitis affects the glans (head) of the penis. It causes reddening or swelling, itching, pain during urination, and pain during intercourse. It also presents with discharge, a foul smell, and a “curd-like appearance on the skin.”
Treatment is usually possible with a simple topical cream, but someone’s partner should also be treated to prevent spread or reinfection.
Vaginal Yeast Infections
This is what we generally think of when we think of yeast infections. They’re unfortunately not uncommon: 3 out of 4 women will experience at least one vaginal yeast infection in her lifetime, and diabetes increases risk.
A vaginal yeast infection usually includes these symptoms:
- Itching and burning of the vagina and surrounding tissues
- Pain/burning during intercourse or urination
- Redness and swelling
- Vaginal pain
- Watery discharge and/or viscous, white, odorless discharge
Treatment may include over-the-counter medications or prescriptions depending on severity, and may include oral medications, topical creams or ointments, or suppositories.
Candida skin infections
Though less common, Candida skin infections can occur on other areas of the body that are warm and most, usually where skin rubs together such as under breasts, between the thighs, and near the groin.
“NEXT” for yeast infection prevention
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.