A certain amount of yeast lives on the skin normally, but too much yeast can cause an infection. Learn about the diagnosis and treatment for a skin yeast infection.
A skin yeast infection, also referred to as cutaneous candidiasis, is a common fungal infection that can occur in parts of the body where skin surfaces come together and create moist areas, such as the armpits, between the fingers or toes, the nails, under the breasts, skinfolds of the stomach, and in the genital area. Common yeast skin infections (or fungal skin infections) are caused by yeasts such as Candida or dermatophytes. Symptoms of a yeast infection vary depending on where the yeast is located. Symptoms of candidiasis may include an itchy rash or discharge. While yeast infections may feel uncomfortable, fortunately, they can be treated with various antifungal medicines.
What is a yeast infection on the skin?
Candida is a yeast, or type of fungus, that normally lives on the skin and inside the body. A normal amount of Candida does not cause problems. However, a Candida infection may occur if there is an overgrowth of Candida (too much yeast) or if it enters deep into the body. The most common species of Candida is called Candida albicans (also known as C. albicans).
Skin yeast infection symptoms
The symptoms of a skin yeast infection can vary based on the location of the infection. General symptoms may include:
- Skin folds or navel: Rash, redness, oozing, pimples, itching, burning
- Vagina in a female: Itching, burning, external redness, cottage cheese-like discharge
- Penis in a male: Redness, scaling, and painful rash on the underside of the penis
- Mouth (thrush): Redness, soreness, white patches on the tongue and inside of cheeks (difficulty swallowing may indicate that the esophagus is involved)
- Corners of the mouth: Cracks or tiny cuts in the corners of the mouth
- Nail beds: Swelling, pain, pus, discolored nails, nail separates from the nail bed
What causes a yeast infection on the skin?
Certain risk factors or other health conditions make it easier for Candida to infect the skin, such as:
- Heat and humid weather.
- Tight underclothing made of synthetic fibers.
- Poor hygiene.
- Not changing diapers frequently enough in babies or young children.
- Not changing underwear enough in older adults.
- A weak immune system due to diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or certain drugs that suppress the immune system, such as steroids (including inhaled steroids), chemotherapy, or immunosuppressant drugs taken after an organ transplant.
- Pregnant women.
- Denture use.
- Antibiotic use (this is because the use of antibiotics kills the “good” bacteria, which may allow an overgrowth of Candida).
- Other skin disorders, such as intertrigo (a rash that occurs between skin folds) or psoriasis (a skin condition that causes patches of thick, red skin and silvery scales)
- People with diabetes mellitus, or high blood sugar, are at higher risk for developing yeast infections. It may be beneficial for anyone trying to avoid yeast infections to avoid foods that can spike blood sugar, such as white bread, pizza, pasta, white flour, white rice, sweets, and sweetened breakfast cereals, opting instead for healthier versions that contain whole grains and fiber, which can help slow or reduce blood sugar spikes.
In some severe cases, usually in individuals who have a weakened immune system, Candida may go beyond the surface and invade deeper tissues and the blood, causing a life-threatening condition called systemic candidiasis or invasive candidiasis.
Candida yeast may spread from person to person, but that does not mean the infection is contagious. If you come in contact with someone who has a skin yeast infection, this does not mean you will get an infection. However, in some cases, the infection may transfer to another person. For example, a person with a weakened immune system may be more likely to catch the infection. Also, if a breastfeeding baby has oral candidiasis (thrush), the infection can transfer to the nursing mother from the baby’s saliva. Vaginal yeast infections (also known as candidal vulvovaginitis or vulvovaginal candidiasis) are not considered sexually transmitted infections because you can get a yeast infection without having sex. However, you can get a yeast infection from your partner. Latex condoms or dental dams can help prevent getting yeast infections—or passing them—through oral, vaginal, or anal sex.
Yeast infection on skin diagnosis
If you think you have a skin yeast infection, visit your healthcare provider (or your child’s healthcare provider if your child is the patient). In many cases, your healthcare provider can identify a skin yeast infection by the type of rash. Your healthcare provider may want to take a skin sample by scraping off a tiny bit of skin (or residue from the rash) and testing it to ensure a proper diagnosis. Your healthcare provider will tell you what treatment will be most effective based on your symptoms, age, other medical conditions, and other individual factors.
Skin yeast infection treatment
Your healthcare professional will determine the best treatment for you. Depending on symptoms, severity, and other factors, a skin yeast infection may require a topical antifungal OTC treatment, such as clotrimazole, or topical prescription medications, such as Nizoral (ketoconazole), to be applied to the affected area. In the case of a severe or recurring infection, the patient may require oral treatment, such as Diflucan (fluconazole), a prescription drug.
A vagina infection caused by yeast may require an antifungal cream to be used inside the vagina. Sometimes, an external cream is used as well. Some patients will require oral medication for a vaginal yeast infection instead of—or in addition to—a vaginal cream.
Adults with oral thrush may need antifungal medication such as an oral tablet or lozenge, or they may need to gargle with the liquid antifungal medication nystatin. Babies with thrush will require small amounts of liquid nystatin applied to the inside of the mouth up to four times daily and used for two days after symptoms resolve.
Patients with recurring yeast infections will be tested for diabetes and evaluated for other medical conditions. This will tell the doctor if high blood sugar (or another medical condition) is contributing to yeast infections. Patients diagnosed with diabetes will require treatment by an endocrinologist. Individuals with recurring yeast infections may need preventive treatment and medication to treat infections when they occur.
Insurance companies cover most prescription antifungal medications, especially if you use the generic version. You can always ask your pharmacist to check the price of your prescription with a free SingleCare card.
While being treated for a skin yeast infection, be alert to worsening symptoms and any redness, swelling, or pain, which could indicate a secondary bacterial infection.
In addition to treating a skin yeast infection when it occurs, it is also important to take action to prevent future infections. Some tips include:
- Keep the skin dry. After exercising or swimming, immediately remove wet or sweaty clothes. Shower, dry your skin, and change into clean clothes. Wash wet or sweaty clothing after each use. It is also a good idea to wear flip-flops or shower slides in the locker room.
- Wear cotton, breathable underwear to help prevent a vaginal or genital yeast infection. Avoid tight-fitting, synthetic garments, opting for breathable cotton fabrics.
- Women with frequent vaginal yeast infections should ask their healthcare professional if a daily probiotic may help.
- Use drying powders to prevent yeast infections.
- Brush and floss your teeth every day.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Regardless of your weight, minimize refined carbohydrates and sugar.
- People with diabetes can help prevent yeast infections by controlling blood sugar. (Maintaining adequate blood sugar control also prevents many other complications of diabetes.)
- Change diapers frequently in babies or infants who wear diapers and keep the area as dry as possible.
- Ask your healthcare provider to review your medication list to see if any of your medications could be contributing to yeast infections.
Although a yeast infection can be uncomfortable (or downright miserable), it is best to consult your healthcare provider for a diagnosis. Then, you can receive the correct treatment, institute any lifestyle changes necessary to help prevent future yeast infections, ask any questions you may have, and be on your way to feeling better in no time.