Candidiasis, also known as a "yeast infection" or VVC (vulvovaginal candidiasis), is a common fungal infection that occurs when there is overgrowth of the fungus called Candida. Candida is always present in the body in small amounts. However, when an imbalance occurs, such as when the normal acidity of the vagina changes or when hormonal balance changes, Candida can multiply. When that happens, symptoms of candidiasis appear.
Nearly 75% of all adult women have had at least one genital "yeast infection" in their lifetime. On rare occasions, men may also experience genital candidiasis. VVC occurs more frequently and more severely in people with weakened immune systems. There are some other conditions that may put a woman at risk for genital candidiasis:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Use of broad-spectrum antibiotics
- Use of corticosteroid medications
Women with VVC usually experience genital itching or burning, with or without a "cottage cheese-like" vaginal discharge. Males with genital candidiasis may experience an itchy rash on the penis.
Most cases of Candida infection are caused by the person’s own Candida organisms. Candida yeasts usually live in the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and vagina without causing symptoms . Symptoms develop only when Candida becomes overgrown in these sites. Rarely, Candida can be passed from person to person, such as through sexual intercourse.
The symptoms of genital candidiasis are similar to those of many other genital infections. Making a diagnosis usually requires laboratory testing of a genital swab taken from the affected area by a physician.
Antifungal drugs which are taken orally, applied directly to the affected area, or used vaginally are the drugs of choice for vaginal yeast infections. Although these drugs usually work to cure the infection (80%-90% success rate), infections that do not respond to treatment are becoming more common, especially in HIV-infected women receiving long-term antifungal therapy. Prolonged and frequent use of these treatments can lessen their effectiveness.
Over-the-counter treatments for VVC are becoming more available. As a result more women are diagnosing themselves with VVC and using one of a family of drugs called "azoles" for therapy. However, misdiagnosis is common, and studies have shown that as many as two-thirds of all OTC drugs sold to treat VVC were used by women without the disease. Using these drugs when they are not needed may lead to a resistant infection. Resistant infections are very difficult to treat with the currently available medications for VVC.