Yeast is all around you. For the most part, the tiny fungus does more good than harm. You wouldn't be able to enjoy bread or beer without yeast, for example. But some types of yeast can cause illness, such as a yeast infection in throat. Also known as oropharyngeal candidiasis, or oral thrush, some people are more likely than others to develop a yeast infection in their mouth or throat. Understanding the causes and symptoms can help you get the right diagnosis and find the right treatment.
Common Symptoms of an Oral Yeast Infection
As the American Academy of Oral & Maxillofacial Pathology points out, in a number of cases, oral thrush or yeast infection in throat can be asymptomatic, which can make it difficult for someone to realize he or she has the infection. In other instances, the infection causes burning or itching in the mouth or throat. When the infection is in the throat, a person might have trouble swallowing or feel as though something is caught in the throat.
Oral thrush can cause visible symptoms in certain patients. For example, white spots or lesions on the tongue and roof of the mouth are commonly associated with a yeast infection, although other conditions can cause them too. Other visual symptoms of the infection include cracking and redness at the corners of the mouth and a smooth, red area in the center of the tongue.
Who's at Risk?
If there's good news about oral thrush or a yeast infection in the mouth or throat, it's this: oral yeast infections are rare among the general population. Certain groups, such people with compromised immune systems, babies and the elderly, are more likely to develop the condition, but even then, the rates are very low, states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
For example, according to data from the CDC, between 5 and 7 percent of babies younger than 1 month old develop an oral yeast infection. About 20 percent of cancer patients develop the infection. Among AIDS patients, the prevalence of oral yeast infections is a bit higher, ranging from 9 to 31 percent of patients.
Diagnosing and Treating the Infection
If you or someone you know has symptoms of a yeast infection in the throat or mouth, the best thing to do is make an appointment to see a doctor. A doctor can diagnose the infection by evaluating the symptoms in your mouth and by taking a throat culture.
It's important to note that having candida yeast in your mouth doesn't necessarily mean you have an infection. The yeast is present and harmless in the mouths of two to 70 percent of the general population, according to the Journal of Mycology. Along with a positive culture, your doctor will look for symptoms of an infection.
If your doctor determines that an infection is present, treatment can be pretty straightforward. Nystatin is an antifungal medicine that comes in several forms, such as a lozenge, a liquid or a capsule. Usually, nystatin is the first line of treatment for oral thrush. If the infection doesn't respond to the medication, your doctor might prescribe a stronger antifungal, such as fluconazole. In the case of very severe infections, a doctor might use amphotericin B to clear up the infection. The medication is a last resort, as the National Institutes of Health notes, because of its high risk for severe side effects.
Preventing Future Infections
It is possible to keep an oral yeast infection from recurring. One of the first pieces of advice from the CDC is to practice good oral hygiene. That means brushing your teeth at least twice a day, using a toothpaste such as Colgate Total® Advanced Deep Clean Toothpaste. This toothpaste helps maintain a dentist-clean feeling with advanced-cleaning silica similar to what dentists use. People with a higher risk for oral thrush should also schedule regular dental appointments to monitor the health of their mouths.
Yeast infections in the mouth and throat might not be very common. But if you're in the population of people at a high risk for developing them, knowing what to do to treat and prevent the infection is important.