Candidiasis is an infection caused by a species of the yeast Candida , usually the Candida albicans fungus. Candida is found on various parts of the bodies of almost all normal people but causes problems in only a few. Candidiasis can affect the skin, nails, and mucous membranes throughout the body including the mouth (thrush), esophagus, vagina (yeast infection), intestines, and lungs.


Candida may cause yeast mouth infections (also known as thrush) in children with reduced immune function or in children taking certain antibiotics . Antibiotics may upset the balance of microorganisms in the body and allow an overgrowth of Candida . The use of inhaled steroids for the treatment of asthma has also been shown to cause oral candidiasis. Many infants acquire candidiasis from their mothers during the process of birth, when the baby comes in contact with naturally existing Candida found in the mother's vagina. Candidiasis is not considered harmful to infants unless it lasts more than several weeks after birth. These yeast mouth infections cause creamy white, curd-like patches on the tongue, inside of the mouth, and on the back of the throat. Under the whitish material, there are red lesions that may bleed.

Candida also may infect an infant's diaper rash , as it grows rapidly on irritated and moist skin. Children who suck their thumbs or other fingers may also develop candidiasis around their fingernails, causing redness on the nail edges.

Candida is a common cause of vaginal infections in adolescent girls, especially when the normal populations of the bacteria Lactobacilli have been reduced due to antibiotic use, allowing the overgrowth of Candida . A candidiasis infection in the vagina results in itching , burning, soreness, and a thick, white vaginal discharge.

Other risk factors for candidiasis include obesity , heat, and excessive sweating that result in the formation of moist skin areas where the yeast organism can grow.

In the early 2000s, several serious categories of candidiasis have become more common, due to overuse of antibiotics, the rise of AIDS , the increase in incidence of organ transplantations, the use of chemotherapy in cancer treatment, and the implantation of invasive devices (e.g., nasogastric tubes, catheters, and artificial joints and valves) into the body—all of which increase a patient's susceptibility to infection. Diabetics are especially susceptible to candidiasis, as they have high levels of sugar in their blood and urine and a low resistance to infection, both of which are conditions that favor the growth of yeast. Also known as invasive candidiasis, deep organ candidiasis is a serious systemic infection that can affect the esophagus, heart, blood, liver, spleen, kidneys, eyes, and skin. Like vaginal and oral candidiasis, it is an opportunistic disease that strikes when a child's resistance is lowered, often due to another illness. Children with granulocytopenia (deficiency of white blood cells) are particularly at risk for deep organ candidiasis. There are many diagnostic categories of deep organ candidiasis, depending on the tissues involved.

In the past candidiasis was referred to as moniliasis.


Candidiasis is an extremely common infection. Thrush occurs in approximately 2–5 percent of healthy newborns and occurs in a slightly higher percentage of infants during their first year of life.

Over 1 million adult women and adolescent girls in the United States develop vaginal yeast infections each year. It is not life-threatening, but the condition can be uncomfortable and frustrating.

Causes and symptoms

Candidiasis is caused by a species of the yeast Candida , usually the Candida albicans fungus.

In oral candidiasis, the disease is characterized by whitish patches that appear on the tongue, inside of the cheeks, or on the palate. Pain or difficulty in swallowing may indicate a fungal infection in the throat, which is a potential complication of AIDS. Most adolescent girls with vaginal candidiasis experience severe vaginal itching and have a discharge that often looks like cottage cheese and has a sweet or bread-like odor. The vulva and vagina can be red, swollen, and painful. The infected skin in diaper rash that includes infection with Candida appears fiery red with areas that may have a raised red border.

Effects of deep organ or systematic candidiasis include meningitis , arthritis, fungemia (fungi in the blood, causing fever and possibly leading to sepsis), endocarditis (heart infection), endophthalmitis (infection and scarring in the eye that can affect vision), and renal or bladder bezoars (colonization and blockage of the urinary tract by Candida , which can cause urinary tract infections and kidney failure.


Often clinical appearance and visual examination give a strong suggestion about the diagnosis. Generally, a doctor takes a sample of the vaginal discharge or swabs an area of oral or skin lesions, and then inspects this material under a microscope, where it is possible to see characteristic forms of yeasts at various stages in the lifecycle.

Fungal blood and stool cultures for detection of the Candida organism should be taken for patients suspected of having deep organ candidiasis. Tissue biopsy may be needed for a definitive diagnosis.

When to call the doctor

The doctor should be called if a child exhibits any symptoms of the various types of candidiasis.


Treatment of candidiasis is primarily accomplished through the use of antifungal drugs. Oral candidiasis is usually treated with prescription lozenges or mouthwashes. Some of the most-used prescriptions are nystatin mouthwashes (Nilstat or Nitrostat) and clotrimazole lozenges. Skin infections can be treated with topical antifungal creams. Highly inflamed skin lesions can also be treated with corticosteroid creams.

For infants with oral candidiasis, pacifiers should be sterilized or discarded. Bottle nipples should be discarded and new ones used as the infant's mouth begins to heal.

The risk of diaper rash complicated with candidiasis can be reduced by preventing irritating dermatitis through the use of absorbent diapers and prevention of excessive exposure to urine or feces through frequent changing of diapers. The use of plastic pants that do not allow air circulation over the diaper area is not recommended. Children may still attend child care; however, childcare providers should follow good hygienic practices, including thorough hand washing and disposal of materials that may contain nasal and oral secretions of infected children, in order to prevent transmitting the infection to other children.

In most cases, vaginal candidiasis can be treated successfully with a variety of over-the-counter antifungal creams or suppositories, including Monistat, Gyne-Lotrimin, and Mycelex. However, infections often recur. If an adolescent girl has frequent recurrences, she should consult her doctor about prescription drugs such as Vagistat-1, Diflucan, and others.

The early 2000s increase in deep organ candidiasis has led to the creation of treatment guidelines, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Catheters should be removed from children with candidiasis.
    This patients tongue is infected with candidiasis, or thrush. (Photograph by Edward H. Gill, Custom Medical Stock Photo Inc.)
    This patient's tongue is infected with candidiasis, or thrush.
    (Photograph by Edward H. Gill, Custom Medical Stock Photo Inc.)
  • Antifungal therapy may be used during chemotherapy to prevent candidiasis.
  • Drugs should be prescribed based on a child's specific history and immune defense status (this is especially critical for children with AIDS). Stronger antifungal drugs, such as ketoconazole or fluconazole, may be necessary.
  • Diabetes mellitus should be controlled with appropriate medication and dietary changes.

Alternative treatment

Home remedies for vaginal candidiasis include vinegar douches or insertion of a paste made from Lactobacillus acidophilus powder into the vagina. In theory, these remedies make the vagina more acidic and, therefore, less hospitable to the growth of Candida . Fresh garlic ( Allium sativum ) is believed to have antifungal action, so incorporating it into the diet or inserting a gauze-wrapped, peeled garlic clove into the vagina may be helpful. The insert should be changed twice daily. Some women report success with these remedies; however, they should try a conventional treatment if an alternative remedy is not effective.


Oral and skin candidiasis, though painful, are usually cured with the use of antifungal medications. However, in premature infants, in children with poor or compromised immune systems, or in children with deep organ or systematic infections, eradication of the infections may be more difficult to achieve. Mortality in low birth-weight premature infants with systemic candidiasis may reach 50 percent.


Often candidiasis can be prevented through good sanitation procedures, such as keeping the body cool and dry, wearing natural fabric underclothes, changing underclothes frequently, wiping from front to back after bowel movements, and washing hands often. For children who are susceptible to candidiasis because of immune deficiencies, the regular use of antifungal drugs to prevent infections may be required.

Parental concerns

Parents need to practice good hygienic procedures as they care for their children, in order to prevent the development of candidiasis.


Biopsy —The surgical removal and microscopic examination of living tissue for diagnostic purposes or to follow the course of a disease. Most commonly the term refers to the collection and analysis of tissue from a suspected tumor to establish malignancy.

Granulocytopenia —A condition characterized by a deficiency of white blood cells.

Nasogastric tube —A long, flexible tube inserted through the nasal passages, down the throat, and into the stomach.

Opportunistic —Infection caused by microorganisms that are usually harmless, but which can cause disease when a host's resistance is lowered.

Systemic —Relating to an entire body system or the body in general.



Martin, Jeanne Marie, and Rona P. Soltan. Complete Candida Yeast Guidebook: Everything You Need to Know about Prevention, Treatment, and Diet. New York: Prima Lifestyles, 2000.

The Official Patient's Sourcebook on Invasive Candidiasis. San Diego, CA: Icon Health Publications, 2002.


Greenberg, Michael E. "Candidiasis." eMedicine , September 1, 2004. Available online at (accessed December 7, 2004).

Judith Sims Richard H. Lampert

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