Yeast infections is often thought of as a female health problem, but men aren’t safe from these infections, either.
Yeast infections, or candidiasis, can affect other areas of the body:
- A yeast infection of the mouth is called thrush, or oral candidiasis.
- Infection of the skin (such as the armpits and groin) is called cutaneous candidiasis.
- Same infection of the penis – which is inflammation of the head of the penis – is also called candidal (or candida) balanitis, or balanitis thrush.
- Common fungal infections of the foot are foot fungus, toenail fungus, toe infection.
In this article we focus on a yeast infection in men – a penile yeast infection. They may result from poor hygiene or condomless sex with a partner who has a vaginal yeast infection. Symptoms include redness on the skin and itchiness or burning.
In most cases, yeast infections go away on their own or within a few days with treatment. But not all the time and if so, the complications can be serious, even life-threatening.
What are the signs and symptoms of a yeast infection in men?
Unlike yeast infections in women, men generally don’t experience symptoms. However, once symptoms do appear, they can cause extreme discomfort and pain.
Symptoms may resemble those of other diseases, including some sexually-transmitted infections (STDs), so don’t ignore those symptoms once they appear.
To determine the cause of symptoms men should always be tested. A urologist or your primary care doctor can diagnose the condition, often in a single appointment.
Symptoms of yeast infections in men include:
- Discomfort and burning (dysuria) during urination
- Itching or a burning sensation on the penis
- Moist skin on the penis, possibly with areas of a thick, white substance collecting in skin folds
- Sores on the foreskin of the penis
- Irritation, itchiness and pain at the tip of the penis
- White, lumpy, foul-smelling discharge
- Discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Redness and inflammation at the top of the penis
- Small rash like bumps that may contain pus
- Areas of white, shiny skin at the top of the penis
What causes a penile yeast infection?
Yeast infections in men are common because the fungus that causes yeast infections (candida) is usually present on the body and skin. Candida, a type of yeast, is a normal inhabitant of even the healthiest bodies.
It loves warm, dark, moist places, particularly the gastrointestinal tract and the genital area. The most common species by far is Candida albicans.
Candida normally dwells innocently in these locations, kept in check by the body’s bacterial flora (Lactobacillus bacteria keeps its growth in check). But, if there’s an imbalance in your system or you have had sex with infected partner, these yeasts can start to overgrow. And a moist environment is ideal for candida to spread.
These overgrowths of yeast like Candida albicans can affect men, as well as women.
Although most experts do not consider yeast infection to be a sexually-transmitted disease, it is possible for an infected woman to spread the infection to her male sex partner. So, one of the most common causes of a penile yeast infection is unprotected sexual intercourse with a woman who has a vaginal yeast infection.
But men can also develop the yeast infection without being sexually active.
Common causes and potential risk factors for male yeast infections include:
- Antibiotic use, which lower probiotic counts, allowing for the growth of candida
- Weakened immune systems due to illness and chronic health conditions, which allows candida to spread. If you have an impaired immune system because of cancer treatment, HIV, or another reason, you may also be at a higher risk of a yeast infection.
- Frequent sexual intercourse
- Poor hygiene
- Being uncircumcised
- Having diabetes, as men with diabetes have higher amount of sugar in their urine, which may promote the growth of yeasts
- Using soaps and skin products that irritate skin
- Wearing tight-fitting undergarments or wet clothing
- Condoms that contain lubricants
- Using spermicides
- Any exposure to a hot, humid environments
- Being overweight
What is the treatment for yeast infection in men?
Most mild yeast infections will not require treatment and it is not considered necessary unless the man develops symptoms. Even untreated, it often goes away by itself, but it can sometimes spread to the scrotum, inner thighs and buttocks. Be also aware, that severe penile yeast infection, if not treated, can lead to a wide range of painful, uncomfortable, and potentially embarrassing symptoms. It can also lead to serious complications if the infection spreads into your bloodstream.
Luckily, treatment for men is simple, like for women, is based upon antifungal medications. These may be applied as topical creams or taken by mouth in pill or tablet form.
In most cases those medications used twice a day for between one to three weeks are enough to clear up an infection.
Most of these are available as OTC medications, meaning you will not need a prescription. But men who have not been previously treated for a yeast infection should see a doctor before treating themselves with OTC anti-fungal medications for the first time.
Sometimes yeast infections return after they appear to be cured. If this occurs, your doctor will likely recommend weekly treatments for several months following a couple weeks of daily treatment. More serious, or longer-term infections may require a prescription-strength medication.
If your infection doesn’t respond well to an antifungal ointment and you are uncircumcised, you may be advised to have a circumcision. Though this surgical procedure is typically done on infants, it can be done safely on a man of any age.
Many of the antifungal creams or oral medications recommended for a yeast infection include:
- Miconazole (Lotrimin AF, Cruex, Desenex, Ting Antifungal)
- Imidazole (Canesten, Selezen)
- Clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF, Anti-Fungal, Cruex, Desenex, Lotrimin AF Ringworm)
- Oral Fluconazole (Diflucan) and a Hydrocortisone Cream may be advised in serious infections, such as those that have developed into a potentially serious condition called balanitis.
Most antifungal creams are well tolerated. You’re not likely to have any serious side effects. However, ask your doctor and pharmacist what to look out for in case you have a bad reaction.
Other treatment methods recommended for a yeast infection include:
- Along with using the medicated cream, you should also practice good hygiene which can help prevent yeast infections and even treat them. It is a good idea to wash the penis regularly with plain warm water, avoiding shower gels and soaps, and drying well after.
- Men should never use perfumed shower gels or soaps on their genitals.
- Wearing loose-fitting cotton underwear or boxers and keeping genitals dry and cool at all times can also prevent yeast growth.
- Although various herbal remedies have been touted for women with yeast infections, there’s no data on their efficacy (or lack thereof) in men. But, there is no harm in trying.
- If you have diabetes, work with your healthcare providers to make sure your blood sugar levels are well controlled.
- If you have a suppressed immune system, your doctor can recommend ways to help keep your immune system as healthy as possible. But there are also something you can do for the health of your immune system right now. This includes healthy food, enough physical activity, no stress and taking probiotics and vitamins like Vitamin D.
As men receive the infection during sexual intercourse, both partners should be treated so you don’t keep re-infecting each other. There’s no compelling reason to limit sexual intercourse during treatment, but you should use a condom.
What are the complications of a penile yeast infection?
Balanitis is an inflammation of the foreskin or head of the penis. Candida yeasts are responsible for up to 35 percent of all the cases of balanitis according to one report in the journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews.
- If balanitis isn’t treated effectively scarring of the foreskin can occur.
- It can also cause adhesions on the penis. The condition can be painful and make urinating more difficult.
- If untreated, balanitis can cause swollen and painful glands, as well as weakness and fatigue.
- A yeast infection may enter the bloodstream. This is known as candidemia or invasive candidiasis. This is most common in men with weakened immune systems or who wait to receive treatment until the infection has spread beyond the penis.
- If you’ve been in a hospital and used a catheter to urinate, you may be more likely to face invasive candidiasis. This advanced form of a yeast infection is very serious. Oral antifungal medications may be needed for several weeks. In some cases, the drugs are administered intravenously.
- Serious, even life-threatening yeast infections can occur also. Luckily these are almost exclusively limited to immunocompromised patients or patients who have undergone an invasive procedure (e.g., placement of a central venous line) with contaminated equipment.
You may be more likely to develop balanitis from a yeast infection if you:
- Aren’t circumcised
- Use antibiotics for prolonged periods
- Have diabetes
- Have an impaired immune system, such as with HIV
- Are overweight
- Practice poor hygiene
How do you prevent a penile yeast infection?
You can help prevent a penile yeast infection by avoiding sexual contact with a partner who has a yeast infection. Also avoid having sex with anyone while you have an active yeast infection. During the intercourse you could give the infection back to your partner, and the two of you could trade an infection back and forth.
To avoid getting a yeast infection or passing one along, do the following:
- Wear a condom to help reduce your chances of developing a yeast infection.
- Practice sexual monogamy to reduce your risk for a yeast infection.
- Practice good hygiene, and keep your penis and genitals clean and dry.
- If you are uncircumcised, clean under the foreskin with soap and water, and return your foreskin to its usual position after you have sexual intercourse.
- Practice healthy lifestyle and keep your immune system strong. That includes nutrition diet full of probiotics and vitamins like Vitamin D.
Written by Maria-Helena Loik
Photos: Pexels.com, Pixabay.com