Yeast: An Equal Opportunity Infection
Yeast infections in men do occur, even though they’re most common in women. The term yeast infection generally refers to a vaginal infection caused by the yeast Candida, though yeast infections, or candidiasis, can affect both sexes in other areas of the body as well.
A yeast infection of the mouth is called oral thrush, or oral candidiasis, and a yeast infection of the skin (such as the armpits) is called cutaneous candidiasis. A yeast infection of the penis is called candidal (or Candida) balanitis, or balanitis thrush. The term balanitis refers to an infection of the glans penis, which is the head of the penis. If the yeast infection also affects the foreskin, it is known as candidal balanoposthitis.
Causes of Candidal Balanitis
Candida yeasts are responsible for 30 to 35 percent of all cases of balanitis, according to a 2010 report in the journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews. However, candidal balanitis is not well studied, so it’s unclear how many men the illness affects each year. It’s thought to be a rare condition.
Various Candida species, most notably Candida albicans, live in the gastrointestinal tract and other warm areas of the body without causing illness. They only cause issues when they’re present in large numbers. In fact, about 20 percent of women have Candida living in their vagina and don’t experience any yeast infection symptoms, according to a 2007 report in the journal The Lancet. Similarly, Candida colonizes the genitals of 14 to 18 percent of men who don’t have any balanitis symptoms the 2010 report notes.
Unlike vaginal yeast infections, penile yeast infections are usually sexually acquired, e.g., when a man has sex with a woman who has a yeast infection. But candidal balanitis isn’t considered a sexually transmitted disease because it is possible for men to contract the infection without having sex.
There are several risk factors which increase a man’s risk of getting a penile yeast infection, including antibiotics (which kill the “good” bacteria that keep Candida’s numbers in check), immune-suppressing illnesses such as HIV, diabetes mellitus, and use of corticosteroids.
Hygiene may also play a role in the development of candidal balanitis. Washing with perfumed shower gels and soaps can irritate the skin, potentially helping Candida to multiply. Insufficient drying of the genitals after showering or swimming provides yeast with the warm, moist environment it needs to grow. A lack of circumcision is a risk factor for candidal balanoposthitis when associated with poor hygiene.
Symptoms of Male Yeast Infections
Common symptoms of candidal balanitis include:
- Burning and itching around the head of the penis
- Redness and swelling
- Small, rash-like bumps called papules, which may have pus
- Pain during urination or sex
Symptoms of candidal balanoposthitis include:
- A thick, lumpy discharge under the foreskin
- An unpleasant odor of the foreskin
- Difficulty pulling back your foreskin
How to Treat Yeast Infection in Men
Like vaginal yeast infections, penile yeast infections are easily treated with antifungal medications called azoles. There are a number of over-the-counter and prescription-based topical medications available including Clotrimazole (Lotrimin), Miconazole (Monistat), and Econazole (Spectazole).
Alternatively, an oral azole medication called fluconazole (Diflucan) is effective for yeast infections. If the topical or oral treatments are ineffective, make sure to see your healthcare professional, as you may have another form of balanitis or an infection by a Candida species which may be resistant to azole antifungals.