Why your doctor might prescribe nystatin
Here’s a fun fact: We always have fungus among us.
“There are literally billions of bacteria and fungi on your body at any given moment,” says Donald Ford, MD, a staff physician at the Cleveland Clinic. And while that may seem off-putting (because you shower on the regular), having microbes on your body is perfectly normal.
Usually, these different types of fungi and bacteria just hang out and keep each other in check, not bothering anyone. But sometimes the balance can shift, causing one type to reproduce too much. The result is fungal overload, causing such problems as vaginal yeast infections and athlete’s foot (and a whole lot of itch and discomfort).
Generally, fungal infections are nothing to worry about, and they can be cleared with a medication like nystatin (Nyamyc, Nystop). This antifungal agent is available as a liquid, cream, powder, or pill, and it can take care of a variety of infections.
The medication works by breaking through the cell walls of the fungus, which allows the contents to leak out, effectively killing off the infection, explains Stefanie Ferreri, PharmD, chair of the Division of Practice Advancement and Clinical Education at UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
“The medication works the same way no matter what you are treating, but the dosage and duration of treatment may vary,” Ferreri says.
Here’s the lowdown on different types of fungal infections that nystatin can be used to treat.
Thrush is a condition in which a yeastlike fungus, Candida albicans, overgrows in the lining of the mouth and throat, causing redness, burning and soreness. It generally occurs in babies, causing milky white lesions on the tongue or inner cheeks. But babies can pass it on to their breastfeeding mothers, where it might cause red or itchy nipples or flaky skin on the darker area (areola) around the nipple. The infection may then pass back and forth between the mother's breasts and the baby’s mouth.
“Thrush isn’t a very common infection, because our saliva is often pretty toxic to fungus and does a good job of protecting us,” Dr. Ford says. “But we see this sometimes with people taking medications that might alter their immune system, or after antibiotic treatment. In babies, it’s just due to an immature immune system,” he says. For thrush in the mouth, nystatin is usually prescribed in a liquid or powder that’s mixed in water and taken four times daily. Thrush on the breasts is often treated with a cream form of nystatin.
Vaginal yeast infections
If you’re a woman, chances are you’ve had a yeast infection. The Mayo Clinic reports that vaginal yeast infections affect as many as 3 out of 4 women at some point in their lifetime. Candida albicans, the same fungus that causes thrush, is also the culprit here. Symptoms can include irritation, redness and swelling, discharge, and intense itchiness of the tissues at the vaginal opening.
“Because they happen in such a sensitive area, vaginal yeast infections can often be more uncomfortable than other fungal infections,” Dr. Ford says. Your doctor may prescribe a cream form of nystatin that you insert into the vagina with an applicator once or twice a day. Learn more about the sneaky causes of yeast infections here.
Blame it on those sweaty sneakers, which create just the kind of warm, moist environment that fungi love to call home. If you notice a red, scaly rash between your toes, think athlete’s foot. It can itch, sting or burn and can spread, especially if you scratch it, so hands off!
Athlete’s foot is also contagious and can be transmitted via towels, contaminated floors (in locker rooms, saunas or pools), or clothing. And it can keep cropping up, Dr. Ford says, so sticking with your treatment is important. A powder form of nystatin is generally used to clear athlete’s foot. You sprinkle it twice a day between your toes, on your feet, and inside socks and shoes.
Got a red, itchy groin? This condition is named after the people who typically tend to get it: athletes. “It’s also common in people with diabetes; if they’re overweight, they can get rashes between folds of their skin,” Dr. Ford says.
Jock itch is in its element in the warm groin area, and it can also spread to the upper thighs. Skin tends to be red, irritated, itchy, scaly, or flaky and may appear ring-shaped with raised edges. Like athlete’s foot, it can spread through contaminated towels or clothing — so don’t share. Using a nystatin cream combined with a corticosteroid can help reduce swelling, itching, and redness.
Nystatin isn’t the only antifungal game in town. Learn more about another common effective treatment here.