A yeast infection occurs when the normal levels of acid and yeast in the vagina are out of balance and cause a very uncomfortable, but not serious, a condition. Also called vaginal candidiasis, vaginal yeast infection affects up to 3 out of 4 women at some point in their lifetimes. Many women experience at least two episodes.
If you are experiencing symptoms, you should see your physician for accurate diagnosis and treatment, because trying to treat yourself may make symptoms worse.
What causes a yeast infection?
The fungus candida albicans is responsible for most vaginal yeast infections. Your vagina naturally contains a balanced mix of yeast, including candida, and bacteria. Certain bacteria (lactobacillus) act to prevent an overgrowth of yeast. But that balance can be disrupted. An overgrowth of candida or penetration of the fungus into deeper vaginal cell layers causes the signs and symptoms of a yeast infection.
Overgrowth of yeast can result from:
- Hormonal changes that come with pregnancy (See Yeast Infections During Pregnancy) or before your period)
- Taking hormones or birth control pills
- Taking antibiotics or steroids
- High blood sugar, as in diabetes
- Vaginal intercourse
- Blood or semen
What are the symptoms of a yeast infection?
Yeast infection symptoms can range from mild to moderate, and include:
- Itching, burning, soreness in the vagina and vulva
- Thick, white, vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese and may smell like yeast/bread, though usually odorless
- Watery vaginal discharge
- Burning during urination and intercourse
- Swelling, soreness, or rash on the outer lips of the vagina
- Vaginal rash
Complicated yeast infection
You might have a complicated yeast infection if:
- You have severe signs and symptoms, such as extensive redness, swelling and itching that leads to tears, cracks or sores
- You have four or more yeast infections in a year
- Your infection is caused by a less typical type of fungus
- You’re pregnant
- You have uncontrolled diabetes
- Your immune system is weakened because of certain medications or conditions such as HIV infection
What else could I be experiencing?
If you are experiencing symptoms similar to a yeast infection, but a physician has ruled out this diagnosis, you may have one of the following:
- A sexually transmitted disease (STD) like chlamydia, gonorrhea, or trichomoniasis
- A vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis
How do I know for sure if I have a yeast infection?
Your health care provider will use a simple, painless swab to remove the discharge or vaginal secretions and examine the sample through a microscope in the office. Usually, upon a simple examination of the vagina, a physician can diagnose a yeast infection. In rare cases, the culture may be sent to a lab.
How are yeast infections treated?
A yeast infection can be treated by creams that can be applied vaginally. Monistat, Gyne-Lotrimin, or prescription Terazol or Vagistat provide immediate relief of burning on the vulva and should completely clear up the infection in a week.
Medications are taken orally, such as prescription Diflucan, Sporanox, Nystatin, and Nizoral, clear up the infection within a few days but provide slower relief of burning and itching. Ask your doctor about using cream topically to relieve itching and burning as well as a one-dose oral medication to clear it up as quickly as possible.
How can I prevent yeast infections from occurring?
Yeast infections can usually be avoided by doing the following:
- Avoid tight-fitting, synthetic fiber clothing, leotards, or girdles
- Wear cotton panties and pantyhose with cotton crotches
- Wash regularly, and dry thoroughly. Use your blow dryer on a low, cool setting to help dry your genital area
- Always wipe from front to back after using the restroom
- Shower immediately after you swim, and dry thoroughly. Change out of wet swimsuits or other damp clothes as soon as you can
- Change underwear and workout clothes right away after exercise
- Don’t douche or use feminine hygiene sprays, sanitary pads, or tampons that contain deodorant
- Don’t use bubble bath or colored/perfumed toilet paper
- Avoid hot tubs and very hot baths
- Avoid unnecessary antibiotic use, such as for colds or other viral infections.
- Eat nutritious foods including yogurt with lactobacillus acidophilus; limit sugar intake, as sugar promotes the growth of yeast
- Get plenty of rest to make it easier for your body to fight infections
When should I contact my doctor?
If you are experiencing the symptoms described in this article, you should call your doctor now. Yeast infections symptoms can be similar to other infections and STDs. Proper diagnosis every time you think you may have a yeast infection is vital for the most effective, immediate treatment, or your condition may worsen.
If you see no improvement within three days, or the symptoms worsen or come back after treatment, you should contact your health care provider again.
Compiled using information from the following sources:
American Academy of Family Physicians, https://familydoctor.org
Danforth’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Ninth Ed. Scott, James R., et al, Ch. 32.