Vaginal yeast infections, also known as candidiasis, are a common female condition. Yeast infections are caused by the fungus Candida. This fungus is associated with intense itching, swelling, and irritation.
According to the Mayo Clinic, 3 out of 4 women will experience a yeast infection at one point in their lives. Once you get a yeast infection, you’re more likely to get another one.
Vaginal yeast infections can be spread by sexual contact, but in general they aren’t considered a sexually transmitted infection. Treatment for yeast infections is relatively simple, depending on how severe they are.
The Candida genus of yeast is a naturally occurring microorganism in the vaginal area. Its growth is kept in check by the lactobacillus bacteria. However, these bacteria can’t work effectively if there is an imbalance in your system. This leads to an overgrowth of yeast, which causes the symptoms of vaginal yeast infections to be present.
Most yeast infections are caused by Candida albicans — a specific strand of yeast. These yeast infections are easily treatable. If you’re having recurring yeast infections or problems getting rid of a yeast infection with conventional treatment, then a different version of Candida might be the culprit. A lab test can let your doctor know which type of Candida you have.
The imbalance that allows the overgrowth of yeast to happen can be due to:
- antibiotics (they lower the amount of lactobacillus, or good bacteria, in the vagina)
- uncontrolled diabetes
- weak immune system
- poor eating habits, including a lot of sugary foods
- hormonal imbalance near your menstrual cycle
- lack of sleep
Vaginal yeast infections have a common set of symptoms. Usually the length of time your yeast infection is left untreated can have a direct impact on how severe your symptoms are.
Frequent symptoms include:
- large or small amounts of vaginal discharge, often whitish gray and thick (although there are also times the discharge can be watery)
- pain during sex
Yeast infections are simple to diagnose. Doctors will normally begin by getting information regarding your medical history. This will include whether or not you have had prior yeast infections. Normally, doctors will also ask if you have ever had a sexually transmitted infection.
The next step is a pelvic exam. Your doctor will examine your vagina and the surrounding area to see if there are external signs of infection. They will also examine your vaginal walls and cervix. Depending on what your doctor discovers, they will take a vaginal culture to send to the lab for confirmation. Tests are usually ordered only for women that have yeast infections on a regular basis or for infections that won’t go away.
After an initial diagnosis, you may be able to determine the presence of a future yeast infection on your own.
Your doctor will treat your yeast infection according to its severity and complications.
For simple yeast infections, your doctor will usually prescribe the following treatment(s):
- a one- to three-day regimen of an antifungal cream, ointment, tablet, or suppository. Common antifungal medications are Gynazle, Lotrimin, Monistat, and Terazol. These medications can be in prescription or over-the-counter form.
- a single dose of oral medication such as Diflucan
Women with simple yeast infections should make sure to follow up with their doctor to make sure the medicine worked. A follow-up will also be necessary if your symptoms return within two months.
Certain types of Candida will not respond to normal treatment and will require an aggressive course of treatment. If you meet one of the following criteria, your doctor will more than likely treat your yeast infection as if it were a severe or complicated case:
- You have severe redness, swelling, and itching that leads to sores or tears in your vaginal tissue.
- You have had more than four yeast infections in a year.
- Candida other than albicans is the cause of your infection.
- You are pregnant.
- You have uncontrolled diabetes or a weak immune system from medication or from being HIV-positive.
Possible treatments for severe or complicated yeast infections include:
- 14-day cream, ointment, tablet, or suppository vaginal treatment
- two or three doses of Diflucan (not for pregnant women)
- long-term prescription of Diflucan that is taken once a week for six weeks, or long-term use of a topical antifungal medication
- treatment of your sexual partner or use of condoms when having sex
You can treat vaginal yeast infections with natural remedies if you would like to avoid taking prescription medication. These are some popular natural remedies:
- tea tree oil cream
- garlic or boric acid vaginal suppositories
- yogurt taken orally or inserted into the vagina
In many cases, you may know exactly what led to your yeast infection. For example, some women experience these infections every time they take antibiotics. By recognizing your own risk factors, you can prevent future infections.
Here are some common methods of prevention, most targeted at avoiding bacteria growth near the vagina:
- avoid wearing tight pants, pantyhose, tights, or leggings
- avoid using feminine deodorant or deodorant tampons/pads
- do not sit around in wet clothing, especially bathing suits
- eat a well-balanced diet
- eat yogurt or take supplements with lactobacillus
- wear natural fibers such as cotton, linen, or silk
- avoid sitting in hot tubs or taking frequent hot tub baths
- wash underwear in hot water
- avoid douching
- change feminine products frequently
Are yeast infections a recurring problem for you? Read our top yeast infection prevention tips and remedies.