A vaginal yeast infection, also known as candidiasis, is a common condition. A healthy vagina contains bacteria and some yeast cells. But when the balance of bacteria and yeast changes, the yeast cells can multiply. This causes intense itching, swelling, and irritation.

Treating a vaginal yeast infection can relieve symptoms within a few days. In more severe cases, it may take up to 2 weeks.

Vaginal yeast infections aren’t considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI), commonly known as sexually transmitted disease (STD). Sexual contact can spread it, but women who aren’t sexually active can also get them.

Once you get a yeast infection, you’re also more likely to get another one.

Vaginal yeast infections have a common set of symptoms, such as:

Whitish-gray and clumpy vaginal discharge is another telltale symptom. Some people say this discharge looks like cottage cheese. Sometimes the discharge may also be watery.

Usually the length of time your yeast infection is left untreated has a direct impact on how severe your symptoms may become.

The fungus Candida is a naturally occurring microorganism in the vaginal area. Lactobacillus bacteria keeps its growth in check.

But if there’s an imbalance in your system, these bacteria won’t work effectively. This leads to an overgrowth of yeast, which causes the symptoms of vaginal yeast infections.

Several factors can cause a yeast infection, including:

A specific kind of yeast called Candida albicans causes most yeast infections. These 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 cause. A lab test can identify what type of Candida you have.

Yeast infections are simple to diagnose. Your doctor will ask about your medical history. This includes whether you’ve had yeast infections before. They may also ask if you’ve ever had an STI.

The next step is a pelvic exam. Your doctor will examine your vaginal walls and cervix. They’ll also look at the surrounding area for external signs of infection.

Depending on what your doctor sees, the next step may be to collect some cells from your vagina. These cells go to a lab for examination. Lab tests are usually ordered for women who have yeast infections on a regular basis or for infections that won’t go away.

Each yeast infection is different, so your doctor will suggest a treatment that’s best for you. Treatments are generally determined based on the severity of your symptoms.

Simple infections

For simple yeast infections, your doctor will usually prescribe a 1-to-3-day regimen of an antifungal cream, ointment, tablet, or suppository. These medications can be in either a prescription or and over-the-counter (OTC) form.

Common medications include:

  • butoconazole (Gynazole)
  • clotrimazole (Lotrimin)
  • miconazole (Monistat)
  • terconazole (Terazol)
  • fluconazole (Diflucan)

Women with simple yeast infections should follow up with their doctors to make sure the medicine has worked.

You’ll also need a follow-up visit if your symptoms return within two months.

If you recognize that you have a yeast infection, you can also treat yourself at home with OTC products.

Complicated infections

Your doctor will more than likely treat your yeast infection as if it were a severe or complicated case, if you:

  • have severe redness, swelling, and itching that leads to sores or tears in your vaginal tissue
  • have had more than four yeast infections in a year
  • have an infection caused by Candida other than Candida albicans
  • are pregnant
  • have uncontrolled diabetes or a weak immune system from medication
  • have HIV

Possible treatments for severe or complicated yeast infections include:

  • 14-day cream, ointment, tablet, or suppository vaginal treatment
  • two or three doses of fluconazole (Diflucan)
  • long-term prescription of fluconazole taken once a week for 6 weeks or long-term use of a topical antifungal medication

If your infection is recurring, you may also want to see if your sexual partner has a yeast infection. Remember to use barrier methods, such as condoms, when having sex if you suspect either of you has a yeast infection. Talk to your doctor about all of your yeast infection treatment options.

You can try to treat vaginal yeast infections with natural remedies if you’d like to avoid taking prescription medication, but these aren’t as effective or reliable as the indicated medications. Some popular natural remedies include:

Always make sure your hands are clean before applying creams or oils to your vagina.

You may also want to talk to a doctor before trying natural remedies. This is important because, if your symptoms are due to something other than a simple yeast infection, your doctor can help diagnose your condition.

Talk to your doctor about herbal remedies if you take OTC or prescription drugs. Some herbs can interact with medications you may be taking or can cause other unintended side effects.

While vaginal yeast infections are more common, it’s possible for men to get yeast infections, too. When it affects the penis, this is known as a penile yeast infection.

All bodies have Candida — not just the female body. When there’s an overgrowth of this fungus, it can lead to yeast infection. The groin area is especially prone to Candida overgrowth because of skin folds and moisture.

Still, penile yeast infections are most commonly caused by having unprotected vaginal intercourse with a woman who has the infection too. You can help prevent a yeast infection by wearing condoms during sex. Regular bathing can also help.

The symptoms of a yeast infection in men may not be as prominent, though you might see redness and white patches along the penis as well as burning and itchy sensations. See your doctor for a proper diagnosis if you think you have a penile yeast infection.

Yeast infections are extremely common in women. In fact, it’s estimated that 3 out of 4 women will get more than two vaginal yeast infections in their lifetime.

Despite their prevalence, it’s important to treat vaginal yeast infections early. Not only will you alleviate uncomfortable symptoms, but you can also reduce the chances of the infection becoming more widespread in your body.

Recurring yeast infections are common, especially if you are pregnant, have diabetes, or have a weakened immune system. Talk to your doctor if you have more than four yeast infections per year.

While yeast infections are commonly associated with vaginal infections, babies can also get them.

The most common yeast infection in a baby is a diaper rash. However, not all diaper rashes are the result yeast overgrowth.

You may be able to tell the condition is more than just a diaper rash if your baby’s skin is extremely red and has spots in the diaper/groin area, despite using diaper rash cream. Yeast infections may also be presented in other folds of the skin, such as under the armpits.

Your child’s pediatrician will likely prescribe a topical antifungal cream to treat yeast infections of the skin. An oral medication may be needed if your baby has oral thrush (yeast infection of the mouth). While yeast infections in babies are usually harmless, they can lead to more serious infections when left untreated.

Yeast infections aren’t considered STIs, but they can still be contagious. You can pass a yeast infection during oral or vaginal intercourse. It’s also possible to transmit the infection via sex toys and by kissing someone with oral thrush (yeast infection of the mouth).

It’s also possible for a baby to get a fungal diaper rash at birth if the mother has a vaginal yeast infection during delivery. You may also pass on a yeast infection to your baby’s mouth during breastfeeding if Candida overgrowth is present in the breast area.

While you can pass a yeast infection to another person, it’s not contagious in the same way as other infections are. You won’t “catch” the infection by air or by using the same shower as someone with the infection, for example. If you’re concerned about transmission, talk to your doctor about all the ways yeast infections could be contagious in your situation.

Yeast infections are common during pregnancy because of hormone fluctuations. You’ll want to see your doctor if you’re pregnant and suspect a yeast infection so that you can get the right diagnosis.

A yeast infection during pregnancy isn’t always treated in the same way as in nonpregnant women. You won’t be able to take oral antifungal medications due to possible birth defects. Topical antifungals are safe to use during pregnancy.

While yeast infections won’t hurt your baby, it’s possible to pass the Candida fungus to them during delivery. This can then lead to diaper rash and oral thrush in your baby. It’s important to treat yeast infection early, especially if you’re pregnant, so that you can prevent any such complications.

Another common infection in women is a urinary tract infection (UTI). While it’s possible to have one or the other, or even both infections at the same time, UTIs and yeast infections are two different conditions.

A UTI is a bacterial infection that affects the urinary system. This complex system includes your urethra, as well as your bladder and kidneys. Sex, STIs, and failure to urinate regularly can all lead to UTIs.

The symptoms of a UTI are also different from a yeast infection. There’s no noticeable discharge, but you might see a small amount of blood in your urine. A UTI can also cause frequent urination along with pelvic and abdominal pain.

Without treatment, a UTI can lead to more serious complications of the kidneys. You must see a doctor to get antibiotics. Ask your doctor for more information regarding the differences between a yeast infection and a UTI.

If this is your first suspected yeast infection, you’ll want to get a proper diagnosis from a doctor. This ensures that your symptoms are definitely related to Candida overgrowth and not another more serious condition.

Your doctor will first conduct a pelvic exam, making note of any visible discharge, redness, and swelling. They will ask you about other symptoms you’re experiencing, such as burning and painful urination.

If needed, your doctor might order a vaginal fluid test. They will first collect a sample of vaginal discharge with a cotton swab, which will then be sent off to a lab for study under a microscope. Once your doctor has determined it’s indeed a fungal infection — or another type of infection — they will then be able to prescribe the correct type of treatment.

While it’s possible to develop a yeast infection after having sex, a yeast infection itself is not an STI. Instead, there are other factors at play that can throw off Candida balance in the vaginal area. Vaginal intercourse, as well as penetration via sex toys and fingers, can all introduce bacteria.

Another possibility is having vaginal intercourse with a man who has a penile yeast infection. The exact opposite can happen too, where a man might develop a penile yeast infection from a woman who has a vaginal yeast infection. Oral sex may also disrupt bacteria in the mouth, vagina, and penile areas.

It’s also possible that the yeast infection is purely coincidental. There are many underlying risk factors of a yeast infection, with sexual intercourse being just one of them.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common type of vaginal infection in women between the ages of 15 and 44. Its primary causes are bacterial imbalances from douching and sex — it’s not a fungal infection like a typical yeast infection is. BV is said to have a strong fishy odor too.

BV has similar symptoms as a yeast infection, including discharge, burning, and itching. This can make distinguishing between the two infections difficult. But while a vaginal yeast infection doesn’t cause long-term complications, untreated BV can.

Among the complications include fertility issues and premature delivery (if you get infected while pregnant), and a higher risk of contracting STIs.

Unlike a yeast infection, you’ll need a prescription antibiotic to clear up BV. Your doctor will be able to help you distinguish the differences between a yeast infection and BV.

Chances are that you know exactly what led to your yeast infection. For example, some women experience these infections every time they take antibiotics. Whether you know the exact cause, here are some habits you can adopt and avoid to help prevent recurring infections.

Take up:

  • eating a well-balanced diet
  • eating yogurt or taking supplements with lactobacillus
  • wearing natural fibers such as cotton, linen, or silk
  • washing underwear in hot water
  • replacing feminine products frequently

Avoid:

  • wearing tight pants, pantyhose, tights, or leggings
  • using feminine deodorant or scented tampons or pads
  • sitting around in wet clothing, especially bathing suits
  • sitting in hot tubs or taking frequent hot baths
  • douching

Essential oils have garnered a lot of attention in the last several years as “natural” remedies to common medical ailments. These plant-based products can be powerful, but so far, no research has shown that essential oils work better for yeast infections than conventional methods.

One issue with essential oils is that some people might be allergic to them. It’s a good idea to do a patch test on a small area of skin before applying them to larger areas of the body. This is especially important when considering sensitive areas such as the vagina.

It’s also important to dilute oils properly before use. Confirm with your doctor that your symptoms are indeed caused by a yeast infection before trying out essential oils as treatment. You can then ask them about safer oils, such as coconut oil, for your yeast infection.

Having both a yeast infection and your period can feel like a double-whammy. However, this isn’t uncommon. Yeast infections are most likely to occur in women during the final days leading up to their period.

Fluctuations in hormones are thought to be a cause of yeast infections before your period, causing imbalances in healthy bacteria in the vagina.

If you experience white to yellow discharge in the week before your period, this isn’t automatically a yeast infection. What’s key is if you experience other hallmark symptoms too, such as redness, burning, and itchiness.

While a nuisance, early treatment can help clear up your yeast infection before your period starts. See your doctor if your yeast infection symptoms don’t improve after your period ends. You may also see them if you continue to get yeast infections before your period every month.

Yeast infections are common occurrences, but prompt treatment can help reduce the uncomfortable symptoms within a few days. By recognizing your own risk factors, you can prevent future infections.

Talk to your doctor if you have recurring yeast infections that last longer than two months.