What You Need To Know About Vaginal Yeast Infections

How To Keep Your Vagina Healthy

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Seventy-five percent of all women will experience at least one vaginal yeast infection during her life, and many are plagued by recurrent yeast infections. Learn more about what causes them, the symptoms, treatment, and how you can prevent them.

Symptoms of a Yeast Infection

Common symptoms of a yeast infection include vaginal itching, burning, and irritation. You may have painful urination or frequent urination when a severe yeast infection causes inflammation of the urethral opening.

There can also be swelling of the vulva, the area just outside your vagina.

A more visual sign of a possible yeast infection is a vaginal discharge, which may be watery or may be thicker than normal, even white and curd-like (almost like cottage cheese). Sexual intercourse may be painful due to inflammation and dryness.

When to See Your Doctor and Get Treatment

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your gynecologist. She'll be able to test you for this infection, confirm a diagnosis, and then provide you with a prescription for an oral medication or recommend an over-the-counter cream.

It is important to get a diagnosis the first time you think you have a yeast infection, as the symptoms might be an infection that needs a completely different antibiotic or treatment. What works for yeast will not work for bacteria. Do not treat yourself with over-the-counter medication if you've never been diagnosed with at least one prior yeast infection by your physician.

What Causes Yeast Infections?

Candida albicans is a yeast-like fungus that is often found in the mouth, vagina, and intestinal tract; it is a normal inhabitant of humans that typically does not have any adverse effects. Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of these normal fungi.

Overgrowth of Candida often happens after you use antibiotics.

Yeast infections can also be caused by wearing clothing such as nylon or lycra that traps in moisture and heat. Other factors that often contribute to infection include pregnancy, obesity, PMS, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes. Finally, other possible causes include the use of oral contraceptives, and the consumption of large amounts of sugars, starches, and yeasts.

If It's Not a Yeast Infection, What Could It Be?

Bacterial vaginitis is a far more prevalent vaginal infection than yeast infection. It is characterized by a foul odor. Untreated bacterial vaginitis can result in pelvic inflammatory disease, and can lead to infertility. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as gonorrhea and herpes can also be mistaken for yeast infections.

Unless a woman is absolutely positive that her vaginal infection is yeast-related, she should seek the advice of her physician before considering self-treatment. Women spend $60 million annually on OTC products and many times vaginal yeast infections are not the true culprit. Vaginal yeast infections commonly are misdiagnosed by women who try to treat themselves with over-the-counter medications.

Over-the-Counter Treatments Once Your Diagnosis is Confirmed

If you and your doctor agree that your symptoms are truly caused by yeast, you have several treatment options, including a variety of creams which are available at pharmacies.

Treatments with OTC products range from one to seven days. Creams available include brand names such as Monistat, Femstat, Gyne-Lotrimin, and Mycostatin.

If you prefer a less messy alternative to the creams that are sold OTC, ask your physician for a prescription medication such as Diflucan, a one-dose oral medication for the treatment of yeast infection. Other oral medications include Nizoral, which requires that oral medication are taken for seven to 14 days either once or twice daily, depending on your physician's recommendations.

Remember, it is always advisable to phone your physician to discuss your symptoms and ask for her recommendation regarding the type of treatment that is best for you.

Tips to Prevent Yeast Infections

  • Wear underwear that has a cotton crotch, which will help keep you dry and won't hold heat and moisture in your vaginal area. 
  • Never wear pantyhose without wearing cotton panties underneath unless they have a cotton crotch.
  • Change your tampon, menstrual pad, or panty liner often.
  • Change out of wet bathing suits or workout clothes as soon as possible.
  • Always wipe from front to back after a bowel movement to prevent transferring yeast to the vaginal area. Yeast naturally occurs in the bowel and rectum.
  • Post-menopausal women and women who use oral contraceptives may find using a vaginal lubricant during sexual intercourse helpful in preventing vaginal discomfort and irritation.
  • Take care during sexual activity to prevent contamination with organisms from the mouth, bowel, or rectum. Because you can get a yeast infection in many ways, it's not a sexually transmitted disease. But you can introduce bacteria and yeast to the vaginal area and upset the balance, leading to a yeast infection.
  • When taking antibiotics, some women find eating one cup of yogurt (with an active culture) a day is helpful to prevent the yeast infections that often follow antibiotic treatment. However, yogurt alone will not cure vaginal yeast infections.
  • Avoid perfumed bath additives, as well as powders in the vaginal area.
  • Douching is never a good idea since it washes away the natural protective mucus of the vagina and leaves women susceptible to vaginal infections.

A Word From Verywell

If, after all this effort, you still get a yeast infection, don't worry. It's easy enough to treat and hopefully will just be a below-the-belt pest for a short period of time. But don't assume every vaginal infection is a yeast infection as bacterial vaginosis is more common, and it may be something more serious. Discuss your symptoms with your doctor to get a correct diagnosis.

Sources:

Vaginal Yeast Infection. MedlinePlus.gov. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001511.htm.

Vaginal Yeast Infections. Womenshealth.gov. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/vaginal-yeast-infections.

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