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What is a vaginal yeast infection?
A vaginal yeast infection is a yeast infection that causes irritation, discharge and intense itching of the vagina and labia. It's also called vaginal candidiasis. It affects 3 out of 4 women at some point in their life. Many women have at least two episodes.
A vaginal yeast infection is not considered a sexually transmitted infection. However, there is an increased risk of vaginal yeast infection at the time of the first regular sexual activity. There is also some evidence that infections can be linked to having oral and anal sex.
Vaginal yeast infections can be effectively treated with drugs. If you suffer from recurring infections - 4 or more times a year - you may need a longer course of treatment including a maintenance plan.
Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection
These infections have a variety of common symptoms as listed below:
- vaginal itching
- swelling around the vagina
- a burning sensation during urination or sex
- pain during sex
- whitish-gray and lumpy vaginal discharge
The longer this condition is left untreated, the more severe the symptoms can become.
When to the doctor
Make an appointment with a doctor if:
- This is the first time you have experienced the symptoms of a yeast infection
- You are not sure whether you have a yeast infection
- Your symptoms do not go away after treatment with over-the-counter vaginal creams or suppositories
- You develop other symptoms
Causes of a vaginal yeast infection
The fungus Candida is a naturally occurring microorganism in the vaginal area. The Lactobacillus bacteria keeps its growth in check. However, if there is an imbalance in the body, these bacteria will not work effectively. This leads to an overgrowth of the yeast, causing the symptoms of vaginal yeast infections.
Several factors can cause candida, including:
- antibiotics, which reduce the amount of Lactobacillus (“good bacteria”) in the vagina
- uncontrolled diabetes
- weak immune system
- bad eating habits, including sugary foods
- hormonal imbalance around the menstrual cycle
- sleep deprivation
A specific type of yeast called Candida albicans causes most yeast infections. These infections are easy to treat.
If you have recurring yeast infections or are having trouble overcoming yeast infection with conventional treatment, a different version of Candida may be the cause. A lab test can determine what type of Candida you have.
How Are Vaginal Yeast Infections Diagnosed?
Yeast infections are easy to diagnose. Your doctor will ask about your medical history. This also includes whether you've had yeast infections before. You may also be asked if you have ever had an STI.
The next step is a pelvic exam. Your doctor will examine your vagina and cervix. He will also monitor for any external signs of infection.
Depending on what your doctor sees, the next step may be to remove some of the cells from the vagina with a Pap smear. These cells go to a laboratory for testing. These tests are usually done for women who have yeast infections on a regular basis or for infections that don't go away.
How Is Vaginal Yeast Infection Treated?
Every yeast infection is different, so your doctor will suggest a treatment that is best for you. Treatments are generally determined based on the severity of your symptoms.
For simple yeast infections, your doctor will usually prescribe a 1 to 3 day treatment with an antifungal cream, ointment, tablet, or suppository. These drugs can be provided in both prescription and non-prescription form.
Commonly used medications include:
- butoconazole (Gynazole)
- clotrimazole (Lotrimin)
- miconazole (Monistat)
- terconazole (Terazol)
- fluconazole (Diflucan)
Women with simple yeast infections should schedule a second consultation with a doctor to make sure the drug has worked. In addition, a follow-up visit is also required if symptoms return within two months.
If you recognize that you have a yeast infection, you can also treat it at home with medicines that do not require a prescription.
If you have a serious or complicated infection, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- severe redness, swelling and itching which can lead to ulcers or tearing of the vaginal tissue
- more than 4 infections per year
- have an infection caused by Candida other than Candida albicans
- be pregnant
- have uncontrolled diabetes or a weak immune system
- Have HIV
Possible treatments for serious or complicated yeast infections include:
- Treatment with a cream, ointment, tablet or suppository for 14 days
- 2 or 3 doses of fluconazole (Diflucan)
- Long-term treatment with a topical anti-fungal medication.
If your infection recurs, it may be advisable to find out if your sexual partner has a yeast infection. Don't forget to use condoms during sex if you suspect your partner has Candida. Talk to your doctor about all treatment options for your yeast infection.
Can I treat a vaginal yeast infection myself?
You can try treating Candida with natural remedies if you are not in favor of medicinal treatments. Some popular natural remedies include:
- Coconut oil
- Tea tree oil cream
- vaginal suppositories from boric acid
- plain yogurt
Always make sure your hands are clean before applying any creams or oils to your vagina.
You can also 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're taking over-the-counter or prescription medications. Some herbs can interact with medications you take or cause other unintended side effects.
Is a vaginal yeast infection contagious?
Yeast infections are not considered STIs, but they can be contagious. You can pass on a yeast infection during oral or vaginal intercourse. It can also be passed on by using contaminated sex toys.
It is also possible for a baby to develop a diaper rash at birth if the mother has a vaginal yeast infection during delivery. A mother can also pass on a yeast infection through breastfeeding if Candida overgrowth is present in the breast area.
Although one can pass a fungal infection to another person, it is not contagious in the same way as other infections. If you're concerned about transmission, talk to your doctor about all of the ways a yeast infection could be contagious in your situation.
What is the difference between a vaginal yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection in women between the ages of 15 and 44. The main causes are bacterial imbalances from showering and sex. It is not a typical fungal infection, but it does have similar symptoms such as discharge, burning and itching. This can make it difficult to distinguish between the two infections. However, bacterial vaginosis does produce a strong fishy odor. While a vaginal yeast infection doesn't cause long-term complications, an untreated bacterial vaginosis can.
Complications include fertility problems and preterm labor (if you become infected during pregnancy) and a higher risk of STIs.
Unlike a yeast infection, you need a prescription antibiotic to treat bacterial vaginosis. Your doctor can help you distinguish the differences between a yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis.
How to Prevent a Vaginal Yeast Infection?
Chances are you know exactly what is causing your Candida. For example, some women get these infections every time they take antibiotics. Whether you know the exact cause or not, here are some habits you can adopt and avoid to help prevent recurring infections.
- eat a well-balanced diet
- yogurt or supplements containing lactobacillus
- natural fibers such as cotton, linen or silk
- wearing tight pants, tights, tights or leggings
- using feminine deodorants or scented tampons or sanitary pads
- wearing wet clothes for a long time, especially in bathing suits
- sitting in bubble baths for a long time or taking frequent hot baths
Vaginal yeast infections are common, but prompt treatment can help ease the uncomfortable symptoms in just a few days. By recognizing your own risk factors, you can prevent future infections.
Talk to your doctor if you have recurring vaginal yeast infections that last longer than two months.