Most healthy vaginas contain bacteria and some yeast cells. But sometimes yeast grows too much and leads to an infection. Yeast infections can be very irritating and uncomfortable. A vaginal yeast infection, which is also sometimes called vulvovaginal candidiasis, happens when the healthy yeast that normally lives in your vagina grows out of control and is a common problem in women. When the balance of bacteria and yeast changes, the yeast cells can multiply. This causes intense itching, swelling, and irritation.
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.
If your vaginal chemistry gets thrown off balance, the normal yeast that lives in your vagina can grow too much and lead to an infection. Some things that can cause changes in your vagina’s environment are:
- normal changes in hormone levels (like during your menstrual cycle)
- Antibiotics, cortisone, and other drugs
- a weak immune system
- a natural reaction to another person’s genital chemistry, usually post sexual intercourse
- Contraceptive devices ( IUD/ diaphragms)
YEAST INFECTION SYMPTOMS
Vaginal yeast infections have a common set of symptoms, such as:
- vaginal itching
- swelling around the vagina
- burning during urination or sex
- pain during sex
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.
People can also get a yeast infection on their mouth, throat, or tongue — that’s called “thrush.” Usually the length of time your yeast infection is left untreated has a direct impact on how severe your symptoms may become.
HOW IS A YEAST INFECTION TREATED?
Yeast infections are usually treated with antifungal medicine. See your doctor or nurse to make sure that you have a vaginal yeast infection and not another type of infection.
You can then buy antifungal medicine for yeast infections at a store, without a prescription. Antifungal medicines come in the form of creams, tablets, ointments, or suppositories that you insert into your vagina. You can apply treatment in one dose or daily for up to three days, depending on the brand you choose. However, you shouldn’t just buy one if you think you have a yeast infection. It’s important to see a doctor for your diagnosis because if you actually have another type of infection, it could get worse if not properly treated.
Your doctor can also give you a single dose of antifungal medicine taken by mouth, such as oral fluconazole . If you get more than four vaginal yeast infections a year, or if your yeast infection doesn’t go away after using over-the-counter treatment, you may need to get tested and advised to take regular doses of antifungal medicine for up to six months.
All of these types of medicine can clear up your symptoms in a couple of days and cure the infection within a week. It’s important that you take the medicine for the whole time that your doctor prescribes. If you stop taking it too soon, the infection could come back. If you’re not feeling better within a few days of finishing treatment, call your doctor.
If you’re using a vaginal treatment and are sexually active, you should not have sex until the infection has been completely treated to avoid reinfection.
CAN YOU PREVENT A YEAST INFECTION?
Because yeast can be present normally in the vagina of healthy women, not all yeast infections can be prevented. However, it is possible to take preventive measures that may reduce your risk of getting a yeast infection. These include always cleaning the genital area from front to back and changing out of wet bathing suits or damp clothes as soon as possible. Wearing loose-fitting cotton underwear can help reduce moisture and prevent yeast infections. Since chemical irritants can influence the balance of bacteria in the vagina, avoiding products with potential irritants like douches or scented tampons can also help. Regular baths or showers are an adequate way to cleanse the vagina, and douching is not recommended and may actually increase your risk of yeast infection.
Some evidence shows that consumption of foods with probiotics (healthy bacteria that are normally found in the body) like probiotic-containing yogurt may help prevent yeast infections.
Next read: What Are Vulvar Ulcers?