What causes a yeast infection?

A yeast infection is caused by several different fungi that normally grow in the body. (Yeast is a kind of fungus). A change in the chemical balance in the vagina allows the fungus to grow too rapidly and cause symptoms.

Yeast infections most often occur in a woman's vagina. Yeast infections can occur in other parts of the body and in men. Though uncomfortable, yeast infections are not serious and can be cured. It is not considered a sexually transmitted disease.

What are the symptoms of a yeast infection?

Common symptoms:

  • Intense vaginal and or vulvar itching
  • Thick, odorless discharge (might resemble cottage cheese)

Less common symptoms:

Why do yeast infections occur?

The fungus that causes yeast infections is a normal inhabitant of the vagina. Usually it exists in small numbers and causes no symptoms. At certain times, these normal fungi overgrow the healthy bacteria and symptoms of a yeast infection occur. Some factors that can contribute to the fungi growing more than they should are:

Can yeast infections recur?

Yes. Yeast infections can recur. About 5-8% of women find that they get recurrent yeast infections, which is defined as more than four infections per year.

Do I need to see a doctor if I think I have a yeast infection?

Vaginal discharges have several different causes. If you are fairly certain that you have a yeast infection, you can treat yourself. See your health care provider promptly if the symptoms do not improve.

Creams and suppositories can be purchased from a drugstore and used to treat the infection. It's important to follow all of the directions on the product label.

Sometimes yeast infections are treated with medicines taken by the mouth. These must be ordered by your health care provider.

How can I help prevent yeast infections?

  • Don't douche. (Douching can kill bacteria that control fungus.)
  • Limit use of feminine deodorant.
  • Limit use of deodorant tampons or pads.
  • Change out of wet clothing, especially bathing suits, as soon as you can.
  • Avoid sexual lubricants.
  • If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible.
  • Symptoms of a yeast infection are similar to other conditions. A physical examination is helpful to sort that out.

What if I have frequent yeast infections?

See your health care provider and:

  • Confirm that you really have a yeast infection
  • Get a blood sugar test for diabetes
  • Get tested for HIV/AIDS

© Copyright 1995-2013 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 11/25/2013...#5019