Vaginal Yeast Infection
What is a vaginal yeast infection?
A vaginal yeast infection is a type of fungal infection. Your body contains a kind of yeast called candida, which causes vaginal yeast infections. Yeast is a type of fungus, and candida is a specific type of yeast. When this yeast is in balance within your body, there are no problems. But when the yeast is out of balance, it rapidly grows, and you can get a yeast infection. A yeast infection causes burning, itching, redness in your vulva (the outside parts of your vagina) and changes to your vaginal discharge. A yeast infection isn’t a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Other names for a vaginal yeast infection include vulvovaginal candidiasis or vaginal candidiasis. A vaginal yeast infection is a type of vaginitis, a condition where the vagina is swollen, painful and possibly infected. There are several types of vaginitis — each with similar symptoms — but vaginal yeast infections are one of the most common.
Candida and vaginal yeast infections
It may be strange to think about, but fungus lives in several places within your body. The yeast that you have living in your mouth, digestive tract and vagina is candida. Normally, candida doesn’t cause a problem. It’s supposed to be in your body, and other bacteria help keep its growth under control. However, certain factors make it hard for the “good” bacteria to fight off the “bad” bacteria. Sometimes the “bad” bacteria win, and you end up with an illness.
What does a vaginal yeast infection look like?
The way your vulva looks and feels and the type of discharge that comes from your vagina may change if you have a yeast infection. The area of skin just outside your vaginal opening may itch and burn. The itching and burning can feel worse when you pee or have sex. Your vaginal discharge may become thicker and lumpier, but it shouldn’t smell different. Not everyone experiences symptoms or has the same symptoms.
Who gets vaginal yeast infections?
Anyone with a vagina can get a yeast infection. They’re most common after puberty and before menopause. Certain factors can put you at a higher risk of developing a yeast infection, but yeast infections are very common and highly treatable.
How common are vaginal yeast infections?
Up to 75% of women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB) will have at least one vaginal yeast infection in their life, and over half will get two or more in their lifetime. Yeast infections are the second most common cause of vaginitis (bacterial vaginosis is the most common).
What increases my risk of getting a yeast infection?
Certain factors can increase your risk of getting a vaginal yeast infection. Some of those are:
- Using antibiotics, birth control pills or certain steroids.
- Being pregnant.
- Having a health condition that weakens your immune system.
- Having unmanaged diabetes.
Certain lifestyle risk factors also increase your risk of a vaginal yeast infection, such as:
- Sitting in a wet bathing suit.
- Not changing out of sweaty clothes.
- Wearing scented tampons or using a vaginal deodorant.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection?
There are several tell-tale signs of a vaginal yeast infection. These symptoms can include:
- An itchy or burning sensation in your vagina and vulva.
- A thick, white vaginal discharge with the consistency of cottage cheese.
- Redness and swelling of your vagina and vulva.
- Small cuts or tiny cracks in the skin of your vulva because of fragile skin in the area.
- A burning feeling when you pee.
In some cases, another symptom of a vaginal yeast infection can be pain during sex.
Symptoms of a yeast infection are similar to the symptoms people feel when they have a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or other vaginal infection. Contact your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms so they can examine you.
Why do vaginal yeast infections happen?
When the bacteria in your vagina is out of balance, it can cause candida to multiply. This can happen for a lot of reasons, including:
- Taking antibiotics: Antibiotics that treat infections in your body kill the good bacteria in your vagina. Good bacteria keep the yeast in check. The balance shifts without good bacteria, leading to a yeast infection.
- Pregnancy and hormones: Anything that disrupts or changes your hormones can disrupt the balance of candida in your vagina. This includes being pregnant, using birth control pills and normal changes during your menstrual cycle.
- Having unmanaged diabetes: High blood sugar impacts the bacteria in your pee.
- Having a weakened immune system: If you have a disease like HIV or AIDS, your medications can suppress your immune system. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancer can also suppress your immune system.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is a yeast infection diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider diagnoses a vaginal yeast infection. You’ll need to go in for an appointment and discuss your symptoms. Your provider may need to take a sample of discharge from your vagina to confirm a yeast infection. The combination of your symptoms and the discharge sample will tell your healthcare provider what type of yeast infection you have and how to treat it.
Management and Treatment
How do I treat a vaginal yeast infection?
Antifungal medications treat most vaginal yeast infections. The specific medication depends on the severity of the infection. Your healthcare provider will prescribe the best treatment based on your symptoms and condition.
Antifungal medications work by fighting yeast overgrowth in your body. Medications are either oral (usually given in one dose of fluconazole by mouth) or topical (used daily for up to seven days). You may apply topical medications to your vaginal area or place them inside your vagina (suppository) using an applicator. Some common antifungal medications are miconazole (Monistat®) and terconazole.
Your healthcare provider will give you information about each form of medication and directions on how to use each one properly. It’s important to always follow your provider’s instructions when using these medications to make sure that the infection is fully resolved and doesn’t return.
If you’re taking medication for a yeast infection, you shouldn’t have sex until you’re finished with treatment. Sex can cause more irritation, and certain antifungal medications can weaken the materials used in condoms and diaphragms.
Can I use over-the-counter treatment for a vaginal yeast infection?
Sometimes you can treat a vaginal yeast infection with over-the-counter medicines. However, you may want to avoid this if you aren’t completely sure you have a yeast infection. It’s usually best to talk to your healthcare provider to make sure you’re buying the right treatment.
How long do yeast infections last?
Most yeast infections clear up with medication after a few days, but it may take a full week. More severe cases may last longer and take longer to treat. Make sure you use the medication as directed and don’t stop taking it too soon, or the infection may come back.
Will my yeast infection go away on its own?
No, a yeast infection can’t go away on its own. Only a medication that destroys fungus (yeast) will treat a vaginal yeast infection.
How can I reduce my risk of a yeast infection?
You can often prevent vaginal yeast infections by making a few lifestyle changes. These changes can include:
- Not douching — douching can kill bacteria that actually control fungus.
- Avoiding the use of feminine deodorants.
- Not using scented tampons or pads.
- Changing out of wet clothing, like bathing suits or gym clothes, as soon as you can.
- Wearing cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes.
- Using water-based sexual lubricants.
- Keeping your blood sugar levels in a normal range if you have diabetes.
The symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are similar to other conditions. If you have any questions, a physical exam by your healthcare provider will help.
What should I do if I have frequent yeast infections?
If you get more than four vaginal yeast infections per year, have a discussion with your healthcare provider. Your provider may:
- Test to confirm that you have a vaginal yeast infection.
- Order a blood sugar test for diabetes.
- Test for HIV/AIDS.
- Discuss any possible hormonal changes (birth control or pregnancy).
Your healthcare provider will use your test results to make sure you receive the right treatment. It can be important to treat the underlying cause while treating your yeast infection. Managing the reason for the infection can help prevent future vaginal yeast infections.
Does my sexual partner need to be treated if I have a vaginal yeast infection?
It’s possible to pass a yeast infection to your partner. If your partner has a vagina, they’re at risk and should watch for symptoms. If your partner doesn’t have a vagina or has a penis, the chances of passing a yeast infection to them are quite low.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Yeast infections are a very common fungal infection that most women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB) will have in their lifetime. It’s highly treatable with medication, some of which are available to purchase at your local drug store without a prescription. Even though you may know the signs of a vaginal yeast infection, it’s important to get examined by your healthcare provider. They can recommend the best treatment based on the type of yeast infection you have and its severity.
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