What is a vaginal yeast infection?
One of the most common vaginal infections is a yeast infection, which is caused by naturally occurring yeast cells in the vagina. Vaginal yeast infections are very common. It is estimated that over 75% of women suffer from the condition at one point in their lives.
A healthy vagina has a balanced amount of good bacteria and yeast cells. Sometimes, the balance between the two can change, especially when the yeast cells start multiplying. The result will be irritation, itching and swelling of the vagina.
Yeast infection symptoms
Symptoms of vaginal infection can include:
- A thick vaginal discharge that may be whitish gray in color and odorless
- Irritation and redness of the vagina
- Swelling or soreness of the vagina
- Pain or burning sensation when passing urine
- Pain when engaging in sexual intercourse
- Intense itching around the vagina area
When a yeast infection is not treated early, the symptoms may become worse. It is recommended to see your doctor for recommendations on treating a yeast infection.
Vaginal yeast infection occurs when there is an imbalance between yeast fungus cells and bacteria in the vaginai. Some of the causes of the infection can be:
- Weak immune system.For example, women taking cortisone-related drugs such as prednisone or with suppressed immune systems, are more likely to develop yeast infections than other women.
- Vaginal injury.If the inner area of the vagina is injured, e.g., after chemotherapy, yeast infection is likely to develop.
- Use of antibiotics.If the normal bacteria in the vagina are eradicated by immunosuppressive medication or antibiotics (e.g., when taken to treat urinary tract infection), yeast cells can multiply and lead to an infection.
Other situations that can contribute to a yeast infections can include:
- Lack of sleep
- Stress and depression
- Hormonal imbalance near your period cycle
- Poor eating habits, e.g., eating a lot of sugary foods
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Use of douches or perfumed vaginal hygiene sprays
It is important to note that a vaginal yeast infection is not a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Yeast cells that cause the condition are naturally produced in the vagina.
Most vaginal yeast infections are caused by a specific kind of yeast known as Candida albicansii. These infections are normally easy to treat. If you have problems getting rid of yeast infections with conventional treatment or if they keep recurring, the infection may be due to a different kind of Candida. A lab test can determine which type of Candida you have.
You can get treatment for yeast infection from primary care practitioners, including pediatricians, internists, gynecologists, and family practice physicians. Most women prefer to seek treatment from a gynecologist.
The causes of vaginal yeast infections can be determined from the various signs and symptoms they manifest. However, vaginal discharge and itching may also be caused by other conditions. For example, Trichomonas and bacterial vaginosis infections are known to cause vaginal discharge.
A doctor will test a sample of the discharge in a lab to make an accurate diagnosis. The test is done by either examining the discharge directly under a microscope or by culture to identify yeast organisms. The test will also confirm or rule out other causes such as sexually transmitted diseases (STD) or bacterial vaginosis.
Yeast infection treatment
Yeast infection can be treated both at home and using over the counter medicationsiii. Mild symptoms will sometimes clear on their own after a few days. Simply practice good genital hygiene for the symptoms to clear.
If you have had an infection before and recognize the symptoms, you can take non-prescription medications. The medications can be a suppository that you put into your vagina, or an antifungal cream.
If you are pregnant, visit a doctor before using any yeast infection treatment medication. It is important to be aware that if you use a suppository or cream to treat the infection, do not depend on a diaphragm or condom for birth control. Most of these contraceptives are made of latex, which is weakened by some of the oils found in some yeast infection medicines.
Yeast infection can sometimes recur. If you get infections more than four times a year, see your doctor. A doctor may carry out a lab test on a sample discharge to determine what kind of Candida is causing your infection or whether the infection is caused by other health problems.
Natural yeast infection treatment options
If you want to avoid prescription medication, here are some at home remedies that may help alleviate the symptoms:
- Eating plain yogurt
- Boric acid vaginal suppositories
- Tea tree oil cream
Wash your hands before applying any oils or creams to your vagina. Also, talk to your doctor before trying any natural remedies. Some herbs can cause unintended side effects with some medications you may be using.
How to prevent yeast infections
You can help prevent yeast infection by practicing good genital hygiene.
- Avoid fragrant douches or feminine perfumes, powders, or sprays. Also, try to avoid using deodorant tampons.
- Change tampons or pads often.
- Remove a wet swimsuit right away. Wearing a swimsuit for hours can keep your vagina warm and moist, which can lead to overgrowth of yeast cells.
- Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing such as tight-fitting jeans and a panty hose. These may increase your body heat and moisture in the vaginal area.
- Make sure your underwear does not hold moisture and warmth. Cotton underwear are a good choice as they help keep the vaginal area dry.
Hopefully by understanding the symptoms, treatment, and prevention of vaginal yeast infection, you can limit your chances of experiencing it.
Note: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.