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A vaginal yeast infection is a fungal infection that causes irritation, discharge and intense itchiness of the vagina and the vulva — the tissues at the vaginal opening.
Also called vaginal candidiasis, vaginal yeast infection affects up to 3 out of 4 women at some point in their lifetimes. Many women experience at least two episodes.
A vaginal yeast infection isn’t considered a sexually transmitted infection. But, there’s an increased risk of vaginal yeast infection at the time of first regular sexual activity. There’s also some evidence that infections may be linked to mouth to genital contact (oral-genital sex).
Medications can effectively treat vaginal yeast infections. If you have recurrent yeast infections — four or more within a year — you may need a longer treatment course and a maintenance plan.
Yeast infection symptoms can range from mild to moderate, and include:
- Itching and irritation in the vagina and vulva
- A burning sensation, especially during intercourse or while urinating
- Redness and swelling of the vulva
- Vaginal pain and soreness
- Vaginal rash
- Thick, white, odor-free vaginal discharge with a cottage cheese appearance
- Watery vaginal discharge
Complicated yeast infection
You might have a complicated yeast infection if:
- You have severe signs and symptoms, such as extensive redness, swelling and itching that leads to tears, cracks or sores
- You have four or more yeast infections in a year
- Your infection is caused by a less typical type of fungus
- You’re pregnant
- You have uncontrolled diabetes
- Your immune system is weakened because of certain medications or conditions such as HIV infection
How are vaginal yeast infections diagnosed?
Yeast infections are simple to diagnose. Your doctor will ask about your medical history. This includes whether you’ve had yeast infections before. They may also ask if you’ve ever had an STI.
The next step is a pelvic exam. Your doctor will examine your vaginal walls and cervix. They’ll also look at the surrounding area for external signs of infection.
Depending on what your doctor sees, the next step may be to collect cells from your vagina. These cells go to a lab for examination. Lab tests are usually ordered for women who have yeast infections on a regular basis or for infections that won’t go away.
Yeast infection treatment
Each yeast infection is different, so your doctor will suggest a treatment that’s best for you. Treatments are generally determined based on the severity of your symptoms.
For simple yeast infections, your doctor will usually prescribe a 1-6 day regimen of an antifungal cream, ointment, tablet, or suppository. These medications can be in prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) form.
Common medications include:
- butoconazole (Gynazole)
- clotrimazole (Lotrimin)
- miconazole (Monistat)
- terconazole (Terazol)
- fluconazole (Diflucan)
If you have a simple yeast infections, follow up with your doctor to make sure the medicine has worked.
Schedule a follow-up visit if your symptoms return within 2 months.
If you recognize that you have a yeast infection, you can also treat yourself at home with OTC products.
Your doctor will more than likely treat your yeast infection as if it were a severe or complicated case, if you:
- have severe redness, swelling, and itching that leads to sores or tears in your vaginal tissue
- have had more than four yeast infections in a year
- are pregnant
- have uncontrolled diabetes or a weak immune system from medication
- have HIV
Possible treatments for severe or complicated yeast infections include:
- 14-day cream, ointment, tablet, or suppository vaginal treatment
- two or three doses of fluconazole (Diflucan)
- long-term prescription of fluconazole taken once a week for 6 weeks, or long-term use of a topical antifungal medication
If your infection is recurring, you may want to see if your sexual partner has a yeast infection. Use barrier methods, such as condoms, when having sex if you suspect either of you has a yeast infection. Talk to your doctor about your yeast infection treatment options.
Yeast infection home remedy
You can try to treat vaginal yeast infections with natural remedies if you’d like to avoid taking prescription medication, but these aren’t as effective or reliable as the indicated medications. Popular natural remedies include:
- coconut oil
- tea tree oil cream
- boric acid vaginal suppositories
- plain yogurt taken orally or inserted into the vagina
Make sure your hands are clean before applying creams or oils to your vagina.
You may also want to 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 take OTC or prescription drugs. Some herbs can interact with medications you may be taking or can cause other unintended side effects.
Yeast infection in men
While vaginal yeast infections are more common in women, it’s possible for men to get yeast infections, too. When it affects the penis, this is known as a penile yeast infection.
All bodies have Candida — not just the female body. When there’s an overgrowth of this fungus, it can lead to a yeast infection. The groin area is especially prone to Candida overgrowth because of skin folds and moisture.
Still, penile yeast infections are most commonly caused by having unprotected vaginal intercourse with a woman who has the infection, too. You can help prevent a yeast infection by wearing condoms during sex. Regular bathing can also help.
The symptoms of a yeast infection in men may not be as prominent, though you might see redness and white patches along the penis as well as burning and itchy sensations. See your doctor for a proper diagnosis if you think you have a penile yeast infection.
Yeast infection in women
Yeast infections are common in women. It’s estimated that up to 75 out of 100 women will get a vaginal yeast infection at least once in their lifetime. Despite their prevalence, it’s important to treat vaginal yeast infections early.
Recurring yeast infections are common, especially if you are pregnant, have diabetes, or have a weakened immune system. Talk to your doctor if you have more than four yeast infections per year.
Yeast infection in babies
While yeast infections are commonly associated with vaginal infections, babies can also get them.
The most common yeast infection in a baby is a diaper rash. However, not all diaper rashes are the result yeast overgrowth.
You can tell if the condition is more than just a diaper rash if your baby’s skin is extremely red and has spots in the diaper/groin area, despite using diaper rash cream. Yeast infections may also be presented in other folds of the skin, such as under the armpits.
Your child’s pediatrician will likely prescribe a topical antifungal cream to treat yeast infections of the skin. An oral medication may be needed if your baby has oral thrush (yeast infection of the mouth). While yeast infections in babies are usually harmless, they can lead to more serious infections when left untreated.
Are yeast infections contagious?
Yeast infections aren’t considered STIs. In rare cases, you can pass a yeast infection from one partner to another.
It’s also possible for a baby to get a fungal diaper rash at birth if the mother has a vaginal yeast infection during delivery. You may also pass on a yeast infection to your baby’s mouth during breastfeeding if Candida overgrowth is present in the breast area.
While you can pass a yeast infection to another person, it’s not contagious in the same way as other infections are. You won’t “catch” the infection by air or by using the same shower as someone with the infection, for example. If you’re concerned about transmission, talk to your doctor about situations in which a yeast infection could be contagious.
Yeast infection in pregnancy
Yeast infections are common during pregnancy because of hormone fluctuations. See a doctor if you’re pregnant and suspect a yeast infection so you can get the right diagnosis.
A yeast infection during pregnancy isn’t always treated in the same way as nonpregnant women are treated. You won’t be able to take oral antifungal medications due to possible birth defects. Topical antifungals are safe to use during pregnancy, though.
While yeast infections won’t hurt your baby, it’s possible to pass the Candida fungus to them during delivery. This can lead to diaper rash and oral thrush in your baby. It’s important to treat yeast infection early, especially if you’re pregnant, so that you can prevent such complications.
Yeast infection vs. UTI
Another common infection in women is a urinary tract infection (UTI). While it’s possible to have one or the other, or even both infections at the same time, UTIs and yeast infections are two different conditions.
A UTI is a bacterial infection that affects the urinary system. This complex system includes your urethra, as well as your bladder and kidneys. Sex, STIs, and failure to urinate regularly can all lead to UTIs.
The symptoms of a UTI are also different from a yeast infection. There’s no noticeable discharge, but you might see a small amount of blood in your urine. A UTI can also cause frequent urination along with pelvic and abdominal pain.
Without treatment, a UTI can lead to more serious complications of the kidneys. See a doctor to get antibiotics. Ask your doctor for more information regarding the differences between a yeast infection and a UTI.
Yeast infection after sex
While it’s possible to develop a yeast infection after sex, a yeast infection itself is not an STI. Instead, there are other factors at play that can throw off Candida balance in the vaginal area. Vaginal intercourse, as well as penetration via sex toys and fingers, can introduce bacteria.
Another possibility is having vaginal intercourse with a man who has a penile yeast infection. The opposite can happen too, where a man might develop a penile yeast infection from a woman who has a vaginal yeast infection. Oral sex may also disrupt bacteria in the mouth, vagina, and penile areas.
It’s also possible that the yeast infection is purely coincidental. There are many underlying risk factors of a yeast infection, with sexual intercourse being just one of them.
Yeast infection vs. BV
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common type of vaginal infection in women between the ages of 15 and 44. Its primary causes are bacterial imbalances from douching and sex — it’s not a fungal infection like a typical yeast infection. BV is said to have a strong fishy odor, too.
BV has similar symptoms as a yeast infection, including discharge, burning, and itching. This can make distinguishing between the two infections difficult. But while a vaginal yeast infection doesn’t cause long-term complications, untreated BV can.
Among the complications include fertility issues and premature delivery (if you get infected while pregnant), and a higher risk of contracting STIs.
Unlike a yeast infection, you’ll need a prescription antibiotic to clear up BV. Your doctor will help you distinguish between a yeast infection and BV.
Yeast infection prevention
Chances are that you know exactly what led to your yeast infection. For example, some women experience these infections every time they take antibiotics. Whether you know the exact cause, here are tips to avoid recurring infections.
- eating a well-balanced diet
- eating yogurt or taking supplements with lactobacillus
- wearing natural fibers such as cotton, linen, or silk
- washing underwear in hot water
- replacing feminine products frequently
- wearing tight pants, pantyhose, tights, or leggings
- using feminine deodorant or scented tampons or pads
- wearing wet clothing, especially bathing suits
- sitting in hot tubs or taking frequent hot baths
Yeast infection and periods
Having both a yeast infection and your period can feel like a double whammy. However, this isn’t uncommon. Yeast infections are most likely to occur in women during the final days leading up to their period.
Fluctuations in hormones are thought to be a cause of yeast infections before your period, causing imbalances in healthy bacteria in the vagina.
If you experience white to yellow discharge in the week before your period, this isn’t automatically a yeast infection unless you have other hallmark symptoms, too, such as redness, burning, and itchiness.
While a nuisance, early treatment can help clear up your yeast infection before your period starts. See your doctor if your yeast infection symptoms don’t improve after your period ends. .
A WORD FROM HEALTH QUERIES
Yeast infections are common occurrences, but prompt treatment can help reduce the uncomfortable symptoms within a few days. By recognizing your own risk factors, you can prevent future infections.
Talk to your doctor if you have recurring yeast infections that last longer than 2 months.