If you’ve had a vaginal yeast infection, you are not alone. Approximately three out of four women will have at least one yeast infection at some point in their lives, and many women will have more than one. (1)
Yeast is a fungus that is normally present in your body, including in the warm, moist area around your vagina. The most common kind of yeast that causes vaginal yeast infections is candida.
Lactobacillus bacteria also live in the vagina. These bacteria produce acid that prevents yeast from growing out of control. But if something upsets the balance between yeast and bacteria, the yeast can multiply and cause an infection.
Common symptoms of a yeast infection include burning, itching, swelling and iritation in the vaginal area. A yeast infection can also cause pain when you have sex, and may produce a thick white discharge that may look similar to cottage cheese.
You may be more prone to a yeast infection when something in your body changes the balance between bacteria and yeast. This may include:
• Taking antibiotics: Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. But they can also kill the “good” bacteria in your vaginal area.
• Estrogen levels: High estrogen levels from pregnancy or hormone treatments can encourage yeast to grow. This can also result from a hormone imbalance around the time of your period. Birth control pills can affect your estrogen levels as well.
• Diabetes: If your sugar levels are not well controlled, yeast may multiply.
• An impaired immune system: An immune system weakened by HIV or other immune disorders can allow yeast to grow.
• Poor diet: Eating a lot of sugary foods may encourage yeast growth.
• Stress: Stress may affect our immune system’s ability to fight off yeast infections.
• Lack of sleep: Yeast grows best in warm, moist conditions.
Fortunately, it is possible to lower your risk of future infections. You can do this by making a few important lifestyle changes: (4)
• Wear cotton underwear: Synthetic underwear traps heat and moisture.
• Leave off your PJ bottoms: Air circulation while you sleep can reduce moisture.
• Avoid tight jeans or spandex legging: Choose breathable fabrics instead.
• Wipe from front to back : After using the toilet, this avoids moving microorganisms from the anus toward the vagina.
• Don’t use douche: Douching washes out the good bacteria so they are not able to keep normal vaginal flora in balance.
• Don’t have sex: Having sex with a yeast or bacterial infection will spread the infection to other places.
• Avoid antibiotics: Only take antibiotics when you really need them, and take them as prescribed by your doctor.
If you are unsure as to whether or not your vaginal symptoms indicate a yeast infection, contact your doctor before you treat yourself.
If she feels you have a self-treatable yeast infection then you can use an over-the-counter antifungal medication specifically developed to treat vaginal infections. These medications are available as creams, ointments, tablets or suppositories.
If your infection does not respond to OTC treatments, of if your infection keeps coming back, schedule a checkup with your doctor.
Your infection may be caused by a different type of yeast or it may turn out to be bacterial, which will need a different medication or longer treatment.
Prescription medications are also available in higher concentrations.
If you have four or more yeast infections in a year, you may have a condition known as recurrent or chronic vulvovaginal candidiasis and will need to work with your doctor to come up with more effective ways to prevent them.
Reviewed February 19, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
1) Mayo Clinic. Yeast infection (vaginal). Web. February 17, 2016.
2) WebMD. Vaginal Yeast Infections – Topic Overview. Web. February 17, 2016.
3) Healthline. Vaginal Yeast Infection. Shannon Johnson. Web. February 17, 2016.
4) Everyday Health. Recurring Yeast Infections. Joseph Bennington-Castro. Web. February 17, 2016.
5) Common Misdiagnosis: Most Women Believe They Have A Yeast Infection When They Don't. ScienceDaily.com. Web. February 19, 2016.