A vaginal yeast infection is a common issue for women and occurs from the growth of too many yeast cells in the vagina. While the symptoms can be bothersome, uncomfortable and embarrassing, the infection isn’t necessarily cause for larger concern. In this post, we’ll cover common causes, prevention and treatment options for women dealing with this unpleasant diagnosis.
What are the symptoms of a yeast infection?
The symptoms of vaginal yeast infection include:
- Itching in the vagina or vulva.
- Thick, clumpy, white vaginal discharge. It has no odor. It looks a little like cottage cheese.
- A red, irritated vulva.
- Pain while urinating, which occurs when urine touches irritated skin.
- Pain in the vagina during sexual intercourse.
Symptoms are more likely to occur during the week before your menstrual period.
What causes a yeast infection?
A healthy vagina has many bacteria and a small number of yeast cells. Certain bacteria help keep yeast and other organisms under control. When something happens to change the balance of these organisms, yeast can grow too much and cause symptoms.
Things that may increase your risk for an overgrowth of vaginal yeast include:
- Taking antibiotics
- Having a higher estrogen level, which may occur during pregnancy or with hormone therapy use during menopause
- Having diabetes, especially if your blood sugar tends to be high
- Having a disease that weakens the immune system, such as HIV
- Using steroid medicines, such as prednisone
- Wearing tight clothing
Most yeast infections are caused by a type of yeast called Candida albicans.
How can yeast infections be prevented?
Some measures for prevention include:
- Practice good genital hygiene by washing your vulva with plain water or unscented soap.
- After using the toilet, wipe from front to back.
- Avoid tight-fitting clothing.
- Wear cotton underwear.
- Change out of damp clothes right away.
- Change pads or tampons often.
- Don't douche or use vaginal powders, sprays or perfumes.
How is a vaginal yeast infection diagnosed?
Doctors diagnose a vaginal yeast infection by asking about your symptoms and medical history, doing a pelvic exam and taking a sample of vaginal discharge. The sample can be tested to find out if you have a yeast infection. Tests may include:
- A wet mount test to look for signs of yeast or other organisms.
- A vaginal culture. This can confirm that you have a yeast infection.
- A blood test to find out if you have a health problem that makes you more likely to get yeast infections.
How is a vaginal yeast infection treated?
Yeast infections can be treated with an over-the-counter antifungal medicine that you put into your vagina. If you think you have a yeast infection, talk to your doctor before you try an over-the-counter medicine. Treatment options also include a prescription oral pill or vaginal medicine.
How can you care for yourself when you have a vaginal yeast infection?
- Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
- Ask your doctor about over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for yeast infections. If you use an OTC treatment, read and follow all instructions on the label.
- Don't use tampons while using a vaginal cream or suppository. The tampons can absorb the medicine. Use pads instead.
- Wear loose cotton clothing. Don't wear nylon or other fabric that holds body heat and moisture close to the skin.
- Try sleeping without underwear.
- Don't scratch. Relieve itching with a cold pack or a cool bath.
- Don't wash your vulva more than once a day. Use plain water or a mild, unscented soap. Air-dry the vulva.
- Change out of wet or damp clothes as soon as possible.
- If you are using a vaginal medicine, don't have sex until you have finished your treatment. But if you do have sex, don't depend on a condom or diaphragm for birth control. The oil in some vaginal medicines weakens latex.
- Don't douche or use powders, sprays, or perfumes in your vagina or on your vulva. These items can change the normal balance of organisms in your vagina.
Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.