Every woman, at some point in her life, is likely to experience a yeast infection. A yeast infection is an annoying infection of the vagina and vulva that causes itching, discharge and irritation. It is a type of vaginitis caused by an overgrowth of yeast known as Candida albicans and is often easily treated at home, but occasionally it may be severe enough to warrant a visit to your doctor.
On average, three out of four women will suffer a yeast infection at some point in their lives. Some women experience several throughout their lifetimes. While the condition isn’t considered to be a sexually transmitted disease, the fungus can spread through oral contact with female genitals. It’s important to know about the signs and symptoms of a yeast infection and when you should see your ob/gyn.
Signs and Symptoms of Yeast Infections
The signs and symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection can range from mild to more severe. They include the following:
- Burning sensation, especially while urinating or during sexual intercourse
- Itching and irritation in the vagina and vulva
- Redness and swelling of the vulva
- Thick, white or grayish vaginal discharge that resembles cottage cheese
- Vaginal rash
- Vaginal pain and soreness
- Watery discharge from the vagina
Yeast Infection Risk Factors
There are certain risk factors that can lead to the development of a yeast infection. They include the following:
- Taking antibiotics
- Lack of sleep
- Hormonal imbalance that is near the menstrual cycle
- Taking hormone therapy or oral contraceptives
- Poor eating habits, especially when consuming too many sugary foods
- Diabetes that is not under control
- Weakened immune system
- Wearing pants too tight
Causes of Yeast Infections
A yeast infection can be caused by a number of things, but most often, the fungus Candida albicans is the cause. The vaginal has a natural balance of this substance, as well as other bacteria. However, there are times when there may be an overgrowth of Candida, which leads to the development of a yeast infection. As a result, you may experience a combination of classic symptoms like burning, itching and soreness. Even women who are not sexually active can develop one.
On occasion, other types of Candida fungus may result in a yeast infection, but most treatments, especially those over-the-counter, are made to treat Candida albicans. If you develop a yeast infection that is caused by a different type of candida fungus, you may find it more challenging to treat. When it requires more aggressive treatment, you may have to make an appointment to see your ob/gyn.
How to Diagnose a Yeast Infection
When you visit your ob/gyn the doctor will do the following to diagnose you to determine if you have a yeast infection:
- Ask about your medical history, including about any past vaginal infections or sexually transmitted diseases
- Perform a pelvic exam and check both the external and internal parts of the vagina
- Test a sample of vaginal secretions to determine what type of fungus is causing the infection
Yeast Infection Treatments
Treating a simple yeast infection is usually easy for most women, and may include the following options:
- Prescription anti-fungal cream, ointment, suppositories or tablets that last one, three or seven days
- Single-dose oral medication
- Over-the-counter antifungal cream or suppositories that last three to seven days
For more complicated yeast infections, the doctor may give the following treatment options:
- Prescription antifungal cream, ointment, suppositories or tablets that last up to 14 days
- Multi-dose oral medication
- Maintenance plan for recurrent yeast infections. (This type of treatment typically lasts longer than 14 days and may require oral medication taken once per week for six months or a vaginal suppository taken once a week)
Talk to Your Ob/Gyn
While a yeast infection can certainly cause you discomfort and make you miserable, it doesn't have to persist. Always share all pertinent information with your doctor so you can find relief and take measures to avoid a future infection.