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 candidacies, vaginal yeast infection affects up to 3 out of 4 women at some point in their lifetimes. Many women experience at least two episodes. Yeast infections commonly affect the genitals and include a vaginal yeast infection and a penile yeast infection. A chronic or recurrent vaginal yeast infection is one that occurs four or more times in a year. 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). Yeast or candidiasis is a type of fungus that lives inside the body. Ordinarily, a person’s immune system keeps the yeast under control. However, certain factors can cause the yeast to multiply, resulting in an infection. Yeast infections can occur in different parts of the body. Sometimes these infections may be long-lasting or chronic.
Symptoms for Yeast Infection
Whitish-gray and clumpy vaginal discharge is another telltale symptom. Some people say this discharge looks like cottage cheese. Sometimes the discharge may also be watery. Yeast infection symptoms can range from mild to moderate and include:
- Itching and irritation in the vagina and vulva.
- A white, odorless vaginal discharge
- Soreness and discomfort during sex, or when urinating
- Redness and irritation around the head of the penis, and under the foreskin
- A burning sensation, especially during intercourse or while urinating
- Redness and swelling of the vulva
- Itching and irritation around the vagina
- An unpleasant odor around the genitals
- Vaginal pain and soreness
- Vaginal rash
- Thick, white, odor-free vaginal discharge with a cottage cheese appearance
- Watery vaginal discharge
Causes for Yeast Infection
The fungus candida albicans is responsible for most vaginal yeast infections.
Your vagina naturally contains a balanced mix of yeast, including candida, and bacteria. Certain bacteria (lactobacillus) act to prevent an overgrowth of yeast.
- Antibiotic use, which causes an imbalance in natural vaginal flora.
- Hyperglycemia encourages the growth of yeast, which increases the risk of yeast infections. Keeping blood sugar levels under control will help prevent such infections.
- Uncontrolled diabetes.
- The immune system protects the body from harmful pathogens and disease. Some underlying health conditions can weaken the immune system, making a person more susceptible to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.
- An impaired immune system.
- Viral hepatitis.
- Antibiotics. If you use broad-spectrum antibiotics like tetracycline or amoxicillin to fight off another infection, these antibiotics can also kill off the healthy bacteria that keep the yeast in check.
- Taking oral contraceptives or hormone therapy that increases estrogen levels.
- Some cancers.
- The change in estrogen and progesterone levels in women who are pregnant, breastfeeding using hormone replacement therapy or taking birth control with estrogen can lead to vaginal yeast infections.
- Wearing underwear (or tight jeans or a wet swimsuit) that doesn’t breathe can increase body heat and moisture in the vagina. This creates conditions yeast likes to grow in.
- Severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID).
- Hormonal birth control: Birth control that contains a high level of estrogen can increase the risk of vaginal yeast infections.
Perform a pelvic exam. Your doctor examines your external genitals for signs of infection. Test vaginal secretions. Your doctor may send a sample of vaginal fluid for testing to determine the type of fungus causing the yeast infection.
The most common treatment for a yeast infection is an antifungal medication. These medications are available in many forms, including:
- Creams, ointments, shampoos, sprays, suppositories and tablets
- Short-course vaginal therapy. Taking an antifungal medication for three to seven days will usually clear a yeast infection. Antifungal medications — which are available as creams, ointments, tablets and suppositories — include miconazole (Monistat 3) and terconazole. Some of these medications are available over-the-counter and others by prescription only.
- Single-dose oral medication. Your doctor might prescribe a one-time, single oral dose of fluconazole (Diflucan). Oral medication isn’t recommended if you’re pregnant. To manage more-severe symptoms, you might take two single doses three days apart.
- Long-course vaginal therapy. Your doctor might prescribe an antifungal medication taken daily for up to two weeks, followed by once a week for six months
The type of antifungal medication a person requires depends on the location of the infection and its severity.
Chronic yeast infections are those that persist for a prolonged period. Certain medications and underlying health conditions can increase a person’s risk of developing chronic yeast infections, as can certain lifestyle factors.