A vaginal yeast infection is an irritation of the vagina and the surrounding area called the vulva (vul-vuh). These infections are caused by an overgrowth of a type of fungus called Candida albicans. Small amounts of this yeast are always present in the vagina and cause no issues. The problem is that when too much yeast grows, it can develop into a symptomatic infection. Yeast infections are so common that about 75 percent of women have experienced one and almost half of all women experience two or more vaginal yeast infections at some point during their lives.
The most common symptom of a vaginal yeast infection is an extreme itching in and around the vagina. This vaginal itching may in fact be the only noticable symptom. Any of the symptoms you may have can certainly range from very mild to quite severe.
Some of the other common symptoms include:
• a rash in the affected area
• burning, redness, and swelling of the vagina and/or vulva
• painful urination
• pain during sex
• a thick, white vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese and does not have a bad smell (a strong odor indicates some other type of infection with a different treatment)
If you have never had a yeast infection before and think you may have one, you should contact your healthcare provider to find out for certain if what you are experiencing actually is a yeast infection. The symptoms of a yeast infection can be much like those of other types of vaginal infections or even sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like Chlamydia (KLUH-mid-ee-uh) or gonorrhea (gahn-uh-REE-uh). Certain STIs that are not treated properly can cause cancer, infertility, pregnancy problems, and a variety of other health problems. All of these other types of infections require specific prescription medications after being seen by your doctor for diagnosis. Many of them can be serious if left untreated and treating yourself for a yeast infection when you really have something else may actually worsen the problem. Your doctor may want to examine you to do a pelvic exam looking for swelling and any discharge. They may also use a swab to take a fluid sample from your vagina. A quick look with a microscope or a lab test will show if yeast is causing the problem. If you’ve had vaginal yeast infections previously and the symptoms are the same, your doctor may allow to assume that you again have a simple yeast infection and begin self-treatment using one of the over-the-counter medications.
Many things can raise your risk of developing a vaginal yeast infection. (Although you might guess otherwise, women usually don’t get yeast infections from sexual activity with male partners.)
Contributing factors can include:
• lack of sleep
• general illness
• poor eating habits, especially eating lots of sugary foods
• having your period
• taking certain medicines such as birth control pills, antibiotics, or steroids
• diseases such as poorly controlled diabetes and HIV/AIDS
• hormonal changes
Treating a vaginal yeast infection can be accomplished by using a variety of antifungal products such as creams or suppositories that are inserted into the vagina. Many of these medications can be bought over-the-counter at a pharmacy or even many grocery stores. Your doctor can also prescribe you a single dose tablet of oral fluconazole (floo-con-uh-zohl). Fluconazole typically is not be used if you are pregnant. If your treatment is not effective within a few days, check back with your doctor, because infections that don’t respond to these medicines are starting to become more common. Also, using antifungal medicines when you don’t really have a yeast infection can raise your risk of getting a hard-to-treat infection in the future. Studies show that two-thirds of women who buy these products don’t really have a yeast infection. If you decide to use these over-the-counter medicines, read and follow the directions carefully.
Always talk with your doctor before treating yourself for a vaginal yeast infection if you:
• are pregnant
• have never been diagnosed with a yeast infection
• keep getting yeast infections
Yeast infections are not considered STIs, and health experts don’t know for sure if they are actually transmitted through sexual activity. Research is still being done to find out how easily yeast can be transmitted. About 12 to 15 percent of men get an itchy rash on their penis if they have unprotected sex with an infected woman. If this happens to your partner, he should see a doctor. Men who haven’t been circumcised are at higher risk for a rash. Women with female sexual partners may be at more risk for spreading yeast infections to their partner than if their partner is male. If your female partner has any symptoms, she should also be tested and treated.
To help prevent vaginal yeast infections, you can:
• avoid douches
• avoid scented hygiene products like bubble bath, sprays, pads, and tampons
• change tampons and pads often during your period
• avoid tight underwear or clothes made of synthetic fibers
• wear cotton underwear and panty-hose with a cotton crotch
• change out of wet swimsuits and exercise clothes as soon as you can
• avoid hot tubs and baths that are very hot
Call your doctor if you keep getting yeast infections. About 5 percent of women get four or more vaginal yeast infections in 1 year. This is called recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis (RVVC). RVVC is more common in women with diabetes or weak immune systems. Doctors most often treat this problem with antifungal medicine for up to 6 months.
In addition to treating your current yeast infection, you need to learn ways to lower the chance of developing one in the future. There are a number of excellent eBooks available at reasonable prices that address this specific topic. One of the popular downloadable books is a holistic yeast infection book that can provide recipes, dietary tips and other information that will show you how to reduce the levels of yeast in your body. Many suffers of yeast infections are looking for a natural treatment for yeast infections or other nondrug treatments for their conditions. (Although this is a popular way to treat a yeast infection, it still may become necessay to use an OTC or prescription medication to get your current yeast infection under control.) Then once the active infection is cured you can look for natural ways to rebalance you system, correct contributing factors and maybe never have to deal with a yeast infection again!