The Ultimate Guide to Yeast Infections
If you’re a woman who has experienced the frustration, embarrassment and inconvenience of a yeast infection, you are not alone. More than 3 out of every 4 women will experience at least one yeast infection in her lifetime. For those who have dealt with the intense itching, burning and vaginal irritation, you know once is enough. You’ve probably even wondered how you can avoid developing another. The best way to prevent a yeast infection is to educate yourself. Read below to learn more about yeast infections and how to prevent them from happening to you.
What Is a Yeast Infection?
The term yeast infection can be used to refer to the general overgrowth of yeast fungus in any part of the body. However, in most cases, yeast infection is referring to vaginal yeast infections, also known as vulvovaginal candidiasis.
Yeast is a fungus which occurs naturally in the body in small amounts. Areas such as the intestines and vagina carry yeast, but it is balanced out by other microbes and bacteria which keep the environment of the vagina healthy and balanced. When an imbalance occurs due to factors such as a depressed immune system, certain medications, or hormonal fluctuations, yeast can grow in excess and cause symptoms such as itching and redness. The effects of an overgrowth of yeast are hard to miss. Though the irritation can be almost unbearable, the infection itself is not serious and can be treated fairly easily.
Yeast infections are more common in females after the onset of puberty and are less likely to occur in menopausal women. Men can contract yeast infections in their penis, though it is not as common. Even more rare are yeast infections which impact other parts of the body such as the mouth, anus, and blood stream.
What Causes a Yeast Infection?
The fungus which can cause yeast infections is called Candida. There are over 20 different strains of Candida which can cause a vaginal yeast infection; however, the most common is called Candida albicans. Yeast infections occur after the overgrowth of this yeast due to several different factors including:
- Taking antibiotics
- High estrogen levels during menstruation, pregnancy, or if taking birth control pills/hormonal therapy
- Weakened immune system
- Diabetes or uncontrolled, elevated levels of blood sugar levels
Exposure during sex can also lead to a yeast infection. Although a yeast infection is not considered a sexually transmitted infection, exposure during sexual contact can occur, so protection such as condoms and dental dams should be used to prevent exposure and development of yeast infection in the vagina, mouth or anus.
What Are the Symptoms of a Yeast Infection?
It is highly doubtful anyone could ignore the signs of a yeast infection indefinitely. The symptoms range from mild to severe, but in any case they are difficult to overlook. Symptoms include:
- Incessant and severe vaginal itching
- Burning, redness and irritation of the outer vagina
- Thick, white and sometimes clumpy discharge which may be odorless or smells of baked bread
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain or burning while urinating or when urine comes into contact with the skin
Some of the signs and symptoms of a yeast infection are similar to other vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis or some other sexually transmitted infections. It is important to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis. If you mistake your symptoms for a yeast infection and you actually have something more serious, delaying treatment may lead to complications, especially if you are pregnant.
Many of the symptoms of a yeast infection may occur one week before your monthly period and resolve when menstruation is complete. During menstruation, the vaginal pH is too high for yeast cells to grow. Additionally, irritation of the vagina may occur as an allergic reaction to perfumes or soaps. Both instances highlight the importance of an accurate diagnosis.
How to Diagnose a Yeast Infection
You probably read earlier that a yeast infection is not a serious infection, especially when compared with other vaginal infections which may be more challenging to treat; nevertheless, getting an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan is still important.
Diagnosing a yeast infection can be a bit tricky. Usually, a health history is taken and a pelvic exam is performed. Your healthcare professional will swab the inside of the vagina. The swab may be looked at under a microscope to see if there is an abnormal number of yeast cells, or the culture may be used to see if it grows an abnormally high number of yeast cells over a few days. Since Candida occur naturally in the body, an overgrowth may not always be a confirmation. Your healthcare professional will take into account the presence of other symptoms as well in formulating an accurate diagnosis.
If you have more than four yeast infections per year, this is considered a chronic condition. At this point, other tests may be done to find out the underlying cause of the recurrence. A common cause for recurring infections is undiagnosed diabetes. People with diabetes have higher blood sugar levels, and yeast thrive on sugar. Also, it has been shown that women with diabetes often have yeast infections which are an overgrowth of the less common Candida glabrata. Many of the first-line treatments are most effective for yeast infections caused by Candida albicans. Accurate diagnosis of the underlying cause could help ensure other treatment methods are explored if traditional treatments are not working.
One of the traditional yeast infection remedies is antifungal medications. There are several options including the prescription pill fluconazole. Fluconazole is commonly given as a one-dose treatment. This medication can also be used to treat yeast infections in other places in the body. Over-the-counter or prescription antifungal cream, ointment or suppositories are another option. The most commonly used are the -azoles (clotrimazole, miconazole Monistat-3). Treatment can last one, three or seven days.
Although somewhat inconvenient, vaginal antifungal medications have less side effects than antifungal oral medications, since the medication is not entering your entire system and is only directly focused on the genital area. Side effects from one dose of the pill are not likely to occur, but can include nausea and headaches.
If your infection does not clear after the standard treatment or you have recurring infections throughout the year, you have chronic yeast infections. These require a longer or more potent course of therapy. If you are sexually active, most likely your partner will not need to be treated, especially if your partner is a male. However, for those with chronic yeast infections the doctor may suggest treating the partner and using protection. Note that vaginal treatments for yeast infection may compromise the integrity of latex condoms and make them less reliable. This may put you at risk for pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted infections, so caution is recommended.
Yeast Infection Home Remedies
Many naturalistas prefer the use of homemade products and natural remedies for feminine care. There are several options which can help alleviate the symptoms of yeast infection. Natural solutions should not be used if:
- You are not sure that you have a yeast infection. If it is your first time experiencing these symptoms, see the doctor first before trying home remedies.
- You have an allergy to any of the products mentioned.
- You have recurring yeast infections or have had yeast infection symptoms for a prolonged amount of time. In this case, consult the doctor for treatment options for chronic yeast infections.
- You are pregnant or think you may be pregnant. Always consult with a physician to make sure you are not experiencing any other infection and that the natural remedies will not cause harm to the baby or complications to your pregnancy.
If you do not fit any of the conditions listed above, you may want to try tending to your ailment with home remedies for yeast infections. These methods may be helpful to you in treating your common yeast infection symptoms and restoring vaginal health:
Yogurt — Natural, unsweetened yogurt with cultures of Lactobacillus acidophilus has been touted as gentle and one of several Yeast Infection Home Remedies. Eating the yogurt daily can help to provide the probiotics your body needs to balance out the growth of yeast. Some women apply yogurt directly to the vaginal area as well. If you do place the yogurt directly onto the vagina to sooth and treat your itching and redness, be sure to rinse thoroughly afterward.
Boric acid capsules — Boric acid has been used to treat yeast infections which are stubborn and do not respond to regular antifungal medications. One group which may benefit from treating with boric acid capsules are women with diabetes who do not respond to regular antifungal medications. This may be due to the fact that diabetes-related yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of Candida glabrata and not Candida albicans. Most traditional medications are mostly effective to fight yeast infections caused by Candida albicans. Boric acid capsules placed in the vagina at bedtime for 7-10 days have been shown to help clear these more stubborn infections and also may be a more natural alternative. Boric acid capsules should not be used by women who are pregnant.
Garlic — Garlic is a superfood which is not only great as a seasoning, but can be used for its antifungal and antiviral properties as well. Crushed garlic contains allicin and ajoene and many women have experienced benefits from using garlic on the vagina for yeast infections. There are a couple of precautions with garlic. The first is that it can cause irritation or burning to the vaginal membranes, so it should not be used if you have sensitive skin. Second, it can impact the effectiveness of some oral contraceptives because the garlic may decrease the rate at which the hormone estrogen is broken down.
Tips to Prevent a Yeast Infection
Once you are yeast infection-free it is important that you maintain certain habits to continue to maintain a healthy vagina. Here are some preventative measures you can take to avoid the recurrence of a yeast infection:
- Wear dry, loose clothing. Avoid lounging around in wet clothes such as swimsuits or damp gym clothes. Change into dry clothes as soon as possible. Also avoid wearing tight clothing which doesn’t allow your vagina to breathe. Yeast loves the warm and moist environments. Try wearing cotton or silk underwear which absorb moisture and keep you dry. Synthetic materials keep mositure on your skin.
- Practice good personal hygiene. Keep the area clean. Wash your clothing, sheets and towels in hot water and even add some vinegar to ensure you are destroying all of the yeast organisms.
- Avoid using perfumed feminine products such as scented tampons, panty liners and pads. These perfumed products can cause vaginal irritation and pH imbalances.
- Do not douche. Douching may seem like a good idea, but as you wash away all the bad bacteria, you are also washing away the good bacteria. If done often enough, this can lead to a pH imbalance and potential yeast infection.
Your vaginal health is important for your overall health. Take care of your vagina just as you would any other part of your body. If you feel you are experiencing abnormal symptoms such as the ones described above, the best thing to do is to see your doctor. If you have a yeast infection it may be simple to treat, but it is important you are taking precautions to avoid recurring infections in the future.
Other questions regarding yeast infections: