What is yeast infection?
Yeast infection is caused by a fungus. Some types of yeast may be harmless in the mouth, bowels, vagina, and skin. Under certain conditions, an overgrowth of yeast can happen. This may cause itching and burning on the vagina and outer parts of the genitals (vulva).
Yeast is often not sexually transmitted. Male partners often do not need to be treated, unless they have symptoms.
What are signs?
Signs can be mild to severe. Some signs are:
- Itching and/or burning
- White, thick, clumpy discharge
- An unpleasant odor
- Vulvar redness and swelling
- Discomfort during or after intercourse
- Pain or burning when urinating
How is it diagnosed?
Your provider will look for common skin changes of the vulva and vagina.
A sample of your vaginal discharge can be:
- Examined by your provider under a microscope
- Sent for testing to diagnose a yeast infection
- Sometimes a culture is needed to make the diagnosis
There are other types of vaginal and vulvar problems that can also cause itching, burning, and discharge. So, you need to see a provider to make a correct diagnosis. They will talk with you about treatments that will work best for you.
What causes it?
A healthy vagina has many organisms (bacteria and yeast) that live together in normal balance. If the balance is upset, yeast can overgrow.
Yeast overgrowth can be caused by:
- Certain antibiotics kill normal and harmful vaginal bacteria.
- Even when antibiotics are used to treat other illnesses, they may change the bacteria in the vagina. This leads to yeast overgrowth.
- Diabetes raises blood sugar levels. This makes the body a good place for yeast to grow.
- Yeast infections may happen often. They are harder to control when blood sugars are high.
Warmth and moisture in the vaginal area
- Yeast thrives when it is warm and humid.
- Sweating, discharge, or not keeping the area dry puts you at higher risk. Do not wear a damp bathing suit or pantyhose for hours.
- TThis removes healthy secretions. It dries the surface of the vagina.
- Normal bacteria are also washed away. This lets yeast overgrow.
Yeast infections are more common in people who are immunosuppressed due to:
- Infection, such as HIV
- Use of immune-suppressing medicines such as steroids or chemotherapy
- Organ transplant medicines
The risk of yeast infections may be higher in people who use contraceptives with estrogen, such as:
- Birth control pills
- Vaginal ring
How is it treated?
Many medicines can be used.
- Most over-the-counter medicines are creams or suppositories. You often use them 1 or 2 times a day for up to 7 days.
- Your provider may prescribe medicine. You may take these by mouth or put them on your skin.
Signs of yeast often go away within 3 to 4 days after treatment. Be sure to keep using the medicine that was prescribed. If it is stopped too soon, the infection can come back.
Over-the-counter medicines can be found at your pharmacy without a prescription. Your provider suggests using clotrimazole (Gyne-LotriminTM or MycelexTM). They suggest you get the 5 or 7-day treatment. It often works better than the 1 or 3-day treatment.
Talk with your provider before using over-the-counter medicine if you are pregnant.
- Stop using the over-the-counter product and call your provider if you still have signs after 7 days.
- Call your provider if signs come back after using an over-the-counter product.
- There are many types of vaginal and vulvar problems that may have the same signs. Your provider can make a correct diagnosis and help you find the best treatment.
- How well a medicine depends on the type of yeast.
- Self-treatment with old or borrowed medicines is never good.
How can it be prevented?
Lower your risk by making a few easy changes in your daily life:
- Follow the "Skin Care Guidelines" handout. This will help to keep body tissue healthy to resist infection.
- Always wipe front to back after bowel movements.
- Keep your blood sugars under control if you have diabetes.