Restoring Your Body's Natural Balance Cures This Infection
Although most women aren't surprised to hear that 75% of women get at least once yeast infection during their lives, many are surprised to learn that the fungus that causes this infection is also present in a healthy vagina. The problem occurs when the vagina's balance of many organisms, including bacteria and yeast, is upset and a yeast, usually (Candida albicans), overgrows and causes infection. The classic symptoms of a yeast infection include vaginal itching and burning and a whitish, cottage cheese-like discharge.
Fortunately, once diagnosed yeast infections are easily treated. Many effective over-the-counter remedies are available to treat the condition, with relief occurring usually within days. And once you understand your body's delicate balance, you can anticipate and prevent the conditions that cause these infections or self-diagnose and treat the infection should it recur.
Yeast infections occur when the delicate balance of microscopic organisms in the vagina is disrupted. A variety of microorganisms peacefully exist in the vagina of a healthy woman, including Candida albicans, the very fungus that causes yeast infections. But when that balance is disrupted, whether by antiobiotics, an unhealthy immune system, diabetes, pregnancy, or some other cause, Candida thrives, resulting in a yeast infection.
A yeast infection usually presents itself as vaginal itching, burning, or redness. The skin around the vagina may be red and irritated. Often (but not always), an odor-free, foamy white or cottage cheese-like discharge will occur. A yeast infection can cause pain during intercourse and sometimes during urination.
How Common Are Vaginal Yeast Infections?
Vaginal yeast infections are the second most common type of vaginitis, with more than 20 million cases diagnosed each year. About 75% of women will experience a vaginal yeast infection at some point, and up to 80% of those women will have a recurrence at some point. About 5% of women have repeated yeast infections throughout life. Vaginal yeast infections are the second most common type of vaginitis, with over 20 million cases diagnosed each year.
What You Can Expect
Yeast infections are easily cured are usually treated with medications you insert into your vagina. Women used to have to see a doctor to treat a yeast infection, but now many effective and affordable over-the-counter treatments are available. You should, however, see a doctor if this is your first yeast infection or if you do not get relief from several days of over-the-counter treatment. Of course, your doctor can also provide prescription creams, suppositories, and oral medications.
Goals of Treatment
The goals of treating a vaginal yeast infection are to eliminate the overgrowth of the yeast causing the infection (usually Candidas albicans) and to restore balance to the vaginal environment.
Is the condition curable?
Yes, vaginal yeast infections are curable.
Is effective treatment available?
Yes. There are both over-the-counter remedies and prescription medications that can usually cure an infection within a week.
Several treatment options are available for the treatment of vaginal yeast infections. Oral medications are available in addition to antifungal creams, suppositories, and tablets. If your vulva is itching and burning, you'll want to use a topical cream. Even though over-the-counter products are sufficient in most cases, prescription-strength medications are available. Generally, the faster a treatment works, the more the medication costs. A shorter course of treatment is usually more convenient, but often less effective. Your doctor can offer more advice about which treatment is best for you.
Yeast infections are usually treated by putting medication into the vagina. There are a variety of prescription and nonprescription treatments available, including the following:
Terconazole (Terazol 3)
Butoconazole (Femstat 3)
Suppositories and creams usually have fewer side effects than oral medications and can be safely used during pregnancy. The most common adverse reactions are often similar to the symptoms of yeast infection (i.e., vaginal itching, irritation, or burning). Headaches, pelvic cramps, and skin rashes have been reported. If symptoms seem to worsen after treatment is started, or if symptoms do not improve after three days, contact your doctor.
Quality of Life
Vaginal yeast infections are an annoying inconvenience, but they can usually be treated within a week. Some treatments provide results in a day or two. For many women, symptoms return around the time of their period, and benefit from periodic treatment at that time.
Considerations for Pregnant Women
- Pregnant women are at increased risk for yeast infections.
- When miconazole or clotrimazole cream is used to treat yeast infections, a small amount of the drug can be absorbed from the vagina into the blood stream. The manufacturers of these products recommend that these drugs not be used during the first trimester of pregnancy unless the risks and benefits of mother and fetus have been considered. If necessary, boric acid suppositories may be used to control yeast infections during pregnancy.
- If a woman has a yeast infection when she gives birth, the baby may get yeast in its throat or digestive tract. Called "thrush," this condition is treated orally with nystatin drops.
Self care & Prevention
Preventing Vaginal Yeast Infections
To help prevent future yeast infections, try the following:
- Avoid douching the vagina is a self-cleansing organ. To promote cleanliness, simply wash your genitals while bathing. Douching can irritate the vagina and it also increases the risk of ectopic (tubal) pregnancy and pelvic inflammatory disease, both of which are medical emergencies.
- Steer clear of feminine hygiene sprays, bath oils, bubble baths, spermicides, hot tubs, dyed underwear, chlorinated swimming pools, and perfumed soaps and toilet paper. Any of these can cause or aggravate vaginal irritation.
- Presoak your underwear in water with a dash of chlorine bleach before washing them. This helps kill yeast.
- Don't sit around in wet bathing suits or sweaty exercise clothing a moist environment encourages bacterial and yeast growth.
- Abstain from sex until you're back to normal. Then use condoms for a while. It's possible your partner might have an asymptomatic yeast infection and keep reinfecting you.
- Avoid sexual intercourse that is painful or abrasive to your vagina.
- Make sure your sexual partner is clean. Ask partners to wash their penises and/or hands before touching you.
- Keep your vaginal, vulval, and anal areas clean. After a bowel movement, wipe from front to back, not back to front, to prevent organisms that live in the rectum from entering the vagina.
- Allow air to enter the area. Wear cotton underpants and loose pants. Avoid pantyhose without a cotton crotch.
- Keep your vaginal area dry by making sure your underpants are dry. Also, change out of your bathing suit immediately after use.
- Stick to wearing white cotton underwear. They contain no potentially irritating dyes, and cotton fabric breathes and helps maintain a healthy vaginal environment. Synthetics trap heat and moisture, which might contribute to vaginal itching and irritation.
- Urinate before and after sex. This helps wash bacteria out of the vaginal area.
- Avoid steroids or antibiotics unless absolutely necessary.
- Birth control pills and spermicides can both contribute to yeast infections. If recurrent yeast infections are a problem while using either of these, consider another method.
- With sexual lubricants, use a sterile, water-soluble jelly such as Astroglide or K-Y Jelly.
- Eat live-culture yogurt its friendly bacteria help keep yeast in check. In one study, Israeli researchers gave a cup a day of yogurt made with L. acidophilus bacteria to 46 women who had recurrent vaginal infections. While eating the yogurt, the women had significantly fewer yeast infections.
If your doctor has diagnosed a vaginal yeast infection, he or she can recommend one of the many over-the-counter products available. Usually, self-treatment is fine. If you are using an over-the-counter product for yeast infection and do not notice improvement within three days, contact your doctor.
Last updated 18 May 2012
- Yeast vaginitis
Factors that cause the balance of the vagina to shift so that the yeast that causes yeast infections flourishes include:
- Antibiotics (especially broad-spectrum antibiotics), which kill off "good" bacteria, allowing yeast to flourish
- Pregnancy, which causes vaginal secretions to undergo a sugar and acid content change that is yeast-friendly
- Diabetes, especially when uncontrolled, which increases the acidity of vaginal secretions, promoting yeast growth
- Intrauterine Devices (IUDs), which decrease healthy vaginal secretions.
- Heat, moisture, and clothing that doesn't allow the vagina to dry, creating an environment in which yeast flourishes
- Douching and antibacterial soaps, which destroy "good" microorganisms, allowing yeast to flourish
- Hormones or birth control pills, which alter the pH of vagina
The following factors increase your chances of getting a vaginal yeast infection:
- Oral contraceptive use
- Antibiotic drug use
- Steroid use (for example, Prednisone)
- Use of drugs that depress the immune system
- Frequent douching
- Previous yeast infections
- Wearing nylon pantyhose or tight clothing
- Wearing damp clothing for long periods of time
- Spermicide use
- HIV infection
Symptoms & Diagnosis
Although some women experience no symptoms with a yeast infection, most women will notice at least some of the following:
- Itchy vagina and vulva
- Burning vagina and vulva
- Itching, burning, and/or pain while urinating
- Itching, burning, and/or pain during sexual intercourse
- Red, sore vulva
- Odorless, foamy white or cottage cheese-like discharge
- Increase in normal-looking vaginal secretions
Conditions That May Be Mistaken for Yeast Infection
Sometimes what looks and feels like a yeast infection is something else entirely, which is why it's so important to consult your physician if you've never had a yeast infection before or aren't getting relief from the over-the-counter treatment you're using. The following conditions can be confused with a yeast infection:
- Jock Itch (tinea cruris), which affects women as well as men. If you often wear damp or sweaty, tight-fighting clothes, you may notice a scaly, itchy, red rash in the creases and folds of the groin area.
- Crab lice (pediculosis pubis) can cause itching in the genital areas covered with pubic hair.
- If you use fragrant or deodorant sprays, powders, pads, or tampons, you may be suffering from an allergic reaction that causes rash and itching in the vulva.
- A sexually transmitted infection called Trichomonas may cause burning, itching, and a foul-smelling green or yellow vaginal discharge.
How Is Vaginal Yeast Infection Diagnosed?
Having your doctor do a microscopic analysis of your vaginal secretions (known as a wet mount) is the only way to be sure that you have a yeast infection. But, after having one yeast infection, most women are able to skip the doctor's visit and self-diagnosis and treat their infection with over-the-counter medications. If the symptoms persist, your physician may need to do a culture of the secretions to identify a yeast infection.
That said, you should see your doctor if:
- This is the first yeast infection you've had
- Over-the-counter treatments do not make your symptoms go away
- Your vaginal discharge is yellow or green or has a bad odor
- There is a chance you might have a sexually transmitted disease
L. acidophilus: This "friendly" bacteria helps combat yeast. Found in live-culture yogurt, it's also available in capsules as a supplement.
- Echinacea: helps boost the immune system. German researchers gave 203 women with recurrent yeast infections either an antifungal drug or the same antifungal drug plus echinacea (one dropperful, three times a day). After six months, the group taking the herb reported significantly fewer infections.
- Goldenseal: contains berberine, the potent natural antibiotic that helps treat both fungal and bacterial infections. Most herbalists and naturopaths recommend one to two teaspoons of tincture three times a day.
- Garlic: another natural antibiotic. The most potent dose is a dozen raw, chopped cloves two or three times a day. If this is not possible or palatable for you, simply use more garlic when cooking. Chop or mince and cook as lightly possible.