About 75% of women will experience a yeast infection in their lifetime, and 45% will have at least two infections or more. To say that yeast infections are common is an understatement, but that doesn’t make them any less unpleasant. Whether you think you have a yeast infection now or have had one in the past, it’s important to understand what’s causing the infection and what treatment options are available to you.
Table of Contents
- What Is a Yeast Infection?
- Common Yeast Infection Causes
- How Do You Know If You Have a Yeast Infection?
- How Is a Yeast Infection Diagnosed?
- How to Get Rid Of a Yeast Infection
- Top Tips to Prevent Yeast Infections
- 3 Yeast Infection FAQs
What Is a Yeast Infection?
A vaginal yeast infection is a type of fungal infection caused by Candida Albicans overgrowth. Yeast is commonly found in the vagina, but if its growth spirals out of control, it leads to an infection that can cause a myriad of uncomfortable symptoms.
There are several different types of bacteria in a healthy vagina, but only a small number of yeast cells. Lactobacillus acidophilus is the most common type of bacteria found in the vagina, and its job is to keep the growth of yeast cells under control. When this delicate balance is upset, the yeast cells grow at an unabated rate, and infection occurs.
Common Yeast Infection Causes
When women are diagnosed with a yeast infection, one of their first questions is “why did this happen?” What caused the infection, or upset the balance of bacteria? The answer isn’t as cut and dry as you may have hoped. There are several factors that can affect the balance of bacteria in the vagina. These include:
- Hormonal imbalance
- Weak immune system
- Sleep deprivation
- Corticosteroid use
Yeast infections are very common during pregnancy. While doctors aren’t certain why this happens, it’s believed to be caused by the chemical changes that occur in the vaginal area during pregnancy. When you’re pregnant, you vaginal secretions contain higher levels of sugar, and the yeast feeds on the sugar.
Antibiotics are one of the most common causes of yeast infections because they not only destroy the bad bacteria in the vagina, but the good bacteria (lactobacillus) as well. As a result, the bad bacteria growth gets out of control.
Although women of all ages can get a yeast infection, it’s rarely seen in prepubescent girls and postmenopausal women.
How Do You Know If You Have a Yeast Infection?
You think you might have a yeast infection, but you don’t know for sure. Only your doctor can diagnose a yeast infection, but knowing the symptoms can help you better determine if you do have an infection.
Common symptoms of a yeast infection include:
- Itching in the vaginal area
- Burning in the vaginal area
- Changes in discharge (gray in color and thick in texture)
- Painful sex
How Is a Yeast Infection Diagnosed?
If you suspect that you have a yeast infection, your doctor can diagnose the condition relatively easily. Your physician will begin by asking you about your medical history, including whether or not you had yeast infections in the past. Your doctor may also ask if you have ever had an STD.
Next, your doctor will perform a pelvic exam and look for external signs of an infection. Your cervix and vaginal walls will also be examined. Your doctor may also send a vaginal culture to a lab for further examination or confirmation of a diagnosis. Typically, tests are only ordered for women that have a chronic infection or recurring yeast infections.
How to Get Rid Of a Yeast Infection
The good news is that most yeast infections are relatively simple to treat and cure. Women who have recurring yeast infections may have a more difficult time preventing and treating infections, but most women will be able to overcome this condition in just a few days.
1. Simple Infection Treatment
A simple yeast infection treatment typically consists of either a single-dose oral medication, or a 1-3 day treatment regimen.
Diflucan is a popular single-dose oral medication used to treat yeast infections. A 1-3 day treatment plan may consist of an ointment, antifungal cream, suppository or tablet. Many of these medications can be purchased over the counter.
2. Complex Treatment Protocols
Conventional treatment protocols cure the infection in about 80% of all cases. But there are still women that do not respond to normal treatment. Certain types of Candida are resistant to these medications, so a more aggressive approach will be needed.
A more complex treatment option may be prescribed if:
- You have had at least 4 yeast infections in one year.
- You have severe itching, swelling and redness that has caused tears or sores in your vaginal area.
- You’re pregnant.
- Another type of Candida is the cause of your infection.
- You have a weak immune system or uncontrolled diabetes.
Complex treatments may include:
- 2-3 doses of Diflucan (except in the case of pregnancy)
- 14-day treatment regimen that includes a suppository, ointment, cream or tablet.
- Long-term prescription of a topical antifungal cream or ointment.
- Long-term use of Diflucan, typically one dose, once a week for six weeks.
3. Natural Treatment Options
Natural treatment options are available, but please note that these should not replace any medications that your doctor has prescribed. As always, ask your doctor before using any home remedies to make sure it’s safe.
Some common at-home treatments include:
- Yogurt – either inserted into the vagina, or eaten as normal.
- Creams with tea tree oil.
- Boric acid or garlic suppositories.
Top Tips to Prevent Yeast Infections
Once you’ve had a yeast infection, your chances of getting one in the future are much higher. Prevention is the key to keeping infections at bay. Here are some tips to help you prevent future fungal infections:
Personal Hygiene Changes
- Wear appropriate underwear that keeps your vagina dry. Cotton is a smart choice.
- Avoid wearing clothing that is too tight. Tight-fitting clothing and underwear can lead to more moisture in the genital area, which creates the perfect environment for yeast to thrive.
- Keep your genital area clean. Use unscented soap and clean water. Always rinse well.
- Avoid douching as this can upset the balance of bacteria in the vagina.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet that contains vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
- If you have uncontrolled diabetes, take steps to get your condition under control. Maintaining normal blood sugar levels can help prevent your risk of a yeast infection.
- Avoid overusing antibiotics. Remember, these medications kill both the good and bad bacteria in the vagina, which gives the bad bacteria (yeast) a chance to grow out of control. Only use antibiotics when necessary and consider taking a probiotic to restore good bacteria.
3 Yeast Infection FAQs
1. Can you Get a Yeast Infection from Sexual Intercourse?
In short, yes. In some cases, it is possible to get a yeast infection from a sexual partner, but this is rare. Having unprotected sex can increase your risk of getting a yeast infection from sex.
2. Can you Get a Yeast Infection from Breastfeeding?
Yes, it is possible to get a yeast infection on your breast or nipples from breastfeeding. Remember, yeast need moisture and warmth to thrive, and they will feed on milk. However, it is important to note that this type of yeast infection is very different from a vaginal yeast infection.
3. Can Yogurt Treat or Prevent Yeast Infections?
Possibly, although there is little evidence to support the use of yogurt as a treatment for yeast infections. The key is to find a yogurt that contains live cultures. Some doctors recommend taking a Lactobacillus acidophilus capsule instead.