Yeast infections are more common than you might think – about 75% of women will have one in their lifetime. Also called vaginal candidiasis, vaginal yeast infection affects up to 3 out of 4 women at some point in their lifetimes. Many women experience at least two episodes. Yeast infections may leave you feeling uncomfortable and itchy, but they can often be easily handled with the proper treatment and prevention measures.
Often, the first symptom you notice with a yeast infection is intense itchiness and discomfort around the vulva or in the vagina. Other symptoms can vary in severity and include:
Often, the symptoms of a yeast infection can mimic sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or other illnesses like bacterial vaginosis. If you think you have a yeast infection, you should check with your provider to ensure you get an accurate diagnosis.
People with penises, while rare, can develop yeast infections too. Some symptoms to look out for are:
Your vagina self-regulates a type of yeast called candida, a naturally occurring type of fungus, using a bacteria called lactobacillus. When there is an imbalance of candida and lactobacillus in the body, the yeast can overgrow, leading to symptoms of an infection.
Several factors can lead to yeast overgrowth, such as antibiotics, pregnancy, diabetes, vaginal sprays, having a weak immune system, hormonal imbalances, sex, and stress. Your provider can work with you to identify potential irritants and triggers.
It’s important to note that a yeast infection isn’t considered an STI, but it can be passed from person to person during sexual activity. Even though it is not a sexually transmitted infection, there’s an increased risk of vaginal yeast infection at the time of first regular sexual activity. Also, medications that treat yeast infections can cause condoms or diaphragms to break, increasing your risk of pregnancy or an STI. If you or your partner have a yeast infection, you should refrain from sexual contact until you’ve completed treatment.
If you think you have a yeast infection, your provider will likely take a sample of discharge from the vagina, much like what is done during a pap smear, and send it for testing to confirm the infection. Information from the lab testing will help identify how to best treat the infection.
Yeast infections can typically be easily treated with anti-fungal creams such as clotrimazole or miconazole. Both creams are available by prescription or over the counter, depending on the strength of treatment needed. Your provider might also recommend an ointment, tablet, or a suppository that is inserted into the vagina over the course of one, three, or seven days. While many people experience relief within a few days, it may take up to a week for you to feel better.
For more severe cases, your provider may prescribe an oral anti-fungal medication such as fluconazole (Diflucan) or ibrexafungerp (Brexafemme). These oral medications can’t be taken if you’re pregnant.
Sometimes yeast infections can cause complications such as severe redness, swelling, and sores. Some people with vaginas might experience frequent yeast infections that don’t respond fully to one-time treatments. In these cases, your provider may suggest a longer-term anti-fungal medication or another type of maintenance plan.
If you get more than four vaginal yeast infections a year, or if your yeast infection doesn’t go away after using over-the-counter treatment, you may need to take regular doses of antifungal medicine for up to six months.
Yeast infections on their own aren’t usually dangerous, but your provider will likely want to work to identify what is causing frequent or severe infections to stop them from continuing to impact your quality of life.
Luckily, the right preventative measures can reduce the frequency and severity of yeast infections. Wearing loose cotton underwear and avoiding scented feminine hygiene products can help reduce irritation and maintain a healthy pH in the vagina. You can wash the vulva with warm water or unscented, gentle soap if you need to.
Also, avoid douching, sitting extensively in hot tubs or baths, and wearing wet clothing for too long, as this can increase your risk of getting a yeast infection. Eating a well-balanced diet filled with probiotic-rich foods can also help maintain the bacteria lactobacillus, making your body less likely to develop an infection. If you have diabetes, keeping your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible is important. Controlling your diabetes can help prevent vaginal yeast infections.
Yeast infections can be uncomfortable to experience and talk about, but it’s important to remember that they are extremely common and treatable. If you think you have yeast infection symptoms, your Atrius Health provider can help you devise a treatment plan that works for you.