Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team
You read the title correctly! The topic of discussion is YEAST INFECTIONS. So, buckle up and embrace the potential awkwardness you may be feeling – you might just find some helpful tips for managing this uncomfortable yet extremely treatable condition!
Despite the negative stigma they often receive, yeast infections are both normal and common. While the following information specifically relates to the vaginal type, it is important to note that this fungal infection can occur throughout multiple areas of the body including the throat, gut, and skin.
So, you do not need to have a vagina in order to develop a yeast infection! That said, vaginal yeast infections affect three out of four women at some point in their lives.
Whether or not you have experienced a vaginal yeast infection, you may be wondering what happens in your body when they occur and what you can do to find some relief if you experience any symptoms. So, without further ado, here is everything you need to know about vaginal yeast infections.
What is a vaginal yeast infection?
The cause of a yeast infection is simply a change in the environment of the vagina, resulting in an overgrowth of a fungus called candida albicans. Dr. Sophia Yen, the CEO and Co-Founder of Pandia Health, notes that, “Yeast and bacteria live in the vagina in harmony. But sometimes this harmony is out of balance and yeast or bacteria grow too much.” This shift may be a result of lifestyle factors including, but not limited to:
- Birth control with estrogen or spermicides or IUDs, sponges, and diaphragms
- Weakened immune system (due to diseases such as HIV or cancer)
- Antibiotic use (antibiotics kill the normal bacteria and the yeast overgrow)
What are the symptoms of a yeast infection?
Although most yeast infections are relatively harmless, the symptoms can become quite disruptive. Seek treatment as soon as possible if you notice one or more of the following:
- Vaginal itching or soreness
- Pain during sex
- Discomfort when urinating
- Abnormal discharge (chunky white, like cottage cheese)
You can take matters into your own hands and start over-the-counter treatment, but it is best to contact a medical professional to ensure that your symptoms indicate a yeast infection rather than another vaginal condition like bacterial vaginosis or sexually transmitted infections (i.e. chlamydia or gonorrhea). If you experience more intense signs such as redness, swelling, and/or cracks in the wall of the vagina, an in-person doctor appointment may be necessary.
Can I prevent vaginal yeast infections?
Unfortunately, you cannot prevent a yeast infection from occurring. However, you can take several measures to maintain a healthy vaginal environment.
Try to avoid the following:
- Tight-fitting underwear (check out these brands instead!)
- Douching, or cleaning out the vagina with water or other fluids (this messes up the balance of bacteria and yeast)
- Scented feminine products like soaps or bubble baths
- Hot tubs or very hot baths
- Staying in wet clothes like gym shorts or a swimsuit for a long period of time
However, it is still possible to get a vaginal yeast infection even with a perfect feminine hygiene routine. And while it’s not pleasant, it’s nothing to be ashamed of!
How can I be sure that I have a vaginal yeast infection?
The only way to confirm whether or not you have a vaginal yeast infection is to get a test from a healthcare provider. This entails providing a sampling of discharge that gets examined under a microscope or sent to a laboratory. If you have a positive fungal culture (a.k.a. fungus growth), then you have a vaginal yeast infection.
Because the testing process is a multiple-day ordeal, some doctors choose to perform a pelvic exam instead. This allows them to examine the vagina and cervix, and in turn, get more information about what is going on. The doctor can also take a sample from your vagina and put that on a slide to examine it, so you don’t necessarily need them to perform a full pelvic exam.
Asking certain questions is another helpful tool, as medical and sexual history (i.e. STIs) can indicate the likelihood of developing the infection.
What’s the treatment for vaginal yeast infections?
Once your doctor diagnoses a vaginal yeast infection or you are fairly confident that you have one, you can start treatment.
Over-the-counter medications – You can get these from the drugstore without a prescription from a doctor. They typically come in the form of creams or suppositories (i.e. Monistat), which require insertion into the vagina.
While these can provide immediate relief by killing the yeast very quickly, some people with vaginas consider the topical treatment to be messy or uncomfortable. However, they are a good option if you are unable to see a doctor.
Prescription treatment for yeast infections – To get this, you need a doctor to diagnose a vaginal yeast infection and write a prescription. This oral medication costs about $7.50 without insurance and may even be free with insurance (depends on your co-pay). It’s one pill (fluconazole) that kills all the yeast and, in turn, relieves symptoms.
However, it may take 1-2 days to start working, so you should ideally take it as soon as it is prescribed. This is a great option for individuals who prefer not to insert anything into their vagina.
If both of the above don’t work, then you can consider Boric Acid 600mg suppositories (goes in your vagina) for 7-14 days per CDC guidelines. Research shows that boric acid works 70% of the time. You can buy it online or at a pharmacy. (Thanks to Dr. Nghiem, Ob/Gyn, one of Pandia Health’s birth control expert doctors for that tip!)
In a recent Q&A with Dr. Yen regarding how to go about treating a vaginal yeast infection, the following tips were provided:
- For over-the-counter options, products that end in “-azole” (i.e. clotrimazole and miconazole) are the way to go. These soothe the area while delivering the yeast-killing medication to provide longer-term relief.
- You should speak to a doctor if symptoms do not get better within 1-2 days, if the infection occurs frequently, if you are diabetic, and/or if you are immunosuppressed.
- Allergic reactions to treatments are rare, but if you notice burning, itching, swelling, dizziness, or have difficulty breathing after using the medication, call 911 or go to the emergency room right away.
Should I be embarrassed by my vaginal yeast infection? No!
No one should feel ashsamed if diagnosed with a vaginal yeast infection! In fact, it is likely that at least one of the women in your life has experienced one at some point because it is the second most common type of vaginal infection. Rather than feeling bad, why not bond over this unpleasant, yet relatable experience?
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Disclaimer: This article was written for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor/primary care provider before starting or changing treatment.