Vaginal yeast infections are common in women. They are so common, in fact, that 3 out of 4 women will have a yeast infection at some point in their lifetimes. Nearly half will have more than one.
Vaginal yeast infections, which are a type of vaginitis, may cause itching and irritation of the vagina and vulva. This condition can affect anyone of any age. Men can experience yeast infections too, but this occurs much less frequently than it does in women.
Most of the time, there’s no underlying health problem that causes yeast infections, but there are steps you can take to alleviate your discomfort. Here’s what you need to know about the causes, risks, and symptoms of vaginal yeast infections, and how you can treat them.
What Causes Yeast Infections?
Yeast overgrowth causes vaginal yeast infections. A healthy vagina might have yeast naturally present in balanced levels. When there is an imbalance and yeast overgrows, it can cause a yeast infection.
The stages of yeast infections may be classified as mild, moderate, or severe:
- Mild: You are experiencing some symptoms with some discomfort.
- Moderate: You are experiencing some to most symptoms with tolerable discomfort.
- Severe: Symptoms are prolonged or getting worse and over-the-counter medicine doesn’t relieve them; you have a complicated yeast infection (extensive redness, swelling, and itching that leads to tears, cracks, or sores).
Yeast infections are not Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and cannot be contracted from your partner during sex. In fact, most yeast infections are sporadic and occur with no underlying cause.
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What Are the Symptoms of Yeast Infections?
There are several symptoms of a common vaginal yeast infection. They include:
- An itchy feeling in the vagina and vulva.
- Redness and swelling of the vulva.
- Small tears or tiny cracks in the skin of the vulva.
- White vaginal discharge, sometimes with the consistency of cottage cheese. It’s important to note that not all vaginal yeast infections cause discharge.
- Burning with urination.
- Pain during sexual intercourse.
Two other common types of vaginal infections may be confused with a yeast infection because the symptoms are often similar. These causes of vaginitis are:
- Bacterial vaginosis, which may also cause a “fishy” odor
- Trichomoniasis, or “trich,” the most common curable STD.
There are several causes of vaginal discharge, itching, and discomfort. If you have severe symptoms, if this is your first vaginal infection or if you are unsure about the cause of your symptoms, call your provider for an evaluation. This can determine the cause of your symptoms and the best treatment for you.
How Long Do Yeast Infections Last?
How long a vaginal yeast infection lasts depends on how severe the infection is and what treatment you receive. If you get treatment for the right type of infection with the right medication, most common yeast infections will clear up within a week or so.
While some mild yeast infections may go away on their own, most infections need medication to clear them up.
Am I at Risk for Yeast Infections?
Women of any age can get yeast infections. However, they are rare before puberty or after menopause.
You have a higher risk of getting a yeast infection if you:
- Have diabetes. Women with diabetes that is not well-managed are at higher risk of yeast infections. Diabetes causes excess glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood as well as the vagina.. In the vagina, glucose changes the environment, providing nutrients that might promote the overgrowth of yeast.
- Have an immune deficiency. Women with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of getting yeast infections because their bodies can’t fight them off.
- Take antibiotics or steroids. Both medications may kill off the healthy bacteria that prevent yeast overgrowth inside the vagina. Without the bacteria, yeast has a better environment in which to overgrow and turn into an infection.
- Are pregnant. Yeast infections can be common during pregnancy
Also, many women with yeast infections do not have an underlying medical condition that predisposes them to infections.
How to Prevent a Yeast Infection
Certain health conditions can increase your risk of yeast infections, but most of the time, there is no underlying cause.
Avoid douching or applying scented soaps and lotions to the vulva and vagina. Douching and fragrance products can upset the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina or might affect the skin of your vulva.
Antibiotic use is linked to yeast infections. It’s important to only take antibiotics as prescribed. Taking them too often or for the wrong reasons can lead to overgrowth of yeast and infections. If you have concerns or questions about your antibiotic use, consult your health care provider.
How Can I Treat a Yeast Infection?
Contact your health care provider if you believe you have the symptoms of a yeast infection. Don’t attempt to treat a vaginal yeast infection before consulting with your provider.
The most common treatment options for yeast infections include:
- Oral medication: Your doctor may prescribe a single or multi-dose antifungal medicine, such as fluconazole, taken orally.
- Topical antifungal medication: Over-the-counter or prescription creams, tablets, ointments, or suppositories that you insert into your vagina can all help clear a yeast infection.
Depending on your symptoms, your provider may ask you to come in for an evaluation.
You may have heard about different home remedies and foods that can help fight vaginal yeast infections. Much of this information is not backed by scientific research. For example, dietary changes cannot treat a yeast infection. Your health care provider will help you in finding the right course of treatment.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
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