What Is Yeast Infection?
Yeast infections are due to alterations in the balance of microscopic organisms in the vulvar and vaginal regions. The term "yeast infection" is most commonly used to describe symptoms caused by the fungus Candida albicans.
Symptoms include itching of the vaginal and vulva, burning, redness, and swelling of the vagina, thick, white discharge, pain with urination, and pain with sexual intercourse.
This condition is very common, especially among young women, and is easily treated with a course of antifungal medication .
You can treat this with over-the-counter medications. However, if an over-the-counter does not work, it could be a different type of vaginal infection and evaluation in a clinic is needed.
How common is yeast infection?
Yeast infection is also known as
- Vulvovaginal candidiasis
Yeast Infection Symptoms
Yeast infections present acutely and, while not usually dangerous, can make anyone very uncomfortable. Most people seek treatment quickly for symptom relief.
- Vaginal and vulvar itching: Itching is by far the most common symptom of yeast infections. This itching is believed to be due to local inflammation in the vulvar region in response to the presence of the fungus. The body's natural immune defenses produce a feeling of itchiness .
- Burning, redness, and swelling of the vagina 
- Thick, white discharge: The discharge associated with vulvovaginal candidiasis is often referred to as resembling cottage cheese .
- Pain with urination
- Pain with sexual intercourse
While "yeast infection" is usually used to describe the condition caused by the Candida fungus, there are a number of different causes of vaginitis. The other two most common causes alongside Candida include bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis. Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an alteration of the microbiome and trichomoniasis is caused by the sexually-transmitted parasite trichomonas. Presenting with similar symptoms of vulvovaginal itching and burning, these conditions can be distinguished from each other and from vaginal candidiasis by examining swabs from the vagina under the microscope.
Yeast Infection Causes
As previously discussed, vaginal yeast infections are most commonly caused by the fungus Candida albicans. Candida naturally occurs in mouths, digestive systems, and vaginas in small amounts. Disruptions to the normal bacterial flora that keep the number of Candida species in check can lead to overgrowth of the fungus, thus leading to a yeast infection. Commonly cited causes for yeast overgrowth include the following.
- Antibiotics: A common situation is someone who takes a course of antibiotics for another illness, such as strep throat, and then develops a yeast infection a few days later. Antibiotics kill the illness-producing bacteria in our bodies but also disrupt the good bacteria, like the ones keeping the Candida species in check. Disrupting this balance can lead to fungal overgrowth and cause yeast infections.
- Stress, pregnancy, and other illnesses: The stress on the body of acutely stressful situations, pregnancy, and other illnesses also affect the balance of bacteria and the body's immune system which can give way to yeast infections.
- Diabetes: This is a condition of excess sugar in the bloodstream. Candida species feed on this sugar and, as a result, can multiply if there is too much available for their growth .
Treatment Options and Prevention for Yeast Infection
The overgrowth of Candida species in the vulvovaginal region can produce local inflammation and symptoms of burning and itchiness. Ten to 20 percent of reproductive-aged women who have higher levels of the Candida species are asymptomatic . Treatment for this condition is indicated if you experience discomfort. The majority of people with a yeast infection will have an uncomplicated infection and can be treated with the following.
- A short course of medication: A single dose of fluconazole, an anti-fungal medication is a primary option. While most people prefer an oral dose of this medication, topical intra-vaginal applications work as well.
- Longer courses of medication: A yeast infection is deemed "complicated" based on the severity of the symptoms, other conditions affecting the person (pregnancy, immunosuppression, diabetes), and the number of times the yeast infection has recurred. These infections are usually treated with longer courses of oral or topical fluconazole .
Yeast infections are very common, especially among young women, and preventative measures are aimed at reducing predisposing risk factors. As stated above, the usage of antibiotics and having diabetes are both associated with the overgrowth of Candida and the development of yeast infections.
- Responsible use and prescription of antibiotics: Antibiotics should be used only when prescribed by a physician and the physician should seek to prescribe the most narrow-spectrum antibiotic to treat your specific condition.
- Control blood glucose if you have diabetes: People with diabetes should seek to maintain good control of blood glucose to reduce the likelihood of developing a yeast infection.
When to Seek Further Consultation for Yeast Infection
While most yeast infections are uncomplicated and do not pose imminent harm, they are often very uncomfortable and can disrupt activities of daily living. As such, anyone experiencing vaginal burning or itching or having pain with urination or sexual intercourse should consult their physician. People with underlying conditions of immunosuppression or diabetes should seek immediate care.
Questions Your Doctor May Ask to Determine Yeast Infection
To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask about the following symptoms and risk factors.
- Are you sexually active?
- Is your vaginal discharge constant or come-and-go?
- Has your vaginal discharge been getting better or worse?
- How long has your vaginal discharge been going on?
- How much discharge is coming out of your vagina?
The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.
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- Oakley A. Vulvovaginal candidosis. DermNet NZ. Updated April 2017. DermNet NZ Link
- Vaginal Yeast Infections. Office on Women's Health. OWH Link
- Hirsch L, ed. Vaginal yeast infections. Updated April 2015. Kids Health Link
- National guideline for the management of vulvovaginal candidiasis. Clinical Effectiveness Group (Association of Genitourinary Medicine and the Medical Society for the Study of Venereal Diseases). Sex Transm Infect. 1999;75 Suppl 1:S19. NCBI Link
- Ringdahl EN. Treatment of recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Jun 1;61(11):3306-3312. AAFP Link