Yeast Infection: Diagnosing & Treating It Effectively
What is a yeast infection?
A yeast infection (vulvovaginal candidiasis) is a common infection in the vagina that many women experience at least once. Though most women get them multiple times throughout their life.
Normally in a healthy vagina, there is a natural balance of yeast and bacteria. A yeast infection develops when that balance is off.
The infection may cause itching, a change in normal vaginal discharge, or an unusual odor. Most yeast infections will last until they are treated effectively with medication. If not treated, symptoms may slightly improve but will not go away completely.
What does a yeast infection look like?
Women with a vaginal yeast infection often notice a change in vaginal discharge. The discharge may be heavier than normal and white, yellow, or green-tinged in color. It’s often described as resembling cottage cheese because it looks clumpy.
Sometimes there is discharge on underwear. Other times, you’ll notice a discharge only when wiping after urinating. There may be a slight odor or no odor.
Symptoms I listen for when diagnosing this illness: “I recently took antibiotics.” “I was at the beach or pool this weekend.” “It feels like burning of my genitalia when I urinate.” “I am in a new relationship.” If a patient tells me that they have a thick white or yellow discharge along with itching of the vulvar area instantly makes me think of a yeast infection. —Dr. Jessica White-Videa
Main symptoms of a yeast infection
- Intense itching.
- Swelling in the genital area can cause discomfort when urinating or having sexual intercourse.
- Thick, white, discharge (like cottage cheese).
- Yellow discharge.
- Green-tinged discharge.
- Burning with urination.
- Redness of the vaginal lips and opening.
- Pain, discomfort, or dryness with intercourse.
- Mild, yeasty (similar to bread) odor.
Yeast infection treatment
You need a vaginal culture—a simple in-office procedure—to be diagnosed.
There is a choice of over-the-counter creams and suppositories (miconazole) and prescription creams, suppositories, or oral medications.
Treatment may last for one day to two weeks, depending on the formulation and severity of symptoms. Follow directions and always finish medication, even if symptoms seem to have gone away. If you stop treatment early, the infection may come back.
What is the main cause of a yeast infection?
Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of fungus. The most common type of fungus is Candida albicans. It occurs naturally and doesn’t always cause a problem.
However, when there is overgrowth of the fungus, an infection develops. There are other types of fungus that can also cause yeast infections but they are not as common (and can be harder to treat).
I can tell how well the sugars of my patients with diabetes are being controlled based on how often they call my office asking for medication to treat yeast infections. Poor control leads to increased yeast infections. —Dr. White-Videa
All women are at some risk of developing a yeast infection. These factors increase the odds of upsetting the vagina’s natural yeast-bacteria balance:
- Birth control pills or another type of hormonal therapy.
- Diabetes or a weakened immune system.
Other possible risk factors:
- Sexual activity.
- Being overweight or having a high-sugar diet.
- Fragranced soaps, taking bubble baths, sitting around in a wet bathing suit, and douching.
- Living in a warm climate.
What is the fastest way to get rid of a yeast infection?
You can try to treat a yeast infection with over-the-counter antifungal medicine. Prescription oral medications from a doctor work quickly, usually within 24 hours.
Proper hygiene and simple lifestyle changes can help prevent yeast infections.
- When taking a shower, wash only the outer genitalia and avoid using fragranced soaps.
- Monitor sugar intake, because diets high in sugar increase the risk of infection.
- After you exercise, change out of sweaty clothes right away.
- Wear cotton underwear.
- Limit the use of thongs. They tend to move back and forth and can transfer fecal bacteria from the rectal area to the vagina.
There are probiotic pills and intravaginal treatments that promote vaginal health and help maintain “balance” in the vagina. However, nothing works better than promoting overall health, safe sex practices. and good hygiene. —Dr. White-Videa