What is Yeast Infection?
Yeast infection, also known as candidiasis, is an infection of the vulva and vagina. It is caused by candida, a type of yeast and yeast is a type of fungus. There are certain bacteria and yeast that exist in the vagina naturally, as a part of its ‘normal flora’. Normally, there is a balance between the two, but when that balance is disrupted, yeast cells can multiply and cause an infection.
Yeast infections are very common among women. In fact approximately 75% of the women have experienced it at least once in their lifetime.
It causes swelling, discomfort and itching. It can be treated effectively with medicines and it only takes a few days to clear up. However, severe cases may take longer to clear up.
Yeast infection symptoms
The symptoms of yeast infection are as follows. You may experience some or all of them and they can be mild to severe.
- Itching in vulva and vagina
- Redness around vulva and vagina
- Swelling around vulva and vagina
- Burning sensation while urinating
- Burning sensation during intercourse
- Thick, white vaginal discharge similar in appearance to cottage cheese
Some symptoms are similar to that of a sexually transmitted infection so it is better to visit your doctor rather than self-diagnosing and self-medicating.
Yeast infection is caused by uncontrolled growth of candida in the vagina. Normally, candida occurs in healthy amounts in the vagina along with bacteria that keeps its growth in check. Any disruption to this balance can bring about an infection. There can be multiple reasons for this disruption.
- Antibiotics: If you are taking antibiotics or have recently taken them for any infection then these antibiotics can kill off good bacteria too along with the bad one. When the amount of good bacteria (Lactobacillus) in the vagina is decreased, it is no longer able to efficiently control the growth of candida, hence the infection.
- Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause it.
- Weakened immune system: Weakened immune system due to any reason, such as due to HIV or AIDS, or certain medication can also be the cause.
- Contraceptives: Hormonal contraceptives can be responsible.
- Diabetes: Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to an infection due to increased amount of sugar in the blood which can promote overgrowth of candida.
It can also occur as a result of hot and humid weather especially if you wear underwear that is made out of unbreathable material. Another cause can be sex. Although yeast infection is not a sexually transmitted infection, sexual contact can disrupt the balance and result in an infection sometimes.
Diagnosis: When to see a doctor
You should seek medical help right away if you have any or all of the following conditions:
- This is your first time experiencing this infection.
- You are not sure whether it is a STI (sexually transmitted infection) or a yeast infection.
- You have had this infection four times or more within one year.
- There is severe redness, irritation, swelling or itching.
- There are sores or tears.
The doctor will be able to diagnose a yeast infection by examining your pelvic area and around your external genitalia. The doctor may also take a sample of the vaginal discharge and send it to the laboratory to confirm the diagnosis.
Yeast infections are usually treated with antifungals medications. They can be in the form of oral pills, ointments or suppositories. The common antifungals used are clotrimazole, miconazole and fluconazole. Fluconazole (Diflucan) is taken as a single pill. These medications can take about 1 to 7 days to clear up the infection. Severe infections may require a longer treatment.
Sometimes, a doctor may prescribe an ointment which contains a very mild corticosteroid (hydrocortisone) along with the antifungal to help reduce the itchiness. It is only to be applied externally and for a short period of time. Antihistamines can also be taken to relieve symptoms such as itchiness and inflammation to some extent.
You can also use some home remedies to help ease your symptoms but they are not as effective as prescription medications. You can apply tea tree oil cream or coconut oil with clean hands around your vulva and vagina. Taking probiotic supplements can also help prevent recurring infections. You should also eat yogurt as it contains Lactobacillus acidophilus which can help keep the growth of candida in check.
There are certain measures that you can take to avoid getting recurrent infections.
- Wear cotton or breathable underwear.
- Wear loose fitting clothes on hot summer days.
- Do not use scented products around your genitalia.
- Do not use regular soaps to wash your vagina. They can throw off the vaginal pH.
- Always pat yourself dry after using the bathroom.
- Do not wear wet clothes for too long.
Male yeast infection
Men can get yeast infections too although it is more common among women. Men can get yeast infections around their penis or testicles. It is also caused by an overgrowth of candida, which otherwise occurs in healthy amounts on the skin. The causes can be overuse of antibiotics, diabetes, weakened immune system, not cleaning oneself properly or having sex with a woman who has a yeast infection.
The symptoms can be burning, itching, redness, white patches on the penis or a white cottage-cheese like discharge from the tip of the penis. You should seek medical advice if you experience any or all of these symptoms.
Having intercourse with a woman who has an active infection should be avoided or condoms should be used. The foreskin and the groin area should be cleaned thoroughly and should be kept dry in order to avoid getting yeast infections.
The bottom line
Yeast infection is a type of vaginitis caused by candida, a type of yeast. It can lead to itching, burning and an abnormal vaginal discharge. Yeast infection is very common among women and can be caused by overuse of antibiotics, diabetes, weakened immune system, pregnancy and use of hormonal contraceptives. It can be treated with over-the-counter or prescribed antifungal medication.