What is a yeast infection?
Normally, your vagina contains a healthy balance of bacteria and an organism called Candida. But changes in this healthy balance can occur if there is an upset of the natural balance of bacteria and yeast, like fluctuations of vaginal acidity and increased numbers of organisms growing. Candida cells can multiply out of control due to an impaired immune system, hormonal therapy, antibiotics, pregnancy, contraceptives, or diabetes. When this overgrowth of bacteria takes place, you can get a yeast infection.
Yeast infections can sometimes be associated with sex, but they are not considered to be sexually transmitted infections. However, it is possible to get a yeast infection from having oral sex or other sexual activities but getting a yeast infection from having underlying health issues and poor dietary habits is more common.
Approximately three out of every four women will get a yeast infection during their lifetime. Yeast infections are usually caused by a species of yeast called Candida albicans, but there are over twenty other species of Candida that can give you other strains of candidiasis such as thrush.
Yeast infection symptoms
Most yeast infections don’t have a strong odor. Vaginal odors that are strong or smell fishy are more commonly associated with an infection called bacterial vaginosis. Severe yeast infections may cause redness and cracks in the wall of your vagina. Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection commonly include the following:
- Burning feeling in the vagina
- Burning during urination
- Swelling of your vulva
- Rash on your vulva
- Itching in the vaginal area and your vulva
- Pain during sex
- Discharge from the vagina that is whitish-gray, thick, and resembles cottage cheese
- Discharge from the vagina that is tinted yellow or green that looks like cottage cheese and may smell like yeast or bread
Causes of yeast infections
There are several causes of yeast infections and it is possible that there may be more than one cause for your yeast infection at any given time. Some reasons for a yeast infection may be due to the following:
Auto-immune issues – You may be at a higher risk of yeast infection if you are immunocompromised due to an HIV infection, cancer treatment, or corticosteroid medication.
Antibiotic treatment – One of the most common reasons for a yeast infection. The healthy bacteria that lives in your vagina is known as lactobacilli. It produces substances that promote the level of acidity that keep your vagina from growing too much yeast bacteria. When you take antibiotics, this can kill the lactobacilli and other healthy bacteria that allows the yeast to grow out of control.
Diabetes – You may be especially prone to a yeast infection if you have diabetes. In females with diabetes, your vaginal secretions may contain more glucose because there is more glucose in your blood. Yeast cells love the excess glucose and it causes them to multiply and become a yeast infection.
When you have high blood sugar levels, it can interfere with your body’s natural immunity to prevent yeast infections. The overgrowth of yeast can also block your body’s defenses against other infections. If you have diabetes, this can be problematic because your blood sugars may get higher or lower than normal while your body tries to fight off the infection.
Treatment for Cancer – Yeast infections are a common side effect of cancer treatment. During chemotherapy and radiation treatment, a loss of white blood cells allows the yeast bacteria in your vagina and digestive tract to grow. The steroid drugs and high doses of antibiotics that may be required can also have an impact on your immune system’s capability to maintain a healthy balance.
An Increase in Estrogen – If you have an increased level of estrogen, it can increase your risk of getting a yeast infection. This is especially true of pregnant women, women who take hormonal replacement therapy, and women who are taking high doses of birth control pills that contain estrogen.
Being Sexually Active – Although yeast infections are not considered sexually transmitted infections, yeast bacteria can be transferred from person to person via anal, vaginal, or oral sex. The male sex partner of a woman can get a yeast rash on the tip of his penis and he is at a higher risk if he has diabetes. Consider wearing a condom to protect yourself against passing the yeast infection back and forth.
How does a yeast infection get diagnosed?
If you have symptoms of vaginal discharge, uncomfortable itching, and redness, chances are you’d be thinking you have a yeast infection. But even though it may be an apparent infection that you can diagnose yourself, you take a risk in treating it yourself.
The above symptoms can also be indicative of other, more potentially serious issues. The only way to know for sure is to see your gynecologist, especially if you’ve never had a yeast infection before. If you think you have a yeast infection, it’s a good idea to see your doctor and get a definitive diagnosis with a treatment plan.
A yeast infection diagnosis starts with seeing a gynecologist. Your doctor will ask you your medical history and your current symptoms. Your doctor will most likely perform a pelvic exam and insert a speculum into your vagina to check for any swelling or discharge. Your doctor may also take a sample of any discharge to test for bacteria.
Treatment for a yeast infection
Over the counter treatments for a vaginal yeast infection usually have one of four possible active ingredients: tioconazole, clotrimazole, miconazole, or butoconazole nitrate. These drugs are all in the same family known as anti-fungal medications. They work by breaking down the cells walls of the candida until they disintegrate. You can use these products safely if you are pregnant.
When you have a yeast infection for the first time, you may want to consider asking your doctor for the advantages and disadvantages of which types of products are available. Typically, anti-fungal medications come as vaginal creams with applicators, vaginal tablets, or vaginal suppositories.
Once your treatment with an over-the-counter anti-fungal medication for a yeast infection begins, your symptoms will probably go away within approximately three days. It’s very important to be sure to continue your medication until it is completed, even if you start to feel better and your symptoms subside. The fungus could still be active and may cause a relapse of your yeast infection.
Over-the-counter medications for yeast infection are highly effective. You may want to speak to your doctor about using alternative methods of birth control while taking these products as some over-the-counter anti-fungal products can weaken the material of a condom.
While taking these medications, you should let your doctor know right away if you have any of the following symptoms:
- You don’t get better within three days
- Your irritation gets worse or spreads to nearby skin
- You experience any fever, abdominal pain, or strong-smelling vaginal discharge
You should also contact your doctor if any of your symptoms return within two months of finishing your medication. You may need to take a different approach to fighting off the yeast infection or switch to a more long-term medication.
Prescription Medications for a Yeast Infection
Your doctor may give you a prescription for Fluconazole (Diflucan) if you would rather take a pill than use a vaginal cream or a suppository. You can also get this yeast infection medication online through a tele-healthcare site like Plushcare.com. This medication works effectively in uncomplicated cases of yeast infection with mild to moderate side effects. Some possible side effects include stomach pain, headache, dizziness, diarrhea, and heartburn. However, Fluconazole should not be taken if you are pregnant.
For severe cases of yeast infection, your doctor may prescribe Diflucan in two to three doses that are given 72 hours apart. Alternatively, another option is Ketoconazole (Nizoral), which is taken one or two times a day for seven to 14 days. If you have diabetes, your doctor may choose this method of treatment to better fight the infection.
For chronic yeast infections, your doctor may offer you a vaginal suppository called clotrimazole or a Diflucan pill to be taken for 10 to 14 days. This would be followed up with weekly doses of oral Diflucan for up to six months.
How do you get rid of a yeast infection naturally?
Many of these home remedies for yeast infections contain ingredients that you already have in your home. Their effectiveness varies, but some women swear by them. Here are some possible ways to get rid of your yeast infection naturally:
1. Hydrogen peroxide – Hydrogen has been known to be a yeast-killing and bacterial antiseptic. However, it may not work on every species of yeast.
2. Greek yogurt – One study suggests that the probiotics in Greek yogurt may be effective against Candida albicans. Yogurt contains live bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus. Make sure that you use Greek yogurt that contains no added sugars.
3. Coconut oil – Coconut oil is made from the flesh of the coconut. This oil has many health benefits and contains antifungal properties. Some studies have shown coconut oil to be effective against the C. albicans bacteria. Apply the coconut oil directly to the infected area.
4. Boric acid – Boric acid is a powerful antiseptic that may be effective in treating yeast infections. Do not used boric acid if you are pregnant and be sure to mix boric acid with water before applying it to the infected area.
5. Tea tree oil – Tea tree oil is used to kill bacteria, fungi, and viruses and helps to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in your vagina. Be sure to always dilute tea tree oil with a carrier oil such as coconut or olive oil in you use it as a vaginal suppository. Don’t ever swallow tea tree oil.
6. Apple cider vinegar – Apple cider vinegar has several medicinal purposes and is a popular remedy for yeast infection. Use apple cider vinegar as a vinegar bath by adding a half cup of apple cider vinegar to lukewarm water in the bathtub. Soak for 20 minutes.
7. Vitamin C – Vitamin C has long been known as a super immune system booster. If you have a strong immune system, it helps your body stay in balance. Vitamin C has antimicrobial ingredients that can be used to help kill Candida overgrowth. Try taking vitamin C orally to boost your immune system.
8. Probiotic suppositories – Probiotics are helpful in restoring the natural balance of bacteria and yeast in your body. You can start a treatment of oral probiotics that contain bacteria called lactobacillus acidophilus. Alternatively, you can take oral supplements or vaginal suppositories for approximately 10 days to reach maximum effect.
Prevention of yeast infections
Luckily, there are several ways to help prevent from getting a yeast infection. Try some the following tips:
- Don’t wear tight-fitting pants – Instead, choose cool, dry loose-fitting jeans and pants.
- Wear underwear made of cotton – Candida loves a moist environment, but you can help avoid a yeast infection by wearing cotton underwear that absorbs moisture and perspiration.
- Keep yourself dry – Wipe yourself thoroughly after you take a shower. Change out of sweaty clothes or swimsuits as soon as you are done exercising or swimming.
- Keep yourself clean – Make sure you wipe yourself from the front to the back after you use the restroom. This helps prevent bacteria from your anus traveling to your vagina.
- Don’t douche, use perfumed sprays, or scented tampons – Products with perfumes and scents can disrupt the natural balance of yeast and good bacteria in your vagina.
- Try to chill out – Some studies show that reducing stress can help prevent yeast infections. When you are stressed out, it lowers your body’s immunity. Instead, try to exercise, meditate, and get enough sleep every night.