Yeast infections (also known as candidiasis) are common infections caused by Candida albicans yeast, which is a type of fungus. Yeast infections usually happen in warm, moist parts of the body, such as the mouth, and moist areas of skin.
A yeast infection in the vagina is known as vulvovaginal candidiasis (pronounced: can-dih-DYE-uh-sis). Vaginal yeast infections are common in young women, and many will have one at some point. They're not an STD (sexually transmitted disease).
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Vaginal Yeast Infections?
Vaginal yeast infections can cause:
itching and irritation in the vagina
redness, swelling, or itching of the vulva (the folds of skin outside the vagina)
a thick, white discharge that can look like cottage cheese and is usually odorless, although it might smell like bread or yeast
pain or burning when urinating (peeing) or during sex
If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor or gynecologist. It's easy to confuse the symptoms of a yeast infection with those of some STDs and other vaginal infections. Your doctor can make sure you are treated for the right type of infection.
If you have a vaginal yeast infection, your doctor can recommend treatment to clear up the symptoms and cure the infection quickly.
What Causes Vaginal Yeast Infections?
Having small amounts of Candida on the skin and inside the mouth, digestive tract, and vagina is normal. A healthy immune system and some "good" bacteria keep the amount in a person's body under control.
But yeast in the vagina can sometimes "overgrow" and lead to symptoms of a yeast infection. Stress, pregnancy, and illnesses that affect the immune system may let yeast multiply. So can some medicines, including some birth control pills and steroids. If you're taking antibiotics, such as for strep throat, the antibiotics can kill the "good" bacteria that normally keep the yeast in check. Yeast also can grow a lot if a girl's blood sugar is high. Girls who have diabetes that isn't controlled are more likely to get yeast infections.
Yeast infections can happen to any girl. Many girls find that they tend to show up right before they get their periods because of the hormonal changes that come with the menstrual cycle. Clothing (especially underwear) that's tight or made of materials like nylon that trap heat and moisture might make yeast infections more likely. Using scented sanitary products and douching can upset the healthy balance of bacteria in the vagina and make yeast infections more likely.
How Are Vaginal Yeast Infections Diagnosed?
Treating a yeast infection is simple, but it's important to visit your doctor for the right diagnosis. Other infections can cause similar symptoms but need different treatments.
At the visit, your doctor might take a urine sample (to rule out a urinary tract infection) and swab some discharge from your vagina to check under a microscope.
How Are Vaginal Yeast Infections Treated?
If you do have a yeast infection, your health care provider probably will prescribe a pill to swallow or a cream, tablet, or suppository to put in the vagina. When you get home, follow all the directions on the package carefully. Creams, tablets, and suppositories often come with an applicator to help you place the medicine inside your vagina, where it can begin to work.
If you're using a vaginal treatment and are sexually active, you should not have sex until the infection has been completely treated because these medicines can weaken condoms and diaphragms.
All these types of medicine can clear up your symptoms in a couple of days and cure the infection within a week. It's important to take the medicine for the whole time it’s prescribed. If you stop taking it too soon, the infection could come back. If you're not feeling better within a few days of finishing treatment, call your doctor.
Some medicines used to treat yeast infections are available without a prescription, but you see a doctor for your diagnosis before buying one. You could have another type of infection that might get worse if not properly treated. Also, over-the-counter medicine should not be used by anyone younger than 12 or girls who might be pregnant without talking to a doctor first.
Do Guys Get Yeast Infections?
Guys can get an infection of the head of the penis from the same yeast that causes vaginal infections. Guys who have diabetes or are on antibiotics for a long time are more likely to get this infection. A guy with a yeast infection may not have any symptoms or the tip of the penis may get red and sore or itchy. Some guys might have a slight discharge or pain when peeing.
Guys who are not circumcised need to take extra care to clean properly beneath their foreskins. The warm, moist folds of the foreskin are the perfect environment for yeast to thrive. Keeping the area clean and dry may help prevent an infection. If symptoms do show up, a doctor can treat the infection.
Can Vaginal Yeast Infections Be Prevented?
For most girls, there's no way to prevent yeast infections. You may feel more comfortable and have less irritation if you wear breathable cotton underwear and clothes and avoid vaginal sprays and douches. Wearing cotton underwear may also help prevent yeast infections.
If you have diabetes, keeping blood sugar levels stable also can help you avoid yeast infections.
If you think you have an infection, call your doctor for advice. Don't take leftover antibiotics or someone else's antibiotics or medicine. They might be the wrong choice for your condition, and taking antibiotics when they're not needed can make yeast infections more likely.
Yeast infections can be annoying, especially if they happen often. To help avoid them, follow your doctor's advice, wear cotton underwear, and try to wear loose-fitting clothes. Your body will thank you.