What are yeast infections?
Vaginal yeast infections are most often caused by a fungus called Candida albicans. This is a common fungus normally found in small amounts in the vagina, mouth, digestive tract, and skin. Most often it leads to no symptoms, but if for some reason the number of Candida fungi increases and the balance is disturbed, a yeast infection can occur. This balance is known to be disrupted under the following conditions: antibiotic use, pregnancy, obesity, high sugar diet, or diabetes.
Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection
- Vaginal discharge (range from watery to thick and white)
- Itching/burning of vagina/labia
- Painful intercourse
- Painful urination
- Redness/swelling of the skin in the genital area
Is a vaginal yeast infection an STI?
Vaginal yeast infections are not spread through sexual contact. It is possible for men to develop itching/rash on the penis after sexual contact, but it isn’t an infection that is passed on. With vaginal discharge, though, it is important to rule out other causes, such as STIs. A pelvic exam can assess for symptoms, and a microscopic examination of the discharge can help provide an accurate diagnosis.
How is a vaginal yeast infection treated?
If this is the first time experiencing these symptoms, it is important to see a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis. Some women, however, are comfortable treating the infection themselves. Self-care is only advised, however, when the woman is not worried about any STIs. There are over the counter treatments available in the form of creams, ointments, vaginal tablets/suppositories, and oral tablets. Treatments last from 1 to 7 days, depending on which medication is chosen. As with any medication, follow package directions, and take the complete course even if symptoms disappear. Most often, treatments are effective, but occasionally they aren’t and require a healthcare provider to prescribe a more effective treatment. If the soreness and itching lead to open sores, skin infection is a possibility and should be monitored for.
How can I treat/prevent vaginal discharge?
- Keep genital area clean and dry. When bathing, use water only. A warm bath may help with symptoms.
- Don’t douche as it can disturb a healthy bacterial lining and disturb the balance of Candida in the vagina
- Eat yogurt with live cultures or take a probiotic tablet when on antibiotics to help prevent the bacterial imbalance in the vagina
- Use condoms to prevent the spread of other infections
- Avoid sprays, fragrances, or powders in the genital area
- Avoid tight-fitting pants or shorts, and choose underwear that are cotton and/or use cotton-crotch pantyhose. Avoid underwear made of silk or nylon as they lead to sweating and moisture containment, a good environment for yeast growth.
- If diabetic, keep your blood sugar level under good control
- Change out of bathing suits and sweaty work-out clothes soon after use as moisture build up can lead to an imbalance in the Candida growth
When should I see a health care provider?
There are certain situations when a provider should be consulted. If it is your first experience with a yeast infection or you aren’t sure if it is a yeast infection, see a provider to confirm the diagnosis. Also, if symptoms don’t improve with treatment, worsen, or if new symptoms develop, it’s important to see a provider. Finally, if it’s possible that there was exposure to an STI, diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial. If concerned, call the health center to make an appointment for an assessment.