What is a vaginal yeast infection?
A vaginal yeast infection means that too many yeast cells are growing in the vagina. These infections are very common. Although they can bother you a lot, they are not usually serious. And treatment is simple.
What causes a vaginal yeast infection?
Most yeast infections are caused by a type of yeast called Candida albicans.
A healthy vagina has many bacteria and a small number of yeast cells. The most common bacteria, Lactobacillus acidophilus, help keep other organisms—like the yeast—under control.
When something happens to change the balance of these organisms, yeast can grow too much and cause symptoms. Taking antibiotics sometimes causes this imbalance. The high estrogen levels caused by pregnancy or hormone replacement therapy can also cause it. So can certain health problems, like diabetes or HIV infection.
What are the symptoms?
A yeast infection causes itching or soreness in the vagina and sometimes causes pain or burning when you urinate or have sex. Some women also have a white discharge that looks a little like cottage cheese and has no odor.
These symptoms are more likely to occur during the week before your menstrual period.
How is a vaginal yeast infection diagnosed?
It’s easy to guess wrong about a vaginal infection. See your doctor if you aren't sure what you have or if this is the first time you have had these symptoms. Also see your doctor if you are pregnant. Your doctor may want to do a vaginal exam.
How is it treated?
If you have had a yeast infection before and can recognize the symptoms, and you aren't pregnant, you can treat yourself at home with medicines you can buy without a prescription. You can use an antifungal cream or suppository that you put into your vagina or antifungal tablets that you swallow.
If your symptoms are mild, you may want to wait to see if they clear up on their own.
Yeast infections are common during pregnancy. If you are pregnant, don't use medicine for a yeast infection without talking to your doctor first.
If you use a cream or suppository to treat the infection, don't depend on a condom or diaphragm for birth control. The oil in some medicines weakens latex, the material often used to make these devices.
Many women have infections that come back. If you have more than four yeast infections in a year, see your doctor. He or she may do a test to make sure that your symptoms are being caused by a yeast infection and not some other problem, such as diabetes.
Can vaginal yeast infections be prevented?
You can prevent yeast infections by making sure that your genital area stays as dry as possible and can “breathe.” For example:
Wear cotton, not nylon, underwear, and avoid tight-fitting pants and panty hose.
Change out of a wet swimsuit right away.
Avoid douches and feminine sprays, scented toilet paper, and deodorant tampons.