Yeast infections are common; three out of every four women will experience at least one in their life, and if you’ve ever had a yeast infection, you know that they can get pretty uncomfortable. The best way to avoid or manage yeast infections is to know what causes them, and what to look for.
Why do yeast infections happen?
The vagina contains all kinds of healthy bacteria. Most of the time, these bacteria don’t pose any sort of problem. Sometimes, though, there’s an imbalance of bacteria. When the imbalance specifically involves too much Candida bacteria, this results in a yeast infection. Sex doesn’t cause yeast infections, but they can be transferred during sex, so it’s smart to avoid sex if your partner is getting treated for one.
Who’s at risk?
Women are more likely than men to get yeast infections between puberty and menopause. A lot of things can cause yeast infections, and many women who get them don’t have any risk factors. However, there are some things that increase someone’s risk of a yeast infection: being pregnant, having diabetes, taking hormonal birth control, douching, using vaginal spray, taking certain steroid medications, or having a weakened immune system from HIV.
What are the symptoms?
Most of the time, women suspect they have a yeast infection when they notice a sudden onset of burning, redness, itchiness, or swelling in or around the vagina. They might also feel pain when urinating or during sex, or a general soreness of the vaginal area. Another common symptom of a yeast infection is thick, white vaginal discharge that doesn’t have a very strong smell.
How are yeast infections treated?
The best and most effective way to know if you have a yeast infection is to have a healthcare professional diagnose the condition. Women should always talk to their provider before they try to self-treat a yeast infection. Usually, the provider will perform a pelvic exam, and may swab some discharge to examine. Once diagnosed, women can either buy over-the-counter antifungal medication, or take prescription antifungal medication for however long it takes to treat the infection.
Are there ways to prevent yeast infections?
There are a few ways women can lower their chances of a yeast infection. First, it’s best to avoid douching, because douching can throw off the normal bacteria levels in your vagina. It’s also a good idea to avoid scented feminine products, and to change any tampons, pads, or liners as often as you can. Wearing cotton underwear and avoiding extremely tight clothes helps lower excess moisture that bacteria likes to grow in, and finally, wiping front to back and reducing one’s time in hot tubs and pools can reduce unhealthy exposure to certain bacteria.
Yeast infections are definitely uncomfortable, so if you think you might have one, schedule an appointment with your provider. The sooner you start treatment, the sooner the infection – and all its unpleasant symptoms – will go away.
“Vaginal yeast infection.” Womenshealth.gov. Fact sheet from the Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, Jan 6 2015. Web.