VAGINAL YEAST INFECTION: CAUSES, SYMPTOMS, TREATMENT AND PREVENTION

A vaginal yeast infection is a fungal infection that causes irritation, discharge and intense itchiness of the vagina and the vulva (the tissues at the vaginal opening). Vaginal yeast infection is an infection resulting from the overgrowth of yeast — a type of fungus — of the genus Candida. Also called candidal vaginitis, vaginal candidiasis, or vulvovaginal candidiasis, yeast infections are most commonly caused by Candida albicans. It is experienced by as many as 3 out of 4 women during their lifetime. Most women experience at least two infections. Many women experience at least two episodes.

A vaginal yeast infection isn’t considered a sexually transmitted infection. But, there’s an increased risk of vaginal yeast infection at the time of first regular sexual activity. There’s also some evidence that infections may be linked to mouth to genital contact (oral-genital sex).

Causes

Common yeast infections are caused by the yeast species Candida albicans, but other species of Candida can also cause an infection. They may need different treatment.

Candida normally lives inside the body (in places such as the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina) and on skin without causing any problems. Lactobacillus bacteria keeps its growth in check.

But if there’s an imbalance in your system, these bacteria won’t work effectively. This leads to an overgrowth of yeast, which causes the symptoms of vaginal yeast infections.  Factors that increase the risk of a vaginal yeast infection include:

  • Antibiotics, which decrease the amount of Lactobacillus (“good bacteria”) in the vagina
  • Pregnancy
  • Use of hormonal contraceptives or contraceptive devices
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Immune-suppressing diseases, including HIV
  • Obesity
  • Stress and lack of sleep, which can weaken the immune system
  • hormonal imbalance near your menstrual cycle

In addition, certain lifestyle habits may also promote the growth of Candida, including

  • Maintaining poor vaginal hygiene
  • Being sexually active (vaginal yeast infections are not considered a sexually transmitted infection but they are more common in women who are sexually active)
  • Eating a diet high in sugar (a yeast food source)
  • Douching
  • Wearing clothing that keeps the vaginal area warm and moist, such as synthetic underwear, pajama bottoms, and tight jeans or spandex

Symptoms

Yeast infection symptoms can range from mild to moderate, and include:

  • An itchy sensation in the vagina and vulva.
  • Pain or discomfort/burning when urinating
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge: Some people describe the discharge as looking like cottage cheese. Sometimes the discharge may also be watery.
  • Vaginal itching
  • Swelling around the vagina
  • Redness of the vagina and vulva
  • Vaginal rash
  • Vaginal soreness

Sometimes a more complicated yeast infection may occur, with more severe symptoms. Four or more infections may arise in one year. See your doctor immediately if you have these symptoms.

Treatment

Each yeast infection is different, so your doctor will suggest a treatment that’s best for you. Treatments are generally determined based on the severity of your symptoms.

Vaginal candidiasis is usually treated with antifungal medicine. For most infections, the treatment is an antifungal medicine applied inside the vagina or a single dose of fluconazole taken by mouth. Other treatments may be needed for infections that are more severe, that don’t get better, or that keep coming back after getting better. These treatments include more doses of fluconazole taken by mouth or other medicines applied inside the vagina, such as boric acid, nystatin, or flucytosine.

If your infection is recurring, you may want to see if your sexual partner has a yeast infection. Use barrier methods, such as condoms, when having sex if you suspect either of you has a yeast infection. Talk to your doctor about your yeast infection treatment options.

HOME REMEDY

You may try treat vaginal yeast infections with natural remedies, but these are not as effective or reliable as the aforementioned medications. Common natural remedies include:

  • Coconut oil
  • Tea tree oil cream
  • Garlic
  • Boric acid vaginal suppositories
  • Plain yogurt taken orally or inserted into the vagina

Ensure your hands are clean before applying creams or oils to your vagina. See your doctor if symptoms persists.

Prevention

To reduce your risk of vaginal yeast infections, wear underwear that has a cotton crotch and doesn’t fit too tightly. Other ways of preventing it include:

  • Do not douch
  • Do not use feminine deodorant or deodorant pads or tampons
  • Practice good hygiene.
  • Wear looser clothing in breathable fabrics
  • Wash underwear at a high temperature
  • Avoid tight underwear and pantyhose
  • Eat a healthy, varied diet
  • Avoiding the use of feminine deodorants.
  • Not using deodorant (scented) tampons or pads.
  • Changing out of wet clothing, especially bathing suits, as soon as you can.
  • Using water-based sexual lubricants.
  • Avoid hot tubs and hot baths
  • Oral or intravaginal probiotics i.e. eating yogurt or taking supplements with lactobacillus

Speak with your healthcare provider if you have any of the symptoms.

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