What Is a Yeast Infection? Symptoms, Signs, and Causes

|   October 28, 2019   |   Gynecology

What Is a Yeast Infection? Symptoms, Signs, and Causes

It’s estimated that between 70 and 75 percent of women will have vulvovaginal candidiasis at some point in their lifetime, with 40 to 45 percent having recurring cases. Also known as a yeast infection, this is a common gynecological problem that is easily treated by an OB/GYN or even a primary care physician. Some women that suffer from recurring yeast infections simply turn to home remedies or over-the-counter treatments to keep infections at bay. Read on to learn more about yeast infections, what the risk factors are, and viable treatments and home remedies. 

What Is a Vaginal Yeast Infection?


A yeast infection is caused by the fungus Candida albicans, which is a type of yeast. In many women, Candida is present and doesn’t cause any problems. Yeast in the vagina is extremely common, and up to 50 percent of women have Candida at all times without any symptoms of infection. However, when the yeast grows and spreads, infection can occur. Unlike popular myth, a yeast infection is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI), because it can regularly occur in women who are not sexually active, and it can be present in women of any age. However, it is important to note that Candida can be spread via sexual contact, and men can contract yeast infections as well. With proper treatment, a yeast infection can clear up within a few days. However, more severe cases may take up to two weeks to cure. Once you’ve contracted a yeast infection, it is likely to have another one at some point in your lifetime. 

What Are the Causes of a Yeast Infection?


The bacteria Lactobacillus typically keeps Candida albicans in check and keeps the yeast from becoming a problem. Sometimes this balance is disrupted, and that’s when a yeast infection can occur. Antibiotics are a common culprit of yeast infections simply because they disrupt the balance of Candida in the vagina. It’s wise to take probiotics if you’re prone to yeast infections and have to take a course of probiotics. This can be accomplished by eating yogurt with live cultures, or by taking probiotic supplements. Pregnancy can also lead to yeast infections. 

Too much sugar in the diet is also related to yeast infections, as well as uncontrolled diabetes. Poor habits can also make you prone to Candida growth, such as lack of sleep, lack of cleanliness in the vaginal area, poor eating habits, and stress. A simple hormonal imbalance near your menstrual cycle can also be the culprit as well as a weakened immune system. It is also possible to catch a yeast infection from your partner during sexual intercourse. 

What Are Yeast Infection Symptoms?


Yeast infection symptoms are relatively easy to spot, and for women who have had an infection before know immediately, there is a yeast infection present. Some of the most common symptoms include: 

  • Itching (around the vagina and vulva)
  • Vaginal swelling
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Burning or pain during urination
  • A burning sensation in the vagina
  • Redness
  • Rash
  • Whitish-grey vaginal discharge with no or minimal odor
  • A thick discharge that looks like cottage cheese

If you have two or more of these symptoms, you likely have a yeast infection. However, if you’ve never had one before and are experiencing symptoms, it’s a wise idea to be evaluated by a physician. While vulvovaginal candidiasis is likely, the cause of vaginal disturbance could be other types of vaginal infections, such as bacterial vaginosis, which requires a slightly different course of treatment. 

What Are Risk Factors for Vaginal Yeast Infections?


There are measures women can take to try to prevent the recurrence of yeast infections. Unfortunately, some risk factors cannot be helped. Pregnant women and women with diabetes are at higher risk of contracting vaginal yeast infections. Women on certain types of birth control also have an increased risk. 

Women should change their panty liners, tampons, and sanitary pads often. When the vagina has excess moisture, the risks for developing a yeast infection increase marginally. Keep the vaginal area as clean and dry as possible. Wearing clothes that are too tight also increases the risk of yeast infection, as this does not allow the vaginal area to breathe properly. This includes tightly fitting workout gear and prolonged use of swimsuit wear. 

How Is a Yeast Infection Diagnosed?


If you’ve never had a yeast infection, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor for an exact diagnosis. Women who have recurring yeast infections often turn to tried-and-true over-the-counter treatments or home remedies they have found that work. However, the symptoms of yeast infections can also mimic other vaginal conditions, such as bacterial vaginosis or Trichomonas infection. The doctor will take a small swab and look at the bacteria under a microscope to make a definitive diagnosis. 

More complicated infections or women that have risk factors for other conditions or diseases should see a doctor every time they contract a yeast infection. This includes women who are diabetic, women who are pregnant, and women who have HIV. Also, if you have had more than four yeast infections over the course of a year, it’s recommended to see your physician for more aggressive treatment. Women who are immunocompromised should also seek advice from their doctor before taking over-the-counter medications. 

Yeast Infection Treatment 


There are many over-the-counter treatments and treatments prescribed by your doctor. Depending on the severity of the infection, treatment may include a three-day regimen or a seven-day regimen. Vaginal suppositories are common treatments, as well as antifungal creams. Both usually carry the same active ingredients. Common medication names include:

  • Fluconazole (Diflucan) - typically by prescription
  • Miconazole (Monistat)
  • Butoconazole (Gynazole)
  • Clotrimazole (Lotrimin)
  • Terconazole (Terazol)

Those with first-time infections should follow up with physicians to make sure the course of treatment worked. Also, if you have a yeast infection return within the span of two months, it’s wise to see the doctor. 

What Are Home Remedies for Vaginal Yeast Infections?


Some women who have had yeast infections in the past prefer home remedies either for the prevention of yeast infections, for the treatment of them, or both. Boric acid suppositories or supplements are commonly used for the treatment of yeast infections. You should consult with your doctor, however, before using any type of suppositories, and pregnant women should steer clear of any boric acid treatment.  Tea tree oil suppositories are also common homeopathic treatments, but tea tree oil can irritate the skin, and in turn, the vaginal walls. Tea tree oil should never be directly applied to the vagina, as it is an essential oil that must be mixed with a carrier oil. When mixed, tea tree oil can be placed on a tampon as treatment. Oil of oregano is also a standard homeopathic treatment used for homeopathic relief of yeast infections. Again, as an essential oil, oil of oregano must be mixed with a carrier oil before usage.

Coconut oil is another oil that women have used to prevent and treat yeast infections. If you use coconut oil, be sure that you purchase the right type. Some coconut oil is expressly used for cooking, while others are meant for skin or beauty use. Do not use the type for cooking as yeast infection treatment. 

Probiotic supplements and natural yogurt with active live cultures are great ways to try to prevent yeast infections. They can also be tried as treatment. It is possible to apply plain or Greek yogurt directly to the vagina, especially to relieve symptoms of itching. 

Other home remedies include the application of garlic (there is no connection eating garlic can restore the balance of yeast in the vagina), and apple cider vinegar baths. 

Generally speaking, it’s okay to use adjunct therapies along with antifungal treatments, but the best course of action is prescribed or over-the-counter medication. If you need more information on yeast infections or need to be evaluated by a physician, book an appointment at The Woman’s Clinic today. We offer same-day availability as well as two office locations for convenience.


Return to Blog