Understanding, Diagnosing, and Treating Vaginal Yeast Infections

Body

The lack of education and conversation around sex and our bodies, and the shame linked with so many of the symptoms associated with yeast infections, mean that many of us don't have access to the help we need.

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We believe that knowledge turns the tide, especially when it comes to our bodies and our health.  

While many of us have dealt with yeast infections at some point in our lives, most of us don't know much about them. We’re here to help you recognize the signs, know when to get help, and learn how to prevent them in the future.

What’s a yeast infection?

A yeast infection is a common condition caused by the overgrowth of a fungus called Candida. Actually, Candida naturally lives on the skin and inside the body, like in the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina, but problems start when it grows out of control.

The most common type of yeast infection is vaginal yeast infection, which can be triggered by various factors.

What causes vaginal yeast infection?

  • Medications: Antibiotics can kill both harmful and beneficial bacteria, disrupting their natural balance and allowing yeast to thrive. The use of steroids and some birth control pills can also affect the natural flora of the vagina.
  • Hormonal Changes: Changes during pregnancy, menstruation, or menopause can contribute to yeast infections.
  • Weakened Immune System: Women with a compromised immune system may be more susceptible.
  • Diabetes: Uncontrolled diabetes can increase the risk of contracting yeast infections due to higher sugar levels in bodily fluids, which yeast feeds on.
  • Lifestyle Factors: Wearing tight, non-breathable underwear or staying in wet clothing (like a bathing suit or gym clothes) for prolonged periods can create an environment where yeast can easily grow.

What are the symptoms of yeast infections?

  • Itching and irritation in the vagina and vulva
  • A burning sensation, especially during sex or while urinating
  • Redness and swelling of the vulva
  • Vaginal pain and soreness
  • Vaginal rash
  • Thick, white, odor-free vaginal discharge with a cottage cheese-like appearance

How do doctors diagnose a yeast infection?

Diagnosing a yeast infection typically involves a pelvic exam and a review of your medical history. Your doctor may also take a sample of vaginal secretions for analysis to rule out other causes of your symptoms.

How do you treat a yeast infection?

Yeast infections are usually treated with anti-fungal medications, which come in creams, ointments, tablets, and suppositories. Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments are available, but for recurrent infections or symptoms that don't improve with OTC medications, you should visit a doctor, who may prescribe oral anti-fungal medications.

How can I prevent a yeast infection?

  • Wear breathable, cotton underwear.
  • Avoid tight clothing.
  • Change out of wet clothes quickly.
  • Practice good vaginal hygiene. 
  • Avoid douches and harsh soaps and chemicals in vaginal products.
  • Use antibiotics only when necessary.
  • If you are diabetic, try as much as possible to keep your sugar levels in check as advised by your doctor.

A Final Note

Experiencing a yeast infection is nothing to be ashamed of—it's a common condition that many of us face. Our bodies are so complex, and sometimes things just get a bit out of balance. What’s important is learning about them, knowing how to deal with them, and then maybe sharing that knowledge with a sister, a friend, or a daughter!

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