Vaginal yeast infections, also known as vaginal candidiasis, are common fungal infections that affect many women. They are primarily caused by an overgrowth of a type of yeast called Candida, most commonly Candida albicans. Yeast infections can cause discomfort and irritation in the vaginal area. Here is some information about vaginal yeast infections:
- Candida Overgrowth: Normally, there is a balance of yeast and bacteria in the vagina. When this balance is disrupted, it can lead to an overgrowth of Candida.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics can kill both harmful bacteria and beneficial bacteria, upsetting the balance in the vagina and increasing the risk of a yeast infection.
- Weakened Immune System: Conditions or medications that weaken the immune system, such as HIV or corticosteroids, can make a person more susceptible to yeast infections.
- Hormonal Changes: Hormonal changes, such as those during pregnancy, menstruation, or while taking birth control pills, can affect the vaginal environment and make yeast infections more likely.
- Other Factors: Other factors that can contribute to yeast infections include diabetes, sexual activity, and the use of douches and feminine hygiene products.
The symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection can vary but often include:
- Itching and irritation in the vaginal area
- Redness and swelling of the vulva
- Thick, white, cottage cheese-like vaginal discharge
- Burning sensation, especially during urination or sexual intercourse
Vaginal yeast infections can be effectively treated with over-the-counter antifungal medications, such as miconazole (Monistat) or clotrimazole (Gyne-Lotrimin), applied as creams, suppositories, or tablets. In some cases, a healthcare provider may recommend a prescription-strength antifungal medication.
It’s important to follow the recommended treatment regimen, even if the symptoms improve before the medication course is completed, to ensure the infection is fully cleared. If you have recurring yeast infections (four or more in a year), consult your healthcare provider, as this may indicate an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.
To help prevent yeast infections, consider the following:
- Avoid using douches and feminine hygiene sprays, as they can disrupt the vaginal environment.
- Practice good hygiene, but avoid excessive cleaning of the vaginal area.
- Wear cotton underwear and avoid tight-fitting clothing, as this allows for better air circulation.
- Limit the use of antibiotics when not medically necessary.
- Manage underlying health conditions, such as diabetes.
- If you are taking antibiotics, discuss with your healthcare provider about possible preventive measures, like probiotics.
Vaginal yeast infections are common and usually not serious, but if you experience symptoms that are unusual, severe, or do not respond to over-the-counter treatment, consult a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.