Vulvovaginal fungal infections are called yeast infections. They are quite common and easy to treat despite their various unpleasant symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic three-quarters of all women experience at least one yeast infection in their lifetimes and many have recurrent infections. Although yeast infections are fairly common, knowing about their risk factors and how to avoid them is important for maintaining vaginal health.
In this article, you will learn about the causes, treatment, and prevention of yeast infections.
What is a Vaginal Yeast Infection?
As the name indicates, vaginal yeast infections are caused by yeast (a kind of fungus). Yeast requires a moist and warm atmosphere for growth and since the vagina provides these conditions, yeast tends to thrive there. Yeast infections are not limited to the vagina and may occur in other places, such as the throat, mouth, gut, and skin.
The yeast responsible for vaginal infections is known as candida. This is a part of the normal flora of the body and its growth is kept in check by “good” bacteria called lactobacilli. A disruption in the balance of the vaginal bacteria provides candida the opportunity to overgrow, leading to a yeast infection. Yeast infections are also called vulvovaginal candidiasis or vaginal candidiasis.
What are the Common Causes of Yeast Infection?
It is important to know what disrupts the balance of the vaginal bacteria leading to yeast infections. There are many different factors that contribute to this, including:
Antibiotics kill some of the normal “good” bacteria of the vagina that keep the candida from overgrowing. It is important to only take antibiotics when they are prescribed and to follow the physician’s guidelines when using them.
An increase in the estrogen levels of the body disrupts the balance of the normal flora of the vagina. Hormonal changes are usually attributed to birth control pills (especially high-dose estrogen pills), pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause (exacerbated by estrogen hormone therapy).
Some conditions such as HIV weaken the immune system and increase the risk of developing infections such as vaginal candidiasis.
Individuals with uncontrolled diabetes have an increased risk of getting yeast infections because of the increased sugar content in the vaginal mucus membranes.
What are the Risk Factors for a Yeast Infection?
The risk of getting a yeast infection increases when you:
- Use vaginal cleansing products
Vaginal douches and fragranced sanitary products upset the normal balance of the vaginal bacteria and yeast.
- Wear synthetic underwear
Materials such as nylon promote heat and moisture buildup, creating an optimum environment for yeast to grow. Thus, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises using breathable fabrics such as cotton.
- Wear thigh-fitting clothing
Since tight-fitting clothing causes irritation and sweating, it increases the likelihood of getting a yeast infection.
- Wear wet clothes or swimsuits
Increased moisture in the vaginal area promotes the growth of yeast. It is important to remove any wet clothing (such as swimsuits and underwear) promptly after swimming or working out. It may help to use fabrics with moisture-wicking properties.
- Take hot baths or hot showers
Increased warmth and moisture cause bacterial multiplication and upsets the balance of the normal vaginal flora.
What are the Symptoms of a Yeast Infection?
The symptoms of a yeast infection vary from one person to another. The most frequently occurring symptoms include:
Yeast infections can cause vaginal rashes to develop.
- Burning sensations
Yeast infections may cause a burning sensation during sex or urination.
- Redness and Swelling
Inflammation of the vulva may occur during a yeast infection.
Irritation or itching of the vagina is one of the commonest symptoms of a yeast infection.
- Cottage cheese-like Vaginal Discharge
Yeast infections often cause a thick, odorless discharge that resembles cottage cheese.
How is a Yeast Infection Treated?
People with recurrent yeast infections typically opt for over-the-counter treatments such as suppositories and vaginal creams. If you are experiencing severe symptoms or if this is your first yeast infection, you should talk to a physician. Also, consult a doctor if any of the following apply to you:
- You are pregnant
- You have uncontrolled diabetes
- You have weakened immunity because of a medication or a health condition
- You are experiencing recurrent infections
If you experience severe symptoms, your doctor may prescribe an oral antifungal drug, such as fluconazole.
How Can I Prevent a Yeast Infection from Occurring?
Maintaining the healthy balance of bacteria in the vagina is important for preventing yeast infections. Some steps that you can take to make it happen include:
- Avoiding using antibiotics unless prescribed by a doctor
- Avoiding sugary food and opting for a balanced diet
- Avoiding perfumed vaginal products and douches
- Wearing loose, breathable clothing made of natural fibers
- Changing out of wet clothes, such as wet swimsuits, quickly
- Using oral vaginal probiotics that are made to restore the balance of healthy bacteria in your vagina