A yeast infection may be a term you’ve come across before, though you may not know exactly what it is. A vaginal yeast infection occurs when the delicate balance of yeast (the fungus species Candida) and bacteria in the vagina is disrupted, causing the yeast cells to multiply.
Though not usually serious, this can cause a range of bothersome symptoms, many that are similar to those of more serious vaginal infections and sexually transmitted infections, so it’s important you see your gynaecologist or doctor for assessment and treatment.
Yeast infections are quite common, affecting roughly 3 in 4 women at some point in their life, so it’s important to be prepared!
Vaginal yeast infections can affect girls and women of all ages at any time, though they are rare before puberty or following menopause. They are quite common; roughly three out of every four women will experience a yeast infection at some point in their life, so it’s important to be prepared!
Signs and Symptoms of Vaginal Yeast Infection
Vaginal yeast infections have a range of common symptoms, many of which are similar to those of STIs like herpes and chlamydia. These include:
• A white, odourless vaginal discharge
• Itching and burning in the vagina
• Swelling around the vagina
• Burning during urination
• Redness or a rash
• Pain during intercourse (dyspareunia)
If you have a yeast infection, you may have a few of these symptoms, but not necessarily all of them. In any case, you should seek treatment. Early treatment will reduce the severity of the symptoms.
What Causes a Yeast Infection?
Yeast infections are caused by the vagina becoming overrun by the fungus Candida, which is a naturally occurring microorganism found in the vagina. A healthy woman may have small amounts of the fungus present without showing any symptoms; it’s only when the Lactobacillus bacteria – which keeps Candida growth in check – isn’t working like it should that yeast multiplies and symptoms occur.
This may be caused by a number of factors that disrupt the balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina:
• Antibiotics, which may decrease the amount of Lactobacillus present in the vagina
• A weak immune system
• Poor diet
• Uncontrolled diabetes
• Increased estrogen due to oral therapy or the contraceptives you are taking
The Candida fungus can also be spread during sexual activity, particularly oral sex, though a yeast infection is not considered a sexually transmitted infection. Women who are not sexually active can also get one.
Preventing Yeast Infections
There are a number of things that may increase the chance of getting a yeast infection. These are quite similar to factors that can contribute to the possibility of getting a UTI, including:
• Poor vaginal hygiene
• Wearing tight pants, tights, leggings or underwear that doesn’t breathe well
• Wearing wet clothing, such as swimmers, for long time
• Sitting in spas, baths or hot tubs for extended periods of time
• Using a douche
Medical conditions such as diabetes can predispose to getting a yeast infection, as can medical problems such as cancers or autoimmune diseases, which may require high dose steroids or other drugs which suppress your immune system. As a woman ages, the acidity of her vagina will diminish, changing the balance of bacteria and yeasts and predisposing to yeast infections.
Avoiding the above (if possible!) is a great way to prevent yeast infections. Sometimes it is also easy to tell what triggers them (for example, you may experience an infection each time you take antibiotics), so identifying these and avoiding them is another effective way to lower their prevalence.
Treating a Yeast Infection
If you have a yeast infection, it is important that you treat it early to reduce the severity of the symptoms. Treatment will depend on how complicated the infection is. They are usually treated using antifungal medication. Many of these can be bought over-the-counter, or you can get a dose from your doctor.
In complex instances or cases where symptoms are quite severe, extended therapy, management techniques, and ongoing medication may be required. Be sure to talk to your doctor or gynecologist about the right treatment for you.
If you have any questions about a vaginal yeast infection, or any other gynacological issues, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Dr Brown is one of the most trusted gynecologists in Sydney and will strive to provide you with comprehensive and compassionate care in every way possible.