There's itching, burning, unpleasant discharge… you know what we’re talking about. Yeast infections can be pretty TMI and a little embarrassing for some, and if you’re dealing with them regularly, it can feel a lot worse.
Yeast infections can also be incredibly uncomfortable considering the symptoms and prolonged treatments. However, luckily for you, there are a variety of options for both treating and preventing them.
"As annoying as yeast infections are, they are a way of life for all women,” says Dr. Nancy Simpkins, internist and medical adviser based in New Jersey. "Don’t be distressed because based on vaginal estrogen levels, yeast varies in intensity. So just because you are currently suffering with a yeast infection, it does not mean you will always suffer."
We've pulled together 12 things you need to know about yeast infections, from how to treat and prevent them to what actually causes them in the first place. Heed these tips and we hope you won’t be needing them again any time soon.
It's My First Time, Help!
If you think you have your first yeast infection, make an appointment with your doctor to be sure, says Pindy Jandy, a pharmacist with London Drugs. “A woman should always consult with her pharmacist when treating a yeast infection to ensure she is obtaining the most suitable product for her."
What Is It?
"A yeast infection is an overgrowth of normal yeast in the vaginal canal,” says Dr. Nancy Simpkins, internist and medical adviser in New Jersey. That yeast is called Candida albicans. "There is always a normal amount of yeast in every vaginal area,” she says. "But sometimes there can be circumstances that cause an overgrowth of the normal amount.”
How Do I Know I Have One?
It’s generally pretty obvious, because yeast infections are uncomfortable. Common symptoms include extreme itchiness inside and around the vagina, burning and swelling of the vagina and vulva, pain while urinating or during sex, and a thick white vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese, notes Pindy Jandy, a pharmacist with London Drugs.
You're Not Alone
About 75 percent of adult women in the U.S., for example, have had a yeast infection at least once, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. About a third of women also get recurrent (or multiple) infections.
What Are The Causes?
Most yeast infections are the result of immune deficiencies and not by having sex. Some of those causes include stress, pregnancy, lack of sleep, poor diet, and certain medications like antibiotics. If a woman has four or more yeast infections a year, she should see her doctor to determine if there are reversible causes involved, like frequent antibiotic use or uncontrolled diabetes, says Dr. Sonia Elguero, an OB/GYN at Albany IVF.
Who Is More Likely To Get Them?
Knowing that about 33 per cent of us get recurring yeast infections shows that some people are more susceptible than others. "Young women who are diabetic, on birth control pills, or under tremendous stress are more susceptible to yeast infections,” Simpkins says. Those with chronically weak immune systems, like people with HIV, could find themselves picking up Monistat more often. There may also be a genetic factor that affects your likelihood of infection.
Surprise! Men can get them too. About 15 per cent of men develop symptoms of a yeast infection after sexual contact with a female partner who has one. Symptoms of a yeast infection in men include bad breath, indigestion, frequent gas or diarrhea, and jock itch.
How Can I Treat It?
Treatments are available over the counter or by prescription. Candidiasis is usually treated with antimycotics, which include nystatin, ketoconazole, and clotrimazole. These usually come in one of three formats: tablets, creams, or vaginal suppositories. Tablets and suppositories generally have stronger doses of medication than creams, which means they can get working more quickly. Some tablet treatments like fluconazole can be taken once, Jandy says, while creams or suppositories can come in treatment packs that are used from one day to over a week. “For women who experience yeast infections often, it is recommended to use either a three-day or six- to seven-day treatment."
There Are Natural Cures, Right?
Some people swear by eating plain yogurt, saying its healthy bacteria helps fight the yeast. Oil of oregano has anti-fungal properties and is available as a pill, capsule, or tablet. You can also try taking a warm bath with about a cup of apple-cider vinegar added to the water.
How To Feel Better
While you wait for the treatment to kick in, there are things you can do to get some relief from symptoms. Creams like clotrimazole or miconazole can be used externally to relieve itching and burning, as well as internally, Jandy notes. You can also try a cream like Vagisil. "Ice or cold compresses will help while the medication is working. In addition, air is a great healer. So when you get home from work or school, wear baggy sweatpants and no underwear. Air will dry the vaginal moisture which fuels the growth of yeast.” Hooray, an excuse for sweatpants!
What Happens If You Don't Treat Your Infection?
Yes, you will be extremely itchy, but leaving a yeast infection untreated can also harm your health. “Leaving a yeast infection untreated may result in a compromised immune system as it is being suppressed by the presence of infection,” Jandy says. “This may lead to other types of infections.” Beyond that, if you have a yeast infection during your period, it could spread to the intestine, she adds, leading to diarrhea and bloating.
Can Yeast Infections Be Prevented?
First of all, avoid douches — no matter what your mother tells you. "It is not a good idea to remove the natural bacteria from the vaginal canal by douching,” Simpkins says. "Warm shower or bath water alone is the proper hygiene for the vaginal canal.” Staying away from scented hygiene products like tampons, pads, toilet paper, and bubble baths can also help. Avoid tight clothing or underwear made of synthetic fibres, and look for a cotton crotch in pantyhose. Try changing tampons and pads often when you have your period. And if you are taking antibiotics, you can take diflucan or the probiotic acidophilus as a preventive measure against yeast infections.