HomeGynaecology CareVaginal Yeast Infection: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

Vaginal Yeast Infection: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

What is a Vaginal Yeast Infection?

A fungal infection that causes irritation, discharge, and itchiness in the vagina and the vulva (the tissues at the opening of the vagina) is called a vaginal yeast infection.

Many microorganisms inhabit the human body.  A healthy vagina contains bacteria and a few yeast cells. However, when the balance of yeast changes and bacteria, the yeast cells may multiply. This causes intense itching, swelling, and irritation.

Almost three out of four women are affected by vaginal infection or vaginal candidiasis at some point in their life. The vaginal yeast infection is a fungal infection of the vagina and the surrounding tissues of the vagina that results in intense itchiness, redness, and discharge. A yeast infection is not a sexually transmitted infection and can be effectively treated.

What are the Symptoms of Vaginal Yeast Infection?

Symptoms of a yeast infection include:

  • Burning sensation during sexual intercourse or while urinating
  • Vaginal pain and soreness
  • Swelling and redness of the vulva
  • Irritation and itching in the vagina and vulva
  • Watery discharge from the vagina
  • Soreness and pain in the vagina
  • Rashes in the vagina
  • Vaginal discharge that is thick, white, odour-free with a cottage cheese appearance

You may develop a more severe vaginal yeast infection in the following cases:

  • Experience four or more vaginal yeast infections in a year
  • Suffering from uncontrolled diabetes
  • Pregnancy
  • Severe redness, swelling, and itching
  • Weakened immune system due to HIV infection

When to See the Doctor?

You should see your doctor immediately if you are experiencing such redness and swelling for the first time. Your doctor would help you with the right diagnosis and prescribe you the appropriate medications for the treatment.

What are the Causes of a Vaginal Yeast Infection?

Yeast infection causes arise primarily due to a fungus called Candida albicans; this happens since the vagina is a host to bacteria and fungi, which live together in a delicate balance. The disruption of this balance results in fungi overgrowth in the vagina, causing a yeast infection. The disruption in balance can be due to:

  • Most yeast infections are due to an overgrowth of a type of fungus, naturally present in the body, called candida.
  • The natural pH balance of the vagina and the presence of beneficial bacteria help in preventing candida from overgrowing.
  • Not practising regular hygiene habits like daily showers and being constantly in a damp environment might also cause chronic yeast infections.
  • People are also at risk for chronic yeast infections if their immune system is weak.
  • Pregnancy
  • Diabetes
  • Oral contraceptives causing elevated estrogen levels
  • Intake of antibiotics

How is the Diagnosis of the Vaginal Yeast Infection Made?

Your doctor would confirm the infection by:

  • Taking your detailed medical history,
  • Performing a pelvic examination. Your doctor would also externally examine your genitals for the signs of infection. The doctor would also closely examine the vagina and the cervix to confirm the diagnosis.

Sampling. Your doctor may also take samples of some of the vaginal fluid and send it for testing to identify the fungus, which is causing the yeast infection; this can help the doctor determine the course of treatment better and look out for recurrence.

What are the Risk Factors Associated with a Yeast Infection?

Many factors contribute to yeast infection. These risk factors include:

  • Elevated estrogen. Yeast infections have been observed to be higher in women who have elevated levels of estrogen. These include women who are pregnant or those who take a high dose of birth control pills.
  • Impaired immune system. Women with extremely reduced immunity, such as those suffering from Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or undergoing corticosteroid therapy, are at an increased risk of having a yeast infection.
  • Antibiotic use. Yeast infection has also been observed to be higher in those taking antibiotics, which kill a large range of bacteria. Due to the strong dose, many of the ‘good’ balancing bacteria numbers also diminish, increasing the growth of the fungi.
  • Diabetes. Women with increased blood sugar and poorly controlled diabetes are also at an increased risk of yeast infections than women with well-controlled diabetes.

What are the Preventive methods for chronic yeast infections?

  • Preference should be given to loose clothing and cotton underwear as they do not hold on to heat and moisture.
  • Daily showers. 
  • Clothing and towels used during infection should always be properly washed and sterilised.
  • To prevent reinfection, replace and wash the toothbrush, any mouth gear, or items that have come into contact with the infected areas after an active oral thrush. 
  • Complete the entire course of medication even if it’s not working right away or the symptoms disappear before completing the course. 
  • Sexually active couples must get tested to stop the spread of candida.
  • Avoid hot tubs and extra hot baths since it makes your skin damper.
  • Frequently change and separate fabrics like towels and sheets. Women must also ensure to regularly change tampons, pads, and panty liners during periods.
  • Always wipe the vagina from front to back after you finish bathing.
  • Add yogurt to your diet to increase the number of good bacteria that help the body control multiplication of yeast.
  • Ensure to keep diabetes under control.
  • Do not use douches and cleaning aids inside the vagina as it can cause an imbalance of the acid-base balance and lead to overgrowth of candida and other organisms.
  • If the symptoms become worse or if the infection returns after the completion of the treatment, one must consult the doctor immediately.

How is a Vaginal Yeast Infection Treated?

Your doctor would treat you depending on the severity of the yeast infection. If you are suffering from a mild to moderate infection, your doctor recommends the following for yeast infection treatment. These yeast infection medicines include:

  • Single-dose oral medication. Your doctor may prescribe a single dose of fluconazole. This medication is not recommended for pregnant women.
  • Short-course vaginal therapy. This course of medication is prescribed by your doctor that involves an antifungal medication for approximately a week that usually clears the yeast infection. These antifungal medications are available as ointments and creams. Also, include drugs such as miconazole and terconazole.

You must visit your doctor if you do not observe any respite to your symptoms. If your symptoms are severe, then your doctor would recommend the following:

  • Multi-dose medication. Involves two to three doses of antifungal medication taken orally; this is not recommended for pregnant women.
  • Long course, vaginal therapy. Your doctor may also prescribe you antifungal drugs for two weeks continuously, followed by once a week for six months.
  • Azole-resistant therapy. Used usually to treat tough resistant fungi. Your doctor would insert a capsule of boric acid into the vagina. This drug is fatal when taken orally and is used only for the treatment against Candida.

So far, no alternative medicines or lifestyle remedies have been proved effective against vaginal yeast infections.

What are the reasons for Vaginal Yeast Infections to return?

 Chronic yeast infections can return if:

  • Incomplete treatment of initial yeast infection 
  • A partner has transferred yeast infection during sexual activity.
  • Sweating continuously, staying in a humid environment and wearing damp clothes significantly contribute to the growth of yeast and fungus
  • Some species of yeast are resistant to the drugs prescribed for the infection. 
  • Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, STLs, and skin allergies, can be similar to a yeast infection. It would be a good idea to consult a doctor in such circumstances.

Conclusion

Yeast infections can be cured. Severe or chronic yeast infections will take longer to heal. Be in touch with the doctor if symptoms of the infection get worse or return. Vaginal yeast infection occurs owing to the imbalance in the proportion of fungi and bacteria of the vagina. The fungi Candida albicans commonly cause this, and the signs of a yeast infection are intense redness, swelling, itching, and discharge from the vagina. Upon visit, your doctor would prescribe you antifungal drugs based on your severity. Since this is a common form of infection among most women, you must visit your doctor when you observe the symptoms and get yourself treated at the earliest.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can the intake of probiotics help to reduce vaginal yeast infection?

Yes, it can. Some studies report that regular intake of probiotics or the intake of lactobacillus supplements would assist in the yeast’s slow growth in the vagina, thereby reducing the risk of contracting vaginal yeast infections.

What are the symptoms of a serious yeast infection?

You may have a complicated yeast infection if you develop tears, sores, and cracks or You observe infection over four times a year.

Do vaginal yeast infections come under the category of sexually transmitted diseases?

No. Vaginal yeast infections are not sexually transmitted diseases. These infections can also be observed in celibate women.

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Verified By Dr Jaya Prakash Pani
Senior Consultant - Obstetrics & Gynecology, Apollo Hospitals Bhubanswar
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