Yeast infections occur when an overgrowth of Candida yeast in the vagina triggers uncomfortable symptoms that affect the vagina and the vulva. Vaginal yeast infections are very common. Nearly 75% of all women have experienced at least one in their lives.
At Dignity Health, our team of gynecologists can answer your questions regarding yeast infections, as well as provide a diagnosis and personalized care. Find a Doctor or location near you today.
Yeast infection symptoms can range in severity. Most women have mild or moderate symptoms that include:
- Genital itching and irritation
- A burning sensation, especially when urinating or having intercourse
- Swollen, red outer genitalia (vulva)
- A rash in the vagina
- Pain and soreness of the vagina
- Vaginal discharge that appears watery
- Thick, whitish vaginal discharge that has no odor but looks similar to cottage cheese
Some women experience more severe symptoms that can lead to the development of sores and cracked and torn skin.
The vagina naturally contains yeast in a balanced mixture. When something happens to disrupt that balance (causing an overgrowth of Candida) or cause the yeast to move further into the layers of the vaginal wall, a yeast infection can occur.
The majority of yeast infections are caused by the Candida albicans fungus. However, other types of Candida fungi can also cause a yeast infection. In these cases, a more aggressive treatment might be needed.
Many things can trigger the yeast overgrowth that causes a yeast infection. These risk factors include:
- A weakened immune system from conditions, such as HIV, and medical treatments, including chemotherapy
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Antibiotic use, which can fight a bacterial infection, but can kill the "good" bacteria that help keep yeast in check
- Corticosteroids, which can depress the immune system and make you more likely to develop infections, including a yeast infection
- Hormone supplement or contraceptive pill use, which creates a high-estrogen environment where yeast thrives
- Natural hormonal swings (such as those that occur during puberty, pregnancy, and perimenopause)
- Wearing non-breathable underwear (synthetic material instead of cotton)
- Using scented feminine products
- Using hot tubs and taking extremely hot baths
- Wearing wet clothing for a prolonged period of time
- Having sex with someone who has a yeast infection, having oral sex, or having sex for the first time (keep in mind that a yeast infection is not considered to be an STI, but can still be spread from one person to another)
Since the triggers for a yeast infection are well known, there are preventive measures that can be taken to avoid an infection, including:
- Wearing cotton underwear
- Avoiding tight-fitting pants and undergarments
- Changing out of wet clothing as soon as possible
- Avoiding douching
- Avoiding scented feminine products
- Managing your diabetes
- Avoiding or reducing antibiotic or corticosteroid use whenever possible
- Not having sex with someone who has a yeast infection
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.