Three out of four women will develop a vaginal yeast infection at some point in their lifetime. This condition is considered to be so common and so easily identifiable that women are generally expected to self-diagnose themselves and pick up an over-the-counter treatment at the pharmacy or grocery store. However, most women don't actually know enough about yeast infections to be able to do this correctly, and many women believe a number of misconceptions about yeast infections.
Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of Candida yeast. Although there are around 20 different Candida species, most vaginal yeast infections are caused by Candida albicans. These yeasts normally exist in the human body, happily living in warm, moist places like the vagina, mouth, and underarms. They are considered to be a normal part of the many organisms that live on and in the human body and help maintain it in a healthy state. Sometimes, however, the balance among the organisms that thrive inside a healthy vagina get thrown out of whack and Candida exhibits a dramatic overgrowth, a state we commonly refer to as a vaginal yeast infection.
Antibiotic use, as mentioned here https://microbeformulas.com/blogs/microbe-formulas/8-signs-you-have-a-candida-infection, is one of the main causes of Candida. The antibiotics wipe out the healthy bacteria that normally live in the vagina, leaving nothing to keep the Candida in check. Other causes of Candida overgrowth are conditions/situations that alter the pH or other environmental conditions in the vagina, leading to suppression of bacterial growth and promotion of Candida growth. Some triggering factors include douching or introducing other substances into the vagina in an effort to "clean" the vagina (do not do this! Vaginas do not need to be cleaned!), sudden hormonal changes such as pregnancy that alter the secretions produced by the vaginal wall, uncontrolled diabetes, and anything that can suppress your immune system (a poor diet, stress, lack of sleep, a systemic viral infection, chemo/radiotherapy, etc.).
The classic symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are a white cottage-cheese like vaginal discharge and vaginal itching. However, many women do not experience these classic symptoms and instead experience other symptoms instead of or in addition to the classic symptoms. Some women experience a watery discharge instead of a white discharge. Others have symptoms that suggest a UTI, like a burning sensation when urinating, or simply experience very uncomfortable vaginal wall irritation, which can make sex extremely unpleasant. In fact, most ob-gyns strongly recommend refraining from vaginal intercourse until the yeast infection has cleared up due to both the vaginal wall irritation and the fact that exposure to the yeast and/or yeast infection treatment may cause your partner's genitals to also become itchy and irritated.
If you are not sure if you have a yeast infection, a trip to the doctor is warranted; however, most doctors just listen to your symptoms and take a quick look at the vagina and then send you off to the pharmacy for an over-the-counter treatment. Laboratory testing and other diagnostics are almost always reserved for those rare women who experience recurrent yeast infections or have an infection that doesn't respond to over-the-counter treatment. Thus, if it seems very likely that what you have is a simple yeast infection, it's probably in your best interests to just self-diagnose and quickly move on to treatment.
Yeast infections will eventually go away on their own, but since they are extremely uncomfortable and treatment is very straightforward and without any risks, it is best to simply treat them as soon as possible. Every pharmacy and practically all grocery stores these days offer a variety of products to treat vaginal yeast infections. These products are creams, ointments, tablets, or suppositories that carry anti-fungal ingredients. These products are applied directly to the vagina. Some of them require only a single administration while others require administration daily for three days.
Pervasive myths about yeast infections
Many women persist in believing myths about yeast infections that are simply untrue. The following list debunks most of the common myths and lays out the truth instead:
- Sex does not cause yeast infections.
- Condom use will not prevent yeast infections.
- Yeast infections are not contagious.
- Yeast infections are not easily prevented. They are not caused by poor hygiene. Anyone can get a yeast infection.
- Yogurt and probiotics will not cure or prevent yeast infections, whether consumed or inserted into the vagina.
- Vaginal bleeding is not a symptom of a yeast infection.
- Yeast infections never cause any serious complications or permanent damage to any body part. They do not induce miscarriages and will not harm the fetus if they occur during pregnancy. They do not cause infertility.
- Yeast infections are easy to treat.
- Most women never experience more than one or two yeast infections throughout their entire lifetime.
Recurrent/chronic yeast infections
Most women have one or maybe two yeast infections throughout their entire lifetime. However, an estimated five percent of women suffer from recurrent or chronic yeast infections, namely four or more per year. Some women have recurrent yeast infections because they engage in regular douching, which disturbs the environment in the vagina and promotes yeast overgrowth. Others have uncontrolled (and sometimes undiagnosed) diabetes or HIV infection. However, the majority of women with recurrent yeast infections have health conditions that require them to take antibiotics regularly or that chronically suppress their immune system. In addition, there are a few yeast strains that have developed resistance to the commonly used over-the-counter treatments, and sometimes women confuse a simple yeast infection with another condition (which obviously will not respond to treatment for a yeast infection).
If you frequently experience yeast infections or your over-the-counter treatment of a yeast infection doesn't seem to have worked, it is essential to consult your doctor to determine the cause of the problem. In addition, it may be necessary to take a prolonged course of antifungal therapy, such as a 14-day or even a 6-month treatment, which will require a doctor's prescription. It may be necessary for the doctor to conduct laboratory testing to confirm the cause of the recurrent/chronic problem before prescribing a treatment.
Most yeast infections are a simple, easily treatable condition caused by antibiotic use, douching, or a temporarily suppressed immune system; they are not anything to be ashamed of or worried about. Anyone can get a yeast infection and they are practically impossible to prevent. In most cases, women can self-diagnose their condition and rapidly and effectively treat the condition using an over-the-counter product. However, if you are unsure if what you have is a yeast infection, or if it doesn't respond to your attempts to treat it with an over-the-counter product, it is essential to consult a doctor.