If you’ve got an itch down there that just won’t go away, sometimes it’s hard to know why. Maybe you used the wrong product, or you’re experiencing hormonal changes. Or could it be something else? An intensely itchy or irritated vagina may point to a yeast infection. But wait…isn’t yeast something that’s in bread? Before you start thinking about what’s happening down there, it’s time to put an end to the rumors and assumptions regarding yeast infections.
What Is A Yeast Infection?
A vaginal yeast infection is a fungal infection that causes irritation, discharge, or increased itchiness in the vagina and vulva. The vulva is the tissue around the vaginal opening.
Eeek, Sounds Scary, But Is It?
Yeast infections may sound scary or severe, but they’re actually pretty common and more annoying than anything else. They’re so common that they affect at least 3 out of 4 women. In fact, most women experience at least two yeast infections in their lifetime. Whether you’re going through puberty, pregnancy, or menopause, yeast infections can still pop up when you least expect them.
Also note, that yeast infections are not sexually transmitted infections. Sure, there’s an increased risk of the infection after first-time sexual activity, as well as with some oral-genital sex, but it is important to note that it is NOT transmitted sexually.
It’s Not A UTI, It’s A Yeast Infection
Yeast infections are often confused with urinary tract infections, so it’s important to know which one you have. While a yeast infection is related to the vagina and includes a rash and discharge, a UTI will usually have symptoms such as blood in the urine, as well as abdominal or bladder pain.
Symptoms Of A Yeast Infection
The symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are pretty easy to decipher. So, it’s important that you contact your doctor if you’ve been suffering from any of these symptoms. You’ll want to confirm if it is, in fact, a yeast infection and then treat it. These are the symptoms that you should look for:
- Vaginal itching
- Burning during urination or sex
- Pain during sex
- Vaginal swelling
- Vaginal rash
- Vaginal discharge that may be odorless, whitish-gray, and clumpy, like cottage cheese
- Watery discharge
What Causes Yeast Infections?
The causes of yeast infections vary. The root of most yeast infections is an overgrowth of the fungus candida. All vaginas naturally contain a balanced mix of yeast and good bacteria. But, some factors can lead to the overgrowth of candida or a decrease in the presence of good bacteria. What causes this?
You’ll be surprised to know there are a lot of reasons you may develop a yeast infection, ranging from poor sleep to the type of medications you may be taking. Here are a few things that may cause an annoying yeast infection:
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- A weak immune system
- Lack of sleep
- Poor diet, which usually includes lots of sugary foods
- Hormonal imbalance
- Antibiotics, which can decrease the amount of Lactobacillus (otherwise known as good bacteria) in your vagina
Treating Yeast Infections
You go to the doctor because that itch is becoming unbearable. And then you’re diagnosed with a yeast infection. Help! What’s a girl to do?
Luckily, there are a variety of effective treatments for yeast infections that your doctor can prescribe to relieve your infections and symptoms. Consider some of the treatment options:
- Antifungal creams and ointments – these can treat the yeast infection in 1 to 7 days
- Fluconazole – this is a popular prescribed treatment. This is a one-dose oral antifungal medicine that usually cures the yeast infection in about 24 hours
Preventing Yeast Infections
We can all agree that yeast infections are definitely no fun. Luckily, there are a few preventative measures to make sure the possibility of developing this pesky infection is slim. Some of the most recommended steps to take in terms of preventing vaginal yeast infections include:
- Eating a well-balanced diet, a.k.a not overloading on sugary snacks, of course
- Replacing feminine and bladder leak products frequently
- Washing underwear in hot water
- Avoiding really tight pants, hosiery, leggings (this not only prevents infection but prevents you from being uncomfortable!)
- Stop using scented feminine soaps or scented pads/tampons (Please!)
- Using pH-balanced products, such as Lily Bird’s cleansing cloths.
Do’s And Don’ts
- Don’t sit around in wet clothing, ESPECIALLY bathing suits
- Do wear natural fibers such as cotton, silk, or linen (a.k.a, here’s your excuse to treat yourself to that cute silk set you saw online)
- Do eat yummy yogurt or take supplements that contain lactobacillus (a.k.a the vag’s best friend and the good bacteria it needs)
- Don’t, and I repeat, DON’T take up douching
- Don’t sit in hot tubs or take frequent hot baths
Now You Know: Yeast Infections Uncovered
There’s always been confusion and assumptions when it comes to yeast infections, which has led to stigmas about what it means to have one. 67% of women in a study felt a yeast infection was embarrassing, but 82% said they’d feel comfortable discussing a urinary tract infection. You’re not “gross” or “dirty” or “a woman that doesn’t take care of herself well” if you get a yeast infection. In fact, based on statistics alone, you’re more normal if you DO get a yeast infection than if you never have one.
If you suspect you may have a yeast infection, reach out to your medical provider to get treatment. By keeping the balance, you’re keeping your vagina healthy and happy!
By Jessica Thomas, MPH