Yeast infections, also known as candidosis, moniliasis, idiomycosis or vaginitis, are caused by too many yeast cells growing in the vagina. Yeast is naturally present on the skin and in moist areas of the body, such as the mouth and vagina. A healthy vagina has bacteria that help to keep the amount of yeast in the vagina under control. However, when the natural bacteria of the vagina are reduced, the amount of yeast increases, thereby creating a yeast infection.
Symptoms of a Yeast Infection
Yeast infections are very common, and are usually not cause for alarm, as they are easily treated. However, the first step to treating a yeast infection is to determine if a yeast infection is, in fact, present. Accurate diagnosis can be difficult, and it is estimated that only one-third of women treating a yeast infection are actually suffering from a yeast infection. Therefore, symptom recognition is imperative as a first step to accurate diagnosis. The following are common symptoms associated with yeast infections:
- Itching in vagina and vulva
- Burning in vagina and vulva
- Soreness in vagina and vulva
- Pain during intercourse or urination
- Thick, white vaginal discharge similar in appearance and texture to cottage cheese
- Discharge is either odorless or has a yeast smell similar to that of bread or beer
Causes & Prevention Tips
The over abundance of yeast in the vagina is what causes the yeast infection, but there are a variety of things that cause the over abundance that leads to the yeast infection. These causes include:
Used to treat bacterial infections, antibiotics can destroy unwanted bacteria as well as the “good” naturally occurring bacteria in the vagina.
The destruction of the naturally occurring bacteria in the vagina leads to lower regulation of the yeast, therefore resulting in an over abundance of the yeast and a yeast infection. Antibacterial soap also has this problem and should not be used to clean the vaginal area (soap in general should be avoided at the vaginal area).
Clothes that trap heat and moisture promote the growth of yeast. Additionally, tight, non-cotton, or dirty clothes aids in the growth of yeast as well. Since underwear is in direct contact with the vaginal area, it is best to opt for either no underwear or lightweight, breathable cotton underwear with no dyes. It is also important to change your underwear regularly (at least once per day) and wash them thoroughly after wear, as yeast can live in underwear.
Inks, dyes and perfumes can upset the balance of bacteria in yeast or cause allergic reactions leading to yeast infections. This includes any scented material that may come into contact with the vaginal area, such as scented tissue, detergents, bubble baths, and tampons or sanitary pads. In addition, the chemicals in douches are particularly bad for the vaginal area, as they destroy the bacteria present in the vagina that helps to regulate yeast.
Although important for safe-sex practices, condoms lubricated with spermicide are linked to the occurrence of yeast infections. Also, latex allergies may result in yeast infections as well. Fortunately, it is possible to find condoms without spermicidal lubricant, as well as polyurethane condoms that do not contain latex.
Women with poorly controlled diabetes have an increased chance of yeast infections due to the amount of sugar in the urine. Symptoms of diabetes should not be ignored, and the advice of a medical professional should be sought if diabetes is a concern.
Pregnancy and taking birth control pills, both of which affect the amount of hormones present, influences the occurrence of yeast infections.
Injuries to the membrane of the vulva or vagina can cause yeast infections. These injuries are usually due to too much friction and not enough lubrication. The use of external lubrication, such as sex lubricant, should be used if there is not enough naturally occurring lubrication. Avoid the use of oil based lubrication, such as Vaseline, which break down latex. Also avoid the use of non-oil based hand creams or lotions designed for the body, as these may contain perfumes and dyes that cause allergic reactions and lead to yeast infections.
It is possible to pass yeast infections through sexual contact. Therefore, it is important to maintain healthy sex practices. If a yeast infection is present, vaginal penetration should be avoided.
Weakened Immune System: Diseases such as HIV and Lyme Disease lead to weakened immune systems, which put the individual at a higher risk for developing yeast infections.
Diagnosis of Yeast Infection
As with any illness, accurate diagnosis is imperative in the treatment of the illness. Many women mistakenly treat themselves for yeast infection when their illness is actually something else. The result is that symptoms are not alleviated with treatment and the illness is ongoing. In order to avoid this, proper diagnosis is needed. Therefore, the advice of a medical professional should be sought if the individual is uncertain of the illness causing the symptoms.
When receiving medical attention for a suspected yeast infection, the doctor will take a specimen for microscopic analysis. This means the woman will need to undergo a procedure similar to that received at her annual pap smear. The specimen is then observed under a microscope to identify yeast. If results of a microscopic analysis are inconclusive, the specimen may be sent to the laboratory for other analysis means. Either way, a trip to the doctor’s office will result in the accurate diagnosis of a yeast infection, or will rule out yeast infection and reveal the true cause of the presenting symptoms.
Yeast Infection Treatment
If proper diagnosis has been made, and a yeast infection is present, there are a variety of treatments for the infection. These treatments include over-the-counter medication, prescription medication, and at-home remedies. It is important to note that 25-30% of yeast infections may be resistant to over-the-counter medications and if such treatments are ineffective, the advice of a medical professional should be sought. The prescription medications are much stronger than over-the-counter treatments and may be necessary in resistant forms of yeast infection or for recurring yeast infections.
Over the Counter
Over-the-counter topical treatments for yeast infection are readily available at most drug stores as either topical creams or vaginal tablets. There are also oral medications that may be available, though these have side effects such as headaches, nausea, and abdominal pain that are not present with the use of vaginal treatments. Additionally, oral medications are not safe for use during pregnancy.
Over-the-counter topical creams include
An anti-fungal drug that treats the infection within 7 days. Varieties of this are pretty expensive, ranging from $15 – $20. Additionally, this treatment breaks down latex, which is of concern to anyone practicing safe sex during the usage of this treatment. Different varieties come with different applicators, which can include plastic disposable applicators or reusable applicators that must be washed between uses.
An anti-fungal drug used to treat the infection within 3 days, with 3 applications. Femstat comes with three pre-filled disposable applicators for ease of use. Again, this is relatively expensive, costing approximately $15, and once again use of this treatment breaks down latex
An anti-fungal topical treatment used to treat yeast infection. Similar to Monistat and Femstat.
Terazol: An anti-fungal topical treatment used to treat yeast infection. Similar to Monistat and Femstat.
Over-the-counter oral medications include:
If seeing a doctor for the treatment of a yeast infection, a prescription for powerful anti-fungal medications will probably be given. Four of the possible treatments are as follows:
Only requires one pill for treatment of yeast infections, but is rather expensive. Allergies to this treatment are not uncommon and sometimes the one pill treatment does not work effectively.
Can be taken with antibiotics to prevent antibiotic-induced yeast infections. While powerful, this treatment also has some serious side effects including liver damage and the reduced ability of adrenals to make steroids.
Topical treatment with a disposable applicator. This is relatively expensive, and as with the over-the-counter topical treatments, breaks down latex.
Stronger than the over-the-counter Terazol, this is another topical treatment. As with other topical treatments, Terazol breaks down latex. It has also caused headaches, fever, and flu-like symptoms in some women.
At-home & Natural Remedies for Yeast Infections
If natural remedies are preferred over prescription or over-the-counter treatments, there are many options for the treatment of yeast infection at home. Successful at-home treatments include:
Contains a bacterium found in healthy vaginas that helps to kill yeast by producing hydrogen peroxide. This method requires the application of yogurt directly onto the vulva, as well as the injection of some yogurt into the vagina. Yogurt can be injected using a syringe without a needle or by more creative means, such as freezing some yogurt in the fingers of a disposable glove or tampon applicator and then inserting it into the vagina like a tampon. Plain, unflavored yogurt without added sugar must be used and it must contain live acidophilus cultures. This type of yogurt should be available in most natural food stores. This treatment should be administered once or twice per day until symptoms of the yeast infection cease.
Contains natural anti-fungal substances that kill yeast. To administer this treatment, take one fresh clove and garlic and remove the papery skin. Wrap the clove in gauze or cheesecloth and tie the ends with un-waxed dental floss so the contraption resembles a tampon. Insert the homemade garlic tampon into the vagina and leave it for several hours, such as over night. Remove in the morning and repeat as necessary. If the gauze or cheesecloth is uncomfortable, the clove of garlic may be inserted into the vagina alone and is pretty easily removed later, either on its own naturally or through pushing. However, inserting the clove directly does mean that if it is not expelled naturally, a doctor may need to be consulted.
Commonly used in Italy to treat yeast infections, a few drops of teatree oil are added to the tip of a tampon, which has been coated with KY Jelly, and the tampon is then inserted into the vagina. The KY Jelly prevents the teatree oil from being absorbed by the tampon, thus allowing it to coat the vaginal walls.
Fill capsules from a natural food store with boric acid to use as suppositories. Insert 2 capsules—about 600 mg of boric acid total—into the vagina every night for a week. The heat and moisture from the vagina will dissolve the capsules. This treatment can cause burning and discomfort for a few days and increased vaginal discharge. If burning is severe, do not continue to use this treatment.
A fungicide used in preserving food and brewing beer, potassium sorbate is available anywhere brewing supplies are sold and at some natural food stores. Make a potassium sorbate solution by mixing 1 tablespoon potassium sorbate to 1 cup of water. Dip a cotton tampon into the solution and insert into the vagina before bed. Remove the tampon in the morning, and continue this treatment until symptoms of the yeast infection cease. Another option is to insert a dry tampon and inject the potassium sorbate into the vagina afterwards so the tampon absorbs the solution.
Yeast infections are common and generally easily treated with either home remedies or medications available through prescription or over-the-counter. However, remember that proper diagnosis is essential in the treatment of yeast infections. There are other illnesses that present with similar symptoms, such as some sexually transmitted diseases. Therefore, it is extremely important to seek the advice of a medical professional if at-home or over-the-counter treatment has been ineffective.