Vaginal yeast infection is a common type of fungal infection. It causes inflammation, irritation, itching, and vaginal discharge. People may get a yeast infection due to an overgrowth of the Candida yeast species.

Doctors may also refer to vaginal yeast infections as vaginal candidiasis or vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC).

Treatment includes short-course medication for uncomplicated cases or a longer course for complicated cases.

This article will look at the causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of yeast infections, as well as medication and home remedies.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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The main cause of a vaginal yeast infection is the overgrowth of yeast in the vulvovaginal area. Research suggests 75% of females experience it during their lifetime.

The yeast species Candida albicans causes common yeast infections, but other species of Candida can also cause an infection. They may need different treatment.

Balanced levels of yeast and bacteria are typically present in the vagina, but disturbances in this delicate balance can lead to the development of an infection.

Usually, the bacteria Lactobacillus creates an environment that does not encourage yeast overgrowth, but if yeast becomes dominant, symptoms of a yeast infection may emerge.

Yeast infections of the vagina are not sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but they can spread through oral-genital contact or during intercourse.

Factors that increase the risk of a vaginal yeast infection include:

Any activity that can cause changes in typical vaginal flora, including douching, can contribute to a yeast infection. Improper diet and lack of sleep may also increase the risk.

Yeast infections with discharge look thick and white, like cottage cheese.

Other symptoms of a vulvovaginal yeast infection include:

  • itching, burning, or irritation of the vagina or vulva, which is the tissue surrounding the vagina
  • pain or soreness in the vagina or the vaginal opening
  • vaginal burning with intercourse or urination
  • a watery discharge
  • a rash

Sometimes a more complicated yeast infection may occur with more severe symptoms. Four or more infections may arise in 1 year. Doctors refer to this as recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis (RVVC).

There may be severe redness, swelling, and itching, leading to skin fissures or sores with a complicated yeast infection.

Medical conditions that can cause a complicated yeast infection or RVVC include:

  • pregnancy
  • unmanaged diabetes
  • having a weakened immune system
  • the presence of an alternate Candida fungus, as opposed to Candida albicans

In males, a yeast infection can affect the head of the penis. Symptoms include redness, irritation, and discharge, according to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS). It can also affect the skin or the mouth.

The fastest way to get rid of a yeast infection is to contact a doctor. They can provide a timely and accurate diagnosis. They will prescribe the right treatment for the condition.

Most cases of vaginal yeast infection are mild, and the condition is not bothersome. Some people have no symptoms at all.

The Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) recommends contacting a doctor if there are symptoms such as:

  • itching
  • soreness
  • pain
  • atypical discharge

Treatment of the infection depends on whether it is complicated or uncomplicated. A complicated yeast infection may involve more symptoms or they may be more severe. For example, a person may experience vaginal or labial swelling.

Another sign of a complication is if a person has repeated infections or if the infections occur due to a weakened immune system.

Uncomplicated yeast infection

There are two ways to treat an uncomplicated yeast infection: vaginal therapy or oral treatment.

When treating an uncomplicated yeast infection, a short course of vaginal therapy is usually sufficient.

One option is a one-time treatment of a prescription or an over-the-counter (OTC) medication, such as:

  • butoconazole (Gynazole-1)
  • clotrimazole (Gyne-Lotrimin)
  • miconazole (Monistat 3)
  • terconazole (Terazol 3)

Some of these are available to buy online, including clotrimazole, Monistat 3, and terconazole.

Because these medications are oil-based, they can weaken latex condoms and diaphragms, potentially making them less reliable. A person can use nonlatex-based condoms instead.

Alternatively, a person can use an oral antifungal, such as fluconazole (Diflucan), in one single dose.

Complicated yeast infection

In the case of a complicated yeast infection, treatment will include the use of long-course vaginal therapy or multidose oral formulations.

A doctor may recommend maintenance medications. A person might take these drugs regularly to prevent the infection from returning.

Long-course vaginal therapy includes treatment with a vaginal cream, ointment, tablet, or suppository for approximately 7–14 days.

Sometimes, a doctor may recommend two to three doses of oral fluconazole instead of vaginal therapy.

If symptoms are severe, a doctor may prescribe a few days of topical steroids to help ease symptoms while the antifungal medication works.

Before using antifungals, it is important to be sure that the symptoms are due to a yeast infection. The overuse of antifungals can increase the chances of antifungal resistance, so the medications may not work in the future when they are needed.

If maintenance medications are necessary, these begin after one of the above methods of treatment has finished. It may include weekly treatment with oral fluconazole for 6 months or weekly treatment with vaginal clotrimazole.

If the person’s sexual partner has yeast symptoms, they might want to consider treatment, too. Medical professionals often recommend the use of condoms or other barrier methods.

People sometimes try alternative therapies to help treat vaginal yeast.

These include a boric acid vaginal suppository and the oral or vaginal application of yogurt.

These alternative therapies are not currently supported by research studies, but they may provide relief from Candida symptoms and possibly reduce the presence of yeast.

When diagnosing a vaginal yeast infection, a doctor will ask about a person’s medical history, including a history of any STIs or previous yeast infections.

They might also perform a pelvic exam to inspect the vulva, vagina, and cervix for signs of infection. They may send a sample of vaginal discharge to a laboratory to confirm the diagnosis.

The doctor will usually order laboratory tests if an infection does not go away or keeps returning.

Examining a swab of vaginal discharge under a microscope can reveal if high levels of yeast are present.

Once it is clear whether the infection is uncomplicated or complicated, treatment can begin.

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent a Candida infection, certain actions can reduce the risk of developing a vaginal yeast infection.

These include:

  • avoiding douching
  • not useingvaginal deodorant or deodorant pads or tampons
  • wearing underwear made from cotton or other natural fibers
  • wearing loose fitting pants or skirts
  • washing underwear at a high temperature
  • avoiding tight underwear and pantyhose
  • eating a healthy, varied diet
  • promptly changing wet clothing, such as bathing suits
  • avoiding hot tubs and hot baths
  • managing blood sugar levels, if a person has diabetes

Anyone who believes they have symptoms of a yeast infection should speak with a doctor for an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible.

Even if someone has had a prior yeast infection, they should go to a doctor for a diagnosis. Other conditions like bacterial vaginosis and some STIs can look like yeast infections and require prompt treatment.

A person should also contact a doctor if short course treatment does not clear the yeast infection or if they have frequent infections. This may be a case of a complicated yeast infection that needs different treatment.

Below are some common questions and answers about yeast infections.

Do probiotics help prevent yeast infections?

There is evidence that some probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus may help prevent yeast infections. However, there are conflicting data as to whether probiotics are a reliable treatment or tool of prevention.

How do yeast infections affect pregnancy?

Pregnancy makes a vaginal yeast infection more likely. Treatment is a bit different during pregnancy.

Doctors typically recommend using a topical treatment, such as a vaginal cream or suppository. Oral treatment with fluconazole is not advised in the first trimester but may be used afterward.

Can a person get more yeast infections when they are menstruating?

Changes in hormone levels can make a yeast infection more likely. That is why some people may have worsening symptoms or experience a yeast infection just before their period starts.

During a person’s period, a yeast infection may clear up because blood is higher in pH and can help restore the vaginal pH balance.

Can a yeast infection go away on its own?

According to the NHS, people usually need to take antifungal medication to treat a yeast function.

Below are some common myths about yeast infections.

Yeast always indicates yeast infection.

Yeast naturally occurs in the body. Many people have yeast in the vagina but do not have a yeast infection.

Therefore, a doctor diagnoses a yeast infection based on signs and symptoms in addition to the presence of yeast.

A yeast infection is gender-specific.

People of all genders can get yeast infections.

Someone with a penis may have symptoms like redness, itchiness, or soreness at the head of the penis, according to the NHS. There may also be discharge when they urinate.

OTC vaginal care products cure yeast infections.

Vaginal douches and intimate care products do not cure yeast infections. These can make the condition worse by changing the balance of bacteria in the area.

OTC medication products like miconazole may be an effective treatment if there is an accurate diagnosis of a yeast infection.

A yeast infection is an STI.

A yeast infection is not an STI. Sometimes people get an STI through sexual contact with another person who has a yeast infection if enough of the yeast gets into the vagina.

Vaginal yeast infection typically occurs due to the overgrowth of yeast in the vulvovaginal area.

Symptoms may include irritation, itching, and vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese. These symptoms can also indicate other conditions, like bacterial vaginosis, so a person should speak with a doctor for diagnosis.

A doctor may ask about a person’s medical history and take a sample of vaginal discharge to test for high levels of yeast and other microorganisms.

Treatment for a vaginal yeast infection usually involves a course of antifungal medication. People should contact their doctor if their symptoms do not go away, worsen, or come back after treatment.