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Vaginal Yeast Infections

Several have been asking for solutions to yeast infections. We've heard stories about doctors telling patients that some people just have this. That is not a satisfactory answer. Yeast infections can be more than just annoying. You may not be sure if your yeast infection is chronic or recurrent, but you do know you want it to stop!

Background

Your body contains small amounts of a verity of fungi growing in the vagina, rectum and mouth. This is normal and the growth of this fungus is usually kept in balance by bacteria and the level of acidity in your body called pH level.

What is a yeast infection?

One of the fungi that grows in your body is called candida albicans. In a healthy vagina, the presence of this yeast is not a problem. A yeast infection occurs when candida albicans starts growing out of control. A yeast infection is not necessarily a STI but partners can pass infection back and forth. Other names for this are Monila, Candida or fungus infection.

Are yeast infections common?

Yeast infections are the second most common type of vaginal infections. Three out of four women will experience at least one yeast infection during her life, and over 40% of women have more than one infection.

Is this dangerous?

While yeast infections can cause severe discomfort they rarely cause serious health problems. The real danger is the possibility of having a serious condition and misdiagnosing it as a yeast infection. For most healthy women, yeast infections are easily treated with over-the-counter creams or prescription medications.

Left untreated, vaginal yeast infections often clear up on their own, usually when menstruation begins. The menstrual blood raises vaginal pH, and yeast cells can't grow in the pH level present during menstruation.

What causes a yeast infection?

We find two causes of yeast infection. The first is when something kills the helpful bacteria that normally keep the yeast in check. The other is when something occurs which disrupts your body's acidic balance and the yeast proliferates causing an overgrowth or infection.

Products that can cause yeast infections are:
  • Antibiotics, especially "broad spectrum" ones
  • Steroid medicines such as prednisone
  • Birth control pills
  • Pantyhose
  • Perfumes or oils that irritate the skin or don't wash off
  • Nylon underpants
  • Antibacterial soaps
  • Scented toilet paper
  • Deodorant tampons or pads
  • Powders
  • New detergents
  • Synthetic undergarments
  • Wet undergarments without breathability
Behaviors and conditions that can cause yeast infections:
  • Not keeping the genital area clean
  • Pregnancy
  • Vaginal intercourse with inadequate lubrication
  • Hormonal changes
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep disorders
  • Immunosupression (AIDS or the HIV virus)
  • An unbalanced diet or poor nutrition
  • Diets heavy in sugar
  • Being overweight, which blocks air circulation to the crotch area
  • Douching
  • Stress
  • Allergic reactions
  • Other infections
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Wearing damp gym clothes too long
The above lists are not in any particular order.
Patients infected with HIV are only at risk if their CD4 counts are less than 100.

Can men get yeast infections?

Yes, men can also contract yeast infections and these can occur in other parts of the body. Men can contract a yeast infection through sexual activity with a partner who has a yeast infection. If both partners are not treated, they can keep re-infecting each other. Male sexual partners may develop genital irritation, burning and genital itching, but usually there is no discharge.

What are the symptoms of a yeast infection?

The only way to be sure you have a yeast infection is by going to your health care provider and having a swab of vaginal discharge looked at through a microscope to see if yeast is present. If you have had a yeast infection diagnosed before, you may be able to tell by the smell, feel and look of your discharge.

It may smell similar to bread or beer, almost exactly like yeast.

It may feel like a burning sensation or an itching localized in the vagina and vulva. This itching is not always present, but it can be quite severe. It may or may not include redness or swelling, and the itching and burning may be worse right after intercourse.

Your discharge may range in appearance from thick, white, and cottage cheese-like to a thin, faint yellow, almost clear.

Symptoms of a yeast infection may include:
  • A smell like yeast
  • A burning sensation at the vaginal opening
  • Burning sensation during urination
  • Generally painful to urinate
  • Intense vaginal itching
  • Itching of the rectal opening
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Redness, swelling, and/or cracking of the vulvar skin
  • Sore vagina
  • Thick, white discharge (may resemble cottage cheese)
  • Vaginal irritation, inflammation
  • Vaginal rash

Can yeast infections recur?

Yes. Yeast infections often recur. Four out of ten women find that they get yeast infections frequently. Couples need to be careful not to re-infect each other. A partner (male or female) with symptoms should seek evaluation and treatment. If your treatment is an oral medication, use a latex barrier when having sex to help prevent passing the infection to your partner.

If your treatment is with creams or suppositories, the ingredients may damage the latex of condoms, diaphragms and dental dams. Using a latex barrier is not recommended with these treatments because the latex may break. It is generally recommended that you abstain from sexual activity until all of your symptoms have resolved. This will minimize the risk of passing the infection to your partner and speed your healing.

How is it diagnosed?

To diagnose a yeast infection, your medical provider will perform a vaginal examination. Samples of vaginal discharge are examined under a microscope to see if yeast is present. This can be verified by growing candida yeast species on culture. If you have recurring infections, some of the discharge may be cultured to see if it is indeed yeast, or another type of organism.

Do I need to see a doctor for a yeast infection?

In recent studies, it was found that many women misdiagnose their vaginal yeast infections. There is a double danger here. If you use an over-the-counter medication to treat yeast infection and you have something else, your body may become drug-resistant to the yeast infection medication. This might make the medication less effective if you later contracted a yeast infection. The other danger is that you may be leaving the real problem untreated.

You may have a more serious infection or condition such as chlamydia or gonorrhea.

You should check with your doctor if:
  • This is the 1st time you have symptoms of yeast infection.
  • You are not sure your problem is a yeast infection.
  • If the infection you treat comes back within 2 months.
  • If the infection does not respond to treatment.
Chronic vaginal infections can be one of the first signs of diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases or HIV/AIDS.

How are yeast infections treated?

Most doctors prescribe either oral medications like Diflucan (a pill taken once per episode of infection), or over-the-counter treatments like Monistat or Gyne-lotrimin. The latter two are used with an application tube that inserts the treatment cream into your vagina and should be inserted right before you go to bed.

Oral medicines include:
  • Diflucan
  • Generic Nizoral
  • Nystatin
  • Sporanox

How can I prevent yeast infections?

Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent yeast infections. You can make changes to your diet. Adding yogurt to your diet helps prevent (but not cure) the yeast infections that often follow antibiotic treatment. If you can't tolerate yogurt, ask your pharmacist for an over-the-counter product that contains lactobacillus acidophilus, the beneficial bacteria in yogurt.

If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible.

Since sugar promotes the growth of yeast, limit your intake of sugar and foods that contain sugar.

If you are sensitive or allergic to latex, lubricants or other substances, find alternatives.

Avoid wearing tight fitting clothing that blocks airflow, creating damp places on your skin. Moist places provide good growing areas for yeast infections. Loose clothing allows air to flow and provides a dryer environment.

Wear cotton underwear. Unlike synthetic fibers like polyester, lycra and nylon, cotton fabric breathes and doesn't trap moisture.

You can avoid using scented laundry soap, bleach and fabric softeners. Scented laundry soap contains chemicals that can make yeast infection worse. The residual bleach in your clothing may destroy healthy bacteria that help keep fungal infections under control. Fabric softeners block moisture absorption, causing moist areas of the skin to stay damp. This encourages the growth of yeast.

Avoid washing the vaginal area with deodorant soaps or using bubble baths. Some women claim that when they stop using scented soaps, yeast infections heal better and don't repeat as often.

Don't over wash. Washing too much, or using harsh soaps on and in the vaginal canal can disrupt the acid balance.

Try using non-soap cleansers. These can be found at many health food stores and supermarkets. Some of these products contain natural ingredients that might help control infections and promote skin healing.

Bowel bacteria and yeast can cause infection. Wipe front to back when you urinate or have a bowel movement.

Your pubic hair protects against chemicals making contact with the skin. Do not shave the vulvar area.

After any sweat producing activity such as exercise, sex or swimming, make sure the perineum is air-dried. Moist surfaces provide an area for yeast growth. Change out of wet clothing, especially bathing suits, as soon as you can.

Use tampons instead of sanitary pads. Chemicals in many pads can cause perineal skin irritation. The natural cotton pads that you launder in hypoallergenic detergent are all right to use.

Take steroids, antibiotics and oral contraceptives only if absolutely necessary. These promote the growth of yeast.

If you are taking antibiotics for something, be sure to eat plenty of organic, plain yogurt, but make sure you buy the sort that needs to be refrigerated, the others are far less effective. An alternative would be to take acidophilus (ah-see-doe-fie-lus) tablets. Acidophilus is the helpful bacteria in yogurt.

If you tend to get yeast infections whenever you take an antibiotic, ask your doctor to prescribe a vaginal antifungal agent as well, or use an over-the-counter one.

Avoid using petroleum-based lubricants for vaginal lubrication during sexual intercourse. Always use water-based lubricants when vaginal dryness is an issue.

If you have vaginal discomfort or an abnormal vaginal discharge, especially if you are pregnant, make sure you consult your doctor.

Get plenty of rest to make it easier for your body to fight infections.

Women who are pregnant should talk to their doctor prior to using any over-the-counter medication.

What should I do if I have a yeast infection?

If this is the first time you suspect a yeast infection, see your doctor or gynecologist. There are vaginal infections besides yeast that share similar symptoms of itchiness, painfulness, and discharge, and you need to find out what you have. Your health care provider will recommend a course of treatment, which may be either prescription or nonprescription medication.

If you have past experiences with yeast infections and suspect you have one, and there has been no change in your sexual history (no new partner, no unprotected genital contact), you may try one of the over-the-counter yeast treatments first. If your symptoms do not go away, then you should visit your doctor for an exam.

Most of the over-the-counter creams and suppositories for yeast infection are used for seven to 14 days. If you use suppositories, always store them in the refrigerator. There are stronger concentrations of this type of medication that can be taken for shorter periods of time, but these may require a prescription.

As a home remedy, you can try yogurt (organic and plain yogurt only) directly on the skin, on or inside your vagina, by simply spreading it with a finger. Since this is more than a little messy, it's a good remedy for bedtime.

What if I have frequent yeast infections?

If you think you are having recurrent vaginal yeast infections, keep a record or diary of the events for the 48 hours preceding the occurrence of vaginal discharge or vulvar irritation. You want to determine the regularity of infections and the preceding events to an infection. Then start a treatment just before or immediately following an event that seems to trigger the infection. For example, if the infections seem to occur monthly after the menses, then using an anti-yeast treatment just before or during the menses would be the best strategy.

If you have several episodes, during the 3rd or 4th episode within a year, go to your doctor and ask to have a microscopic exam for yeast or vaginal culture for yeast. Be sure to also get tested for diabetes and HIV/AIDS. You should confirm the diagnosis before deciding on a long-term treatment.

Another possible cause of recurring yeast infections is from your sexual partner. He or she may require medication to prevent re-infecting you while you are being treated for a yeast infection. Ask your partner to be evaluated for the presence of yeast problems.

Evidence suggests that women who are overweight and who use oral contraceptives develop more yeast infections than women who are not overweight and who use other forms of birth control do. If the treatment for your vaginal yeast infection does not work, ask your doctor for further evaluation.

If you suffer from recurring yeast infections there are stronger treatments your doctor can prescribe, like Diflucan, that are more effective than over-the-counter remedies.

Notes about yeast infections

Bacterial vaginosis is the most common type of vaginal infection, although it is not a yeast infection.

Trichomoniasis also mimics yeast infections.

Lactobacillus is a bacteria that also occurs naturally in the vagina but can multiply in response to yeast medications, antibiotics or a change in diet. A growth of lactobacillus has symptoms much like a yeast infection, such as dryness, burning, inflammation and a watery, milky discharge. Lactobacillus is often linked to a woman's period. A women may feel fine during their period and the week following, but then the condition begins to escalate, becoming very painful a week before their next period. Although lactobacillus not a serious problem, women often report that lovemaking hurts.

Up to 10% of recurrent yeast infections can be due to a different yeast strain called torulopsis (or candida) glabrata. This yeast strain is commonly resistant to many of the standard topical treatments.

Avoid any form of intercourse while taking yeast infection medication! You might affect the treatment's effectiveness. Treatments can erode a condom, and sexual activity can increase swelling and irritation. Recurrent infections may also occur, as can secondary infections. Scratching or rubbing your vaginal area too much may cause the skin of the vulva to become cracked and raw, making it more susceptible to other infections.

Antibiotics often make yeast infections worse.

The burning sensation during urination is due to urine coming into contact with the irritated skin of the vulva, so the burning starts when the urine reaches the outside.

Properly treated you should be free of yeast infections symptoms within a couple of weeks or so. Sometimes a yeast infection will clear up within a few days.

If the yeast episodes always seem to occur after a week of carbohydrate binging, a course of antibiotics or a burst of steroids for another medical problem, then usin a anti-yeast treatment right at the end of the inciting episode before it gets going may prevent one.

Help! There seems to be several views in the medical community about what kind of douches should be used (or if they should be used), acid or alkaline. One group says you can help restore the balance of the bacteria in the vagina by using baking soda douches, once every other day for two weeks. The baking soda neutralizes the excess acidity that causes discomfort.

Another group says to douche with a mild solution of 1 to 3 tablespoons of vinegar diluted in a quart of warm water. Repeat only once a day until the symptoms subside, but not longer than a week. Too much douching can lead to a flare up of infection.

A third group says to avoid douching altogether. Douches wash away the natural protective mucous of the vagina leaving the vagina more susceptible to yeast and other vaginal infections. Douching can also push infections further up into the GYN tract.

Future visitors to this website would appreciate your help in deciding what to use, baking soda, vinegar or none. Use the form below to give your best advice to others who suffer from yeast infection.

Click here to read feedback about yeast infections.

Most recent post: October 25, 2014


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This consumer advocate website is protected by copyright 2010-2013 Askdocweb, Inc. All Rights Reserved. This is a layman's report on yeast infections and is not intended to replace discussions with a health care provider. Do not use the information on this forum as a substitute for your doctor's advice. Always consult your doctor before taking any drug and follow your doctor's directions. Source material: Food and Drug Administration, Medline, Physician's Desk Reference, and the largest community of people in the world, those who are concerned about side effects and healthcare.
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