What Is A Yeast Infection? Yeast Infection Causes, Symptoms And Cures

girl holding lower abdomen wearing white cotton underwear from yeast infection

Don’t suffer through a yeast infection if you don’t have to! | Source: ShutterStock

We’re not going to sugarcoat this for you: Getting a yeast infection is pretty dreadful. But it’s also not the end of the world! Yeast infections suck and are super uncomfortable when you have them, but they’re also really common and totally treatable and curable. In fact, 75 percent of women will have a vaginal yeast infection at some point in her life–which still stinks, but probably makes you feel a little better, right? So don’t freak!

If you think you have or had a yeast infection, keep reading and learn how they happen, how to treat them, why you really should see a doctor and how to prevent them from coming back. Because, well, yeast infections aren’t the apocalypse of your nether regions, but they sure as Hell aren’t fun, either.

What is a yeast infection?

A yeast infection is also called candidiasis. When you get a yeast infection, it’s actually an overgrowth of a type of yeast called candida. There are a few types, but yeast infections are usually from too much candida albicans. It’s nothing to get too worked up about, though! This kind of yeast is normally found in small amounts in the human body. You may just have a little bit too much of it, and it throws things out of whack. But again: Don’t freak!

Where on your body can you get yeast infections?

Chances are, everything you’ve heard about yeast infections is actually just about vaginal yeast infections. But you can actually get yeast infections on other parts of your body, too. One common area for yeast infections is the mouth and tongue. Oral yeast infections, also called oral candidiasis, oropharyngeal candidiasis or thrush, are common in infants, the elderly, AIDS patients and in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. If you’re on antibiotics, use an inhaler for asthma or have diabetes, you may also be subject to an oral yeast infection.

oral yeast infection on tongue

You can get yeast infections in your mouth and on your tongue … | Source: ShutterStock

Though somewhat less common, people also get yeast infections in their armpits. As if there weren’t enough stinky drama over there!

yeast infection in armpit underarm

… and in your armpits. | Source: ShutterStock

Another common type of yeast infection that you probably had no idea was even a yeast infection? Diaper rash. But we doubt you’ve had that recently. (Right? Right?)

You can pretty much get a yeast infection in any warm, moist area of the body. But alas, the most dreaded form of a yeast infection is, of course, the vaginal or vulvovaginal yeast infection: the one that happens down there.

 

 

What are signs of a vaginal yeast infection?

Signs of a yeast infection down there aren’t pleasant. You may experience extreme itchiness around the vagina or vulva, skin irritation, redness and soreness around the vagina, pain during sexual intercourse (or any other sexual activity, depending on what you’re into and what you or your partner are doing down there) and a white discharge that looks like cottage cheese. Sometimes it may also burn when you pee (ouch!). You may also have a fishy odor coming from your genitals. Unless you went skinny dipping in low tide, that’s never a good sign. It’s important to note, though, that not everyone has every single sign of a yeast infection if and when they get one. Having one or more signs is reason enough to scurry your cute behind off to the gynecologist!

Can guys get yeast infections?

They sure can! For guys, signs of a yeast infection include redness and burning on the tip of the penis.

Is a yeast infection an STD?

Nope, a yeast infection technically isn’t a sexually transmitted disease, because there are ways to contract it that have nothing to do with sexual activity (more on that in a second). And while it’s technically not an STD, you and your partner can still transmit the infection back and forth through sexual contact, though that’s rare. Still, always, always, always use condoms and practice safe sex at all times … or else you may end up with something a lot scarier than a yeast infection.

Should I tell my sexual partner than I have a yeast infection? How?

Even though yeast infections aren’t technically STDs, you should let your partner know that you’ve got one–or at least that you can’t have sex for a little bit until your issue clears up–or you run the small but not impossible risk of giving it to him or her. Because yeast infections can make sex really uncomfortable, it’s better to go without it than to be silent and in pain just to make your partner happy for a few minutes. If he or she is worth his or her salt and truly deserves you, they’ll understand–and hopefully take steps to make you feel more comfortable in the meantime. You can just say something like, “Hey, this sucks, but I’ve got a yeast infection. They’re super common and I’m getting it taken care of, but I don’t want to have sex again until it’s gone.”

Still, if you feel weird admitting you’ve got a yeast infection (despite it not being weird at all!), you can always just say you’re on your period and don’t want to be intimate right now. But remember: If you’re not comfortable talking about something as relatively innocuous as a yeast infection with your partner, you may not want to sleep with them at all.

Should I tell my parents about my yeast infection?

Honestly, why wouldn’t you? Even if you’re not comfortable talking about sex with your parents (which is a whole other issue, ladies), having a yeast infection isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re having sex. It’s a health issue that can happen at any age, whether or not you’re sexually active. If you’re scared they’ll judge you, remind them of that fact. At its core, a yeast infection is a health issue. And your parents want you to be healthy! Plus, they may have to give you a ride to the gynecologist’s office, and chances are, they’ll spring for your co-pay, which is pretty sweet … relatively speaking, of course. Plus, considering how common yeast infections are in women, chances are your mom has dealt with one at some point, and she may be able to comfort you through it.

Does having a yeast infection mean I’m a slut?

Ugh, ugh, argh. First of all, the word “slut” is awful and stupid, so no, of course not. Second, what you do with your body is your business and that of your sexual partner or partners, and however many you have is up to you. Third, considering you can get a yeast infection even when you’ve never, ever had any kind of sexual contact, this theory doesn’t even make sense. Whoever thinks or says this is ignorant and probably has a lot of issues of their own that are much worse than a yeast infection. Trust me.

How do I know if it’s a yeast infection or something else?

By going to the doctor. Chances are you wanted an easier answer that didn’t require a trip, an appointment and a potentially awkward conversation, but a doctor is the only person who can diagnose whether or not you’ve got a yeast infection or another kind of infection or condition down there.

Dr. Angela Jones explains, “Routine yeast infections can be treated with an over the counter medication such as Monistat. A common problem; however, is that many women self-diagnose, and what is presumed to be a yeast infection often times is not.  If such treatment doesn’t relieve your symptoms, it is best to see a doctor for a work-up to ensure that you indeed have a yeast infection and that if you do have a yeast infection, that it isn’t a resistant strain that requires alternative treatment, or that if you do have a yeast infection that either isn’t resolving or is recurrent, that you may need prolonged therapy.”

Why do I have to see a doctor about a yeast infection? Can’t I get an over-the-counter yeast infection medicine?

If you think you might have a yeast infection, you need to go to the gyno. I know, I know–it’s not a fun trip, the stirrups are cold, I get it. But a doctor is the only person who can actually diagnose what issue you have going on down there. This is especially important if you’ve never had a yeast infection before. There are a lot of different kind of bacterial infections that can be misdiagnosed as yeast infections, like bacterial vaginosis, which has similar symptoms. You don’t want to treat yourself for a yeast infection if you have something else–or vice versa–because whatever you actually do have may get worse. And no one wants that.

Your doc can sometimes diagnose a vaginal yeast infection based on your description of your symptoms, but often will give you a vaginal exam too to be sure. If that happens, your gyno might also take a vaginal wet smear (like a Pap smear, but without all the “ouch”) to look for the yeast under a microscope. Because so many steps need to be taken to make sure it’s a yeast infection and not another kind of problem, you should always book it to the gynecologist if you sense a problem.

Over-the-counter remedies for yeast infections do work–but you shouldn’t use them without a doctor’s OK. Your gyno will go over the best round of treatment for your diagnosis.

redhead girl talking to female gynecologist about yeast infection

Talking to your doctor or gynecologist is the only way to truly know if you have a yeast infection–and how to treat it if you do! | Source: ShutterStock

What causes yeast infections?

Now that you know what you need to do if you think you’ve got a yeast infection (again, go to to the doctor!), you’re probably curious of yeast infection causes. There are a few of them, and chances are you’re guilty of one or more–and you’re not doing anything wrong!

If you’re on antibiotics or use hormonal contraceptives containing estrogen (like the birth control pill), IUDs, the NuvaRing, diaphragms or menstrual or contraceptive sponges can up your risk of a yeast infection. If you’ve got a weak immune system or diabetes, that can increase your chances, too.

Common causes of yeast infections include taking baths instead of showers–especially if you use bubble bath, staying in a wet swimsuit all day, not changing your pads or tampons often enough when you have your period, not changing your underwear or doing laundry often enough, not drying your underwear thoroughly before putting them on and wearing underwear made of synthetic fabrics, like polyester or nylon.

Another huge cause of yeast infections is, ironically, douches and “feminine sprays.” They throw off your body’s natural pH levels, which in turn can lead your body to overgrow bacteria and yeast. The very items that companies try to sell you to make you smell better are ones that can give you infections and make it worse! (By the way? If you’re healthy down there, you smell fine. Seriously.)

What are yeast infection cures?

Once you go to the doctor (and yes, yet again, you better go to the doctor!), he or she may advise you to take an over-the-counter vaginal yeast infection treatment. Or, if you’ve had a vaginal yeast infection before and you’re 100 percent positive that that’s what you have, you can treat it with an over-the-counter cream (like Monistat) or with a suppository (a medication that yo insert into your vagina and dissolves over time). Over-the-counter treatments may cause burning or irritation, but that’s normal–and chances are you’ve been dealing with those already if you’ve got a yeast infection. (I know, yikes!)

For medicines that you put directly on the skin or in the vagina, it can seem a little scary, but it’s no worse than putting in a tampon–honest! Whether you’re using a cream, a suppository or a tablet, they’ll almost always come with an applicator that supplies the right amount of medicine and to help you insert it into your vagina.

If over-the-counter medications don’t help, or if your case seems more severe (still, don’t worry–it’s not that serious!), your doctor might prescribe a prescription-only cream with terconazole (like Terazol) or a single dose of an antifungal pill with fluconazole (like Diflucan). Sometimes for some women and girls, the fluconazole pill causes an upset stomach, but not always–and it’s actually often the preferred method of treatment because it’s more convenient.  Still, some yeast infections are resistant to common medications, in which case you may need different treatments or to use treatments for a longer period of time. Again, it’s still nothing to worry about!

Dr. Erica Zelfand warns of fluconazole, though, saying, “Although fluconazole does a great job of killing off the yeast, it works a little too well, throwing off the balance of microbes not only in the vagina, but also in the gut. This increases the likelihood of other infections developing down the line. In my medical practice, I see a lot of women with chronic yeast vaginitis which began after taking this medication.”

Often, doctors will combine oral and topical (medicines you put directly on the skin) medications. That’s because the pills often don’t treat the symptoms of a yeast infection right away, so topical treatments combined with pills offer a lot more relief than just waiting it out.

How long should I take medicine for a yeast infection?

This is super important: Usually, your symptoms will go away before your yeast infection is totally gone. For that reason, keep taking your medication as long as your doctor prescribed it for or as long as the instructions say, otherwise it’s just going to come back! And let’s be real, if you’re reading this, you do not want that to happen. Normally if you follow the instructions from your doc, you have an 80 to 90 percent chance of being totally cured from your yeast infection. Don’t hurt your odds by getting lazy, girl!

What happens if I don’t treat a yeast infection?

Nothing good, that’s for sure. In fact, leaving a yeast infection untreated could cause serious problems. For one, the yeast infection itself could get worse–and considering how much they suck to begin with, you don’t want that to happen.

Dr. Jones says, “Unlike sexually transmitted diseases which can result in serious consequences such as infertility if not treated; not treating a yeast infection only results in symptoms such as burning, itching, irritation, inflammation and extreme discomfort with intercourse.”

Another issue? If you’re super itchy and you scratch down there and accidentally break the skin or cut yourself, you run the risk of getting more germs and other infections. If that gets left untreated, your yeast infection can possibly spread to your bloodstream and potentially other parts of your body and make you really sick. That’s scary, right? So seriously, if you think you may have a yeast infection, please, for the love of Harry Styles, go to the doctor!

Are there at-home yeast infection cures?

There are always old wives’ tales about cures for everything. The problem with at-home yeast infection cures is that none of them have been medically or scientifically proven, and as a result can make your problem even worse. You’d be taking a big risk by, say, shoving celery up your hoo-ha instead of just seeing a doctor who can prescribe something specifically made to treat your problem. (This isn’t to say celery is one of the old wives’ yeast infection cures. I don’t want to tell you what they actually are, because I don’t want you to risk using those instead of getting a proper medication!)

What should I do if I keep getting yeast infections?

If you have recurring yeast infections, you should ask your doctor about taking long-term medication to stop the growth of yeast to maintain your balance down there. Your doctor will probably prescribe antifungal medicines as for you to take every week or every month for about six months to a year, depending on how your body reacts to them. Taking the antifungal medicine for a while will most likely stop your yeast infections from coming back so often. But they may not be a 100 percent safe bet, because studies have shown that after women stop taking their longterm antifungal medicines, roughly 30 to 40 percent will get another vaginal yeast infection … so they have to start the process all over again.

Your doctor will likely schedule routine visits if you go this route. That’s good–he or she will monitor you for symptoms as well as make sure you’re not having any adverse side effects to your medication. Is it a pain in the butt? A little. But it’s better than the pain you’ve been suffering across from there, isn’t it?

cotton striped panties cotton underwear yeast infection

Cotton underwear are one of your first lines of defense against yeast infections. | Source: ShutterStock

How can I prevent a yeast infection in the future?

To avoid the discomfort and inconvenience of a yeast infection later, you can take steps now to prevent them.

First, go into your underwear drawer and check your tags. What fabrics are they made from? Cotton and silk are breathable and will let your natural moisture down there evaporate–which is good. Polyester, rayon, nylon and other synthetic fabrics trap moisture and lock it in, which means you’ll have more a chance of another yeast infection later. When you’re shopping for skivvies, look for 100 percent cotton or silk undies. Cotton ones will also be less expensive (bonus!), and they’re still cute, despite having an unfair rep as generally looking like granny panties. Aerie‘s got an awesome selection of cute undies that won’t irritate you down there. Or, if you see some you love, check the fabric that goes directly on your vagina–if that’s cotton, even if the tops or backs aren’t, you’ll probably be fine.

Speaking of underwear, do your laundry! Wash and dry your underwear thoroughly and change at least once a day so no bacteria get trapped on or in you.

When you get your period, change your pads, panty liners and/or tampons every few hours. Leaving all that moist stuff in one spot is no bueno. Plus, you’ll just feel better.

Next, make sure you never, ever douche or use any kind of supposed “feminine” wash or sprays. Those mess up your natural balance of pH and good bacteria down there, and that can make your body produce more yeast and more bad bacteria, leading to another infection. In essence, those kinds of products are causing the very issues they try to make you insecure about. You smell fine, you look fine–you don’t need that stuff, and all it’s going to do is damage. Your vagina cleans itself! It doesn’t need outside help other than plain old soap and water on the outside only.

Also, you may want to avoid antibacterial soaps down there, because they can throw off your balance of natural “good” bacteria. Don’t take antibiotics unless your doctor prescribes them, because those can also thwart your “good” bacteria out of whack.

If you like to swim, be sure to change out of your wet bathing suit as soon as you can.

Into sex toys? That’s cool–just make sure you clean them between uses!

Avoid hot baths or hot tubs, as the combination of the heat and the moisture can cause bacteria to creep in and give you another yeast infection.

Another sneaky tip? Eating yogurt with active cultures in it can help you balance out your natural good bacteria, which keeps your yeast levels in check and your vagina working and self-cleaning the way it should. Dr. Zelfand notes that other foods that can fight off yeast infections include sauerkraut, miso soup, kimchee and lots of fruits and vegetables to support the immune system.

Dr. Zelfand also recommends eating a diet low in sugar and low in refined carbohydrates, like pastas, breads, pastries and potatoes, because sugar suppresses your immune system and can feed the infection. You also want to avoid drinking alcohol for the same reason (and for others!).

Now go forth and be healthy, happy and itch-free!

For more information on yeast infections, check these out:

What Is Up With Yeast Infections? Yuck!
How To Tell Your Mom You Have A Yeast Infection

Have you ever had a yeast infection? Have you ever dealt with a yeast infection that kept coming back? Ever had what you thought was a yeast infection but ended up being something totally different? How’d you deal? Tell us in the comments!

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Posted in: Down There
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  • LucyJ

    Not necessarily disagreeing with the conclusion but saying it isn’t an STD/STI because “there are ways to contract it that have nothing to do with sexual activity” is a massively flawed argument. There are several diseases and infections accepted under the umbrella of STD/STI which can be transmitted completely independently of sexual activity.

  • Johne992

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  • Johnb810

    I don’t usually comment but I gotta admit thanks for the post on this great one fccedadccffg

  • Johne498

    I really enjoy reading on this website, it holds great articles. Don’t put too fine a point to your wit for fear it should get blunted. by Miguel de Cervantes. ebbgfbedbadc

  • Nicole

    “So seriously, if you think you may have a yeast infection, please, for the love of Harry Styles, go to the doctor!”

    Oh my god. XD

  • Lori

    Really enjoyed this article. Very informative.

  • Vanessa

    I would like to point out that sometime a person will have NO symptoms untill the case gets really really bad. I went into the doctor because of extreme swelling right after sex that lasted 3 days. I went through 4 doctors saying it was just from rough sex when I knew for a fact it couldn’t have been because it wasnt any more rough or dry than normal. If anything he was more gental than normal. So I finally went to planned parenthood and talked to the doctor who originally perscribed me on my birth control (which one of the common side effects is vaginal infections) and thank goodness this doctor actually listened to what I had to say. I did my research before going in because I dont like to go to the doctors for nothing. when the results came back the doctored told me it looked like id had this infection for months…which was totally without my knowledge because there werent any symptoms….