Women's Health

Updated On: September 21, 2021

Yeast Infection (Vaginal) - Causes, Treatment & More

Written By: Dr. Rana Taha AlZoubi

Dr. Rana Taha AlZoubi is an obstetrics & gynaecology specialist with a Masters degree from the Syrian Board. She has extensive work experience, from her association with various hospitals in KSA and the UAE.

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What is a Yeast infection?

Both men & women can succumb to a yeast infection, most commonly thrush. This is usually not dangerous, but can be uncomfortable, irritating & can keep flaring up. Thrush often impacts genital areas & the mouth, but can affect other areas of skin, including armpits, the groin & between fingers. A red, itchy or painful rash that scales over with white or yellow discharge is common. Sometimes thrush causes no symptoms at all.

Vaginal Yeast Infection

A vaginal yeast infection is an irritating fungal-based condition that generates discharge & intense itchiness of the vagina & vulva. It is also called vaginal candidiasis. Up to three out of four women at some point in their life will experience a vaginal yeast infection. Many will deal with at least two episodes. Although not considered a sexually transmitted infection, there is an increased risk of vaginal yeast infection during first regular sexual activity, & during pregnancy.

Yeast Infection Symptoms

Symptoms of yeast infection can range from mild to moderate & can be irritating & unpleasant, disturb sleeping some times.

Typical symptoms of a yeast infection include:

  • Itching & irritation around the vulva & vagina.
  • White vaginal discharge, which usually isn’t odorous.
  • A burning sensation, especially during intercourse or while urinating.
  • Redness & swelling of the vulva.
  • Vaginal rash, pain or soreness.
  • A watery vaginal discharge.

Yeast Infection Causes

The majority of vaginal yeast infections are due to something called fungus candida albicans. It is usually harmless. In natural circumstances the vagina contains a balanced mix of yeast - including candida - as well as bacteria. Some of these bacteria, notably lactobacillus, work to ensure there isn’t an overproduction of yeast.

If that balance is disrupted, & warm, moist conditions prevail, an overgrowth of candida - or a penetration of the fungus into deeper vaginal cell layers - will produce the symptoms of vagina yeast infection.

Some common causes of a yeast infection are:

  • Antibiotic use, which causes an imbalance in natural vaginal flora
  • A weakened immune system, perhaps due to chemotherapy or HIV
  • Pregnancy
  • Estrogen-raising oral contraceptives
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Poorly controlled diabetes

Where other types of candida fungus are responsible for yeast infections, treatment can be more difficult. Usually more aggressive therapies are required.

Yeast Infection Treatment

  • Pharmacy Medication: There are readily available yeast infection medicines and medications that effectively treat vaginal yeast infections.
  • Anti-Fungal Medicine. This is generally used to tackle the infection. This can be taken in tablet form orally, or as a pessary that is inserted into the vagina. A cream is available to relieve the irritation. Anti-fungal medicine should be prescribed by the physician who will check the patient & mostly will do high vaginal swap.
  • Long-Term Treatment Plan. In the case of recurrent yeast infections - such as four or more in one year - a longer treatment course for up to six months could be required along with a maintenance plan.
  • Medical Guidance. Visit a doctor or a sexual health clinic to help identify whether something is causing the condition, such as sexual activity or period. The use of anti-fungal medicine more than twice in six months is not recommended without speaking to a pharmacist or doctor.

Yeast infection Risk Factors

There are a few risk factors that can increase the odds of a yeast infection developing. Some are more avoidable than others, but women who are more vulnerable include those with:

  • An impaired immune system, perhaps due to corticosteroid therapy or HIV infection.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes, where blood sugar levels are poorly managed.
  • A course of broad-spectrum antibiotics which kill a range of bacteria, including healthy bacteria found in the vagina.
  • Higher estrogen levels that come with pregnancy, high-dose estrogen birth control pills or estrogen hormone therapy.

Yeast Infection Prevention

Some of the steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of vaginal yeast infections are more manageable, inexpensive & maybe involve modest lifestyle adjustments. Among the easiest adoptable measures is the wearing of underwear that has a cotton crotch.

To prevent a yeast infection, it is suggested to avoid:

  • Underwear garments that fit too tightly.
  • Intimate washing routines that remove protective vaginal bacteria.
  • Scented feminine products, including bubble bath, pads & tampons.
  • Significant time in wet clothes, such as swimsuits & workout gear.
  • High temperature baths & hot tubs.
  • Unnecessary antibiotic use, such as for colds.

Yeast Infection Complications

Occasionally a yeast infection can be more complicated than initially believed & will demand further expert attention.

Situations where this is the case include when someone:

  • Experiences severe symptoms, such as extensive redness, swelling and itching resulting in tears, cracks or sores.
  • Is an expectant mother.
  • Endures four or more yeast infections in one year.
  • Has a compromised immune system.
  • An infection caused by a less typical type of fungus.
  • Has uncontrolled diabetes.

When to see a doctor about a Yeast Infection

Most cases of yeast infection are easily managed by a trip to a reputable pharmacy. But there are scenarios that will demand an appointment with your Medcare doctor. These occasions can be:

  • When you develop other symptoms.
  • You're not sure whether you have a yeast infection.
  • You are aged under 16 or over 60.
  • This is the first time you have had yeast infection symptoms.
  • Over-the-counter anti-fungal vaginal creams or suppositories have failed to relieve symptoms.
  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • The infection returns more than four times over a year.
  • You have a weakened immune system.

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