Most women — up to 75% will experience a vaginal yeast infection at some point in their life. They can cause itching, irritation, and discomfort to the vagina and the vulva. A vaginal yeast infection, also known as thrush, is the most common form of vaginitis, a condition where the vagina may be swollen and painful. The good news? They are treatable.
1. What are vaginal yeast infections?
Vaginal yeast infections are caused by the fungus Candida Albicans. Naturally, the vagina is home to a balanced mix of yeast, including candida, and bacteria. These organisms usually coexist and keep one another in check. However, sometimes this balance gets thrown off, and things become a bit unruly, causing problems like vaginal yeast infections.
Thrush is not considered a sexually transmitted disease; however, frequent sexual activity with toys, fingers, or a penis may increase the chances of developing one.
Sexual activities, especially unprotected sex, may put you at a higher risk for infection because it introduces new bacteria to the vagina. The vagina has a delicate ecosystem, and it is also quite acidic. The vagina has a pH balance of 3.8 to 4.5, whereas the pH of semen is between 7.2 and 8.0. This large disparity can disrupt the normal balance and trigger an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina.
Other factors may also be responsible. Antibiotic medications are meant to treat infection by killing bad bacteria. Unfortunately, good bacteria can also be killed in the process, leading to an overgrowth of yeast being produced in the vagina.
Pregnancy and some forms of birth control may lead to thrush. Hormones, like estrogen, help to maintain a healthy vagina. Estrogen is responsible for vaginal lubrication and controls the lining of the uterus. Estrogen also has a role in the growth of lactobacilli. Lactobacilli are the bacteria responsible for the acidity of the vagina which protects the vagina from harmful, disease-causing microorganisms.
2. What are the symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection?
Symptoms can vary from person to person, but symptoms generally include:
- Vaginal itching, vulva itching, and irritation in the vagina and vulva
- A burning sensation during intercourse or a burning sensation while urinating
- Redness and swelling of the vulva
- Vaginal pain and soreness
- Vaginal discharge with the appearance resembling cottage cheese
3. Can you prevent vaginal yeast infections?
It is not always possible to prevent a thrush, but there are a few things you can do to help to minimize the likelihood of developing one.
- Change tampons and pads frequently. Yeast and bacteria love moisture-rich environments and feminine hygiene products make a great vessel for these organisms to grow.
- Pay attention to the medications you are taking- birth control and hormone replacement therapy can cause shifts in hormones and affect the delicate balance of the vagina.
- Avoid using any products that contain perfumes, dyes, and/or scents that can throw off your pH balance.
- Avoid douching.
- Choose the right underwear. Cotton is the most breathable fabric.
4. How are vaginal yeast infections treated?
Once your healthcare practitioner confirms you have a vaginal yeast infection — or thrush, you will typically be given an antifungal medication to combat the overgrowth of bacteria. Using a vulvar moisturizer and vaginal moisturizer will not treat the yeast infection, but it may help alleviate some of the symptoms. Most vaginal yeast infections respond well to treatment and take about a week to clear up.