Why vaginal yeast infections happen
Your vagina likes to be in balance. If you get an overgrowth of the fungus candida down there, you may get a yeast infection. It’s incredibly common—three-quarters of women will get saddled with one in their lifetime—but pregnancy, uncontrolled diabetes, hormonal birth control, douching or using other vaginal cleansing products, and taking antibiotics can make you more susceptible to them, according to the federal Office on Women’s Health.
Your vagina is itchy
Tell your gynecologist you’re itching a lot down below, and her first thought will be a yeast infection, says Chicago ob-gyn Wendy Goodall McDonald, MD, of Dr. Every Woman. The itch will be bothersome enough to make you want to scoot around in your seat, she says. Here are 22 myths gynecologists want you to ignore.
You think you’re itchy on the inside
Speaking of itch, it can be so bad that patients often tell Dr. McDonald that they feel “itchy on the inside.” Though that may be your experience, it’s not exactly medically correct. Yeast infection symptoms like itchiness affect the outer vaginal skin.
There’s a lot of redness
Suspect a yeast infection? It’s time to whip out a handheld mirror, Dr. McDonald recommends. You may see redness and swelling, or the skin may look a little raw. The skin may also be broken if you’ve been scratching a lot. Find out the 8 secrets you should definitely tell your gynecologist.
There are whitish areas
While inflamed skin is a common yeast infection symptom, the skin may also surprisingly look a bit white, says Dr. McDonald. However, whether your skin appears white or red, one thing is certain with a yeast infection: “I always say that the skin looks angry,” she says. Check out the 15 everyday habits that can mess with your vaginal health.
You have funky discharge
You’ve probably heard that, among all the yeast infection symptoms, “cottage cheese–like” discharge is common. However, “many yeast infections don’t have any,” Dr. McDonald says. “Yeast doesn’t always replicate in abundance to cause that type of discharge,” she adds. The lesson: Don’t brush off itching and assume it’s not a yeast infection just because you’re not saddled with this symptom. Learn about more ways your vaginal discharge is a clue to your health.
You have no symptoms
Wait, what? Yes, women can have an imbalance of yeast but not get any yeast infection symptoms. Your doctor may say something about the abundance of yeast after a routine exam or Pap smear, which can leave you confused and alarmed about what’s going on. But as long as you have no symptoms, you don’t need to be concerned or treat it, says Diana Atashroo, MD, a gynecologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem. There’s no reason to take medication your body doesn’t need. Find out the 13 things gynecologists wish their patients knew about yeast infections.
Sex is uncomfortable
Often, sex that feels a little like sandpaper just requires a good lubricant. But if your vagina is itching and burning during the day, you may also notice that the discomfort is amplified when you have intercourse, says Dr. Atashroo. Read on for 11 reasons sex hurts.
It hurts when you pee
Burning while urinating can be an excruciating experience. Luckily, it’s less common among yeast infection symptoms, but it’s still something that patients may notice, says Megan Quimper, MD, an ob-gyn at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Urine can aggravate already raw, irritated tissues. Burning is a common symptom of a urinary tract infection, which also includes a persistent urge to go and cloudy urine, according to the Mayo Clinic. Talk to your doctor about what may be going on with you and brush up on these 9 symptoms of a UTI.
There may or may not be an odor
Typically, yeast infection discharge doesn’t have an odor to it. It’s bacterial vaginosis (BV), another common vaginal infection, that does—and it may be “fishy.” But here’s the catch: “Some patients will have a yeast infection and BV at the same time,” Dr. Atashroo says. So your discharge may very well smell “off.” If you treat a yeast infection at home and it doesn’t get better, you need an evaluation to see if you have another (or entirely different) infection, she says. Find out the 8 silent signs of cervical cancer.
Make an appointment
If this is your first yeast infection, you may have to go see your gynecologist. “Patients will call and say, ‘I’m not sure what’s wrong; can you diagnose me?’ But it’s difficult to make a diagnosis over the phone unless a patient has a documented pattern of recurrent yeast infections,” Dr. Atashroo says. Find out the 10 foods you should eat for a healthier vagina.
Try lifestyle remedies
You can treat a yeast infection with over-the-counter antifungal medications (creams, ointments, or suppositories for your vagina), or your doctor may opt to give you a prescription for a one-day oral antifungal like fluconazole. Changing up habits to ones that support vaginal health—like staying away from tight clothing, using an unscented body wash, changing pads and tampons often, and changing out of workout clothes after exercise—can help lessen the aggravation of symptoms or decrease the likelihood of recurrence, Dr. Atashroo says.
Really, see your doctor
Aside from the discomfort of persistent itching, you can’t assume that a yeast infection will simply go away. “Untreated yeast infections can lead to long-term vaginal irritation and discomfort,” says Dr. Quimper. A yeast infection is likely not dangerous, she says, but that “yeast infection” might also be something else, like a sexually transmitted infection, that could cause bigger problems. Here are healthy secrets your vagina wants to tell you.