Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/09/2020
A vaginal yeast infection, also referred to as vaginal candidiasis, is a fungal infection that affects the vagina, causing symptoms such as itching, soreness and pain during sexual activity or while urinating.
Vaginal yeast infections are common, causing an estimated 1.4 million outpatient visits per year according to the CDC. Around three quarters of all women will develop a vaginal yeast infection at some point in life, with almost half of all women developing two or more.
If you have a yeast infection, it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional. With treatment, most vaginal yeast infections get better within a few days and do not cause lasting symptoms.
Below, we’ve listed the symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection. We’ve also explained how yeast infections can develop, how they’re diagnosed by your healthcare provider and the treatment options that are available if you think you have a vaginal yeast infection.
Yeast infections can cause a range of symptoms. If you have a vaginal yeast infection, you may experience one or several of the symptoms listed below:
Abnormal vaginal discharge, including thick, clumpy and white discharge
A white, cream-like coating inside and near your vagina
Soreness or itching in your vagina
Pain, discomfort and a stinging feeling when you urinate
Pain and discomfort during sexual intercourse
These symptoms can range in severity from mild to severe. If you have a severe vaginal yeast infection, you may also develop swelling, redness, fissures and open sores that affect the inside of your vagina.
Unlike with bacterial infections such as bacterial vaginosis, the discharge produced by a vaginal yeast infection usually doesn’t smell strongly, or only smells slightly different from the fluid that’s usually produced by glands inside your vagina and cervix.
It’s best to talk to a healthcare professional or healthcare provider as soon as you notice any of the symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection. It’s especially important to talk to a healthcare professional if you notice any symptoms of a severe yeast infection, such as severe pain or open sores in your vagina.
Vaginal yeast infections are caused by excessive growth of candida — a natural yeast (fungus) that grows on your skin and in other parts of your body.
Candida grows naturally on your skin and inside your body in places such as your mouth, throat and digestive tract. Small amounts of candida also grow in your vagina. Candida is normally a harmless type of yeast, but it can cause issues when it grows in excessive amounts.
When candida grows excessively, it can lead to an infection, causing noticeable symptoms such as those listed above.
Infections caused by candida can develop in other parts on the body. For example, oral thrush — a condition that’s also called oral candidiasis — develops when an excessive amount of candida grows in the mouth and throat.
Candida infections can also affect men. Some men get yeast infections on and around the penis and scrotum, although these are less common than vaginal yeast infections.
A variety of factors can cause candida to grow excessively and produce a yeast infection. These include:
Use of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications and other drugs that change the naturally-occurring balance of yeasts and bacteria in your vagina
Natural fluctuations in your hormone levels, such as during your menstrual cycle
Use of hormonal contraceptives, such as the birth control pill
Medical conditions or medications that weaken your immune system
Changes in your vaginal chemistry due to sexual contact with other people
Although it’s possible for a yeast infection to develop after you have sex, yeast infections aren’t sexually transmitted diseases. Unlike most STDs, candida isn’t a bacteria or virus that spreads from one person to another through sexual activity.
However, contact with another person’s yeast and bacteria can disrupt your vagina’s chemistry, potentially causing candida to grow and an infection to develop.
Most yeast infections are caused by candida. However, it’s also possible for other fungi to cause you to develop a vaginal yeast infection. Infections caused by other fungi are often more difficult to treat than those caused by candida.
Yeast infections are incredibly common. In fact, yeast infections are the second-most common type of vaginal infection in the United States, after bacterial infections. Around three quarters of all women will develop a vaginal yeast infection at some point in life.
Certain factors can increase your risk of getting a yeast infection. You may have a higher risk if you’re currently pregnant, use hormonal contraceptives such as the pill, have recently used an antibiotic or have a weakened immune system or health condition such as diabetes.
You may also have a higher risk of developing a yeast infection if you’re stressed due to a poor diet or lack of sleep.
If you think that you might have a yeast infection, it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional. They may ask you about your symptoms, how long you’ve noticed them and if you’ve recently used any medications that could increase your risk of developing a yeast infection.
They may also perform a pelvic examination to look for inflammation, discharge and any other signs of a yeast infection. Your healthcare provider may take a sample of discharge from your vagina and examine it under a microscope, or send it to a laboratory for testing.
Vaginal yeast infections are treated using antifungal medications. Your healthcare provider may prescribe an oral antifungal medication such as fluconazole (typically a single-dose capsule) or an antifungal cream that you’ll need to apply to the inside of your vagina.
Make sure to let your healthcare provider know that you’re pregnant so that they can prescribe appropriate antifungal medication dosing that will treat your yeast infection without affecting you or your fetus's health.
If your infection is severe, you may need to take fluconazole for a longer period or use another antifungal medication. Other drugs used to treat vaginal yeast infections include butoconazole, clotrimazole, miconazole, tioconazole and terconazole.
Your healthcare provider may also prescribe additional medications, such as a boric acid vaginal suppository, nystatin and/or flucytosine.
If you develop four or more yeast infections in one year, your healthcare provider may diagnose you with the condition recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis (RVVC) and prescribe an antifungal medication for you to use over the long term to prevent further recurrent infections.
If you started to notice the symptoms of a yeast infection after having sex, your sexual partner may also need treatment if they also have symptoms of a yeast infection (in men, these include redness, itching and irritation of the penis -- a condition called candida balanitis.
Treated correctly, the vast majority of vaginal yeast infections get better within two weeks, with many going away in just a few days.
Making small changes to your day-to-day habits and personal care routine may help to reduce your risk of developing a vaginal yeast infection. Try the following prevention tips:
Practice good vaginal hygiene. Keeping your vagina clean and dry reduces the risk of fungal growth, helping you avoid infections.
Avoid irritating soaps, body washes, douches and other cleaning products. These can disrupt the balance of bacteria in your vagina and increase your risk of developing a yeast infection. Douching is especially linked to an increased risk of vaginal infections.
Avoid sitting for long periods in wet bathing suits or damp clothes. Yeast grows quickly in moist, damp environments. Combined with the chemicals in pool water, the moisture in your bathing suit can affect bacterial balance and cause yeast infections.
After you swim, make an effort not to sit down for too long in your swimsuit. Instead, it’s best to wash yourself and change into dry clothing as quickly as possible.
Avoid tight, synthetic underwear. Synthetic materials like nylon can trap in moisture and make it more difficult for your skin to breathe. Stick to loose underwear that’s made from cotton to prevent moisture buildup and prevent itching.
During your period, change tampons or sanitary pads often. It’s also best to avoid scented pads, panty liners and tampons, as these can irritate your vagina and increase your risk of developing vaginitis.
Avoid overusing antibiotics. Only take antibiotics when they’re prescribed to you by your healthcare provider, and never take them for longer than prescribed. Antibiotics may change the chemical balance in your vagina, increasing your risk of yeast infections.
If you have existing medical conditions, such as diabetes, make sure to treat them effectively. Some medical conditions can increase your risk of developing candida and other infections. Make sure to stay healthy and treat any medical conditions you have.
If you think that you have a yeast infection, it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional. They will be able to diagnose a yeast infection and, if necessary, write a prescription for medication to treat the infection and prevent it from returning.
Consult with a licensed healthcare provider now to discuss your symptoms and learn more about what you can do to treat a vaginal yeast infection.
If appropriate, the provider can write you a prescription on the spot and send it directly to a local pharmacy of your choice, allowing you to get the relief you need fast, all without having to go to a healthcare provider’s office.