Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/08/2020
If you’ve had one before, you can typically spot the initial symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection right away. And right away, you’re filled with dread.
They’re painful, itchy, horrible things, and they can make you feel embarrassed or gross. Maybe worst of all, you know they can’t be solved instantaneously. Treatment takes time — at least a day or two — and when your vagina is on fire, a few days can feel like an eternity.
Most women will have a yeast infection at least once in their life — 75 percent to be precise. If you haven’t had one yet, oh, the things you have to look forward to!
(Have we mentioned how utterly horrible they are? You can trust us on that, but you can also read through to get all the gross details.)
The key to sending a yeast infection on its way as soon as possible lies in recognizing and treating it soon as possible.
Yeast infections, also called vaginal candidiasis, are fungal infections. Yes, yeast (candida) is a fungus, like mold or mushrooms. It’s actually found naturally in all of us — in the vagina, mouth, throat and gut, according to the CDC — but our healthy immune systems generally control it.
Sometimes, however, our body chemistry is thrown off and we’re unable to keep the candida under control.
The fungus multiplies, an infection occurs and you’re left with some of the worst symptoms imaginable. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but the outcome is a yeast infection which triggers something called vaginitis.
There are several things that can cause yeast to grow uncontrolled in your body. Many of these things are unavoidable. For instance, you could have an ear infection and be prescribed antibiotics. Antibiotics can destroy or drastically alter the balance of bacteria that protect your vagina, ultimately resulting in a yeast infection. But hey, that’s the price we pay, sometimes.
Other vaginal yeast infection causes and risk factors include:
The use of oral contraceptives or other hormone therapies
Poorly controlled diabetes
Compromised immune system caused by disease (HIV, for example) or the use of corticosteroids
The symptoms are the worst. Trust us, you’d rather have a sinus infection or the worst cold of your life.
Generally, burning and itching are your first clues that a yeast infection is coming or has already arrived. The main symptoms include:
Itching in both the vulva (external) and vagina (internal)
Burning in those areas, especially during sexual intercourse or with urination
Redness and swelling
Thick, cottage cheese-esque discharge that is usually odorless.
Generally, you can diagnose a yeast infection yourself. If it looks like curdled milk is coming out of your vagina and your vagina feels like it’s on fire, you likely have a yeast infection. This is especially true if you have one or more risk factors present.
That being said, there are times that a yeast infection can warrant a visit to the healthcare provider : if over-the-counter treatments don’t solve the problem, if you have recurring or frequent yeast infections or if you have additional symptoms indicating it’s not a yeast infection at all, see a professional.
You may be dealing with something other than a yeast infection if any of the following are present: recent unprotected sex, a fishy or otherwise abnormal smell, fever, abdominal pain or your sex partner is having similar, unusual symptoms.
If you’re unsure, call your healthcare provider . We’re talking about your vaginal health, here! It’s pretty important. Delaying treatment for something other than a yeast infection could have serious consequences, meaning it’s important to seek help quickly as possible, even if you’re feeling shy and embarrassed about it.
For simple one-off yeast infections, the prognosis is great and treatment is pretty easy. Over-the-counter solutions generally contain miconazole, an antifungal medicine. You insert the medicine directly into your vagina and the infection should clear up.
Depending on the brand you choose, you may have to “take” the medication over the course of several days. Don’t skip days and don’t stop once your symptoms ease up — follow the package instructions carefully.
For more serious yeast infections or if you visit your healthcare provider, you may be prescribed an oral medication. These are antifungal solutions, too, but are taken differently.
In very serious cases, you may have a yeast infection that is resistant to traditional antifungals. If this is the case, your healthcare provider may recommend a boric acid capsule inserted into your vagina. However, this is generally a last resort, and only happens in rare cases.
There are some steps you can take that will slow the progression of a yeast infection or tip the scales in your favor if your immune system is being challenged to keep up.
If you’re taking antibiotics, you may consider eating yogurt with live cultures. The bacteria in yogurt may help keep your body’s “good bacteria” in balance, potentially boosting it just enough that the yeasties don’t take over.
Avoid douching. Your vagina is a self-cleaning machine. Douching removes normal bacteria that keeps your vagina healthy.
Get out of wet clothes as quickly as possible. If you run 10 miles on the weekend, take off your running shorts when you get home! Don’t wear your gym tights while you make your post workout snack and take off your bathing suit after a swim. Warm, wet clothing up against your vagina is a breeding ground for grossness.
If you’ve experienced sensitivity or rashes after using perfumed body products, steer clear of bubble baths, scented vaginal washes, and scented pads and/or tampons.
When it comes to yeast infections, the age-old adage still rings true: The best offense is a good defense. Knowing what the causes and symptoms of a yeast infection are and how to avoid putting your vagina at risk are the best ways to ensure you never know the pain and embarrassment of a proper yeast infection. Even so, with the right knowledge — which you now possess — getting a yeast infection doesn’t mean the end of the world. Godspeed, ladies!