Nearly all women (and some men) will experience a yeast infection at some point in their lives.
WHAT IS IT?
An organism called Candida (pronounced KAN-dee-duh) can cause an infection called Candidiasis, which is what most people refer to as a “yeast infection.” In the vagina, there are two general types of microorganisms: yeast and bacteria. These are referred to as “the vaginal flora.” Most of the time, the yeast and the bacteria keep each other in check. But if something upsets the balance of the vaginal flora, irritation or infection can result.
It is possible for men to get yeast infections in their penis or urethra. Both men and women can get yeast infections in the throat.
HOW IS IT TRANSMITTED?
Any number of things can cause a yeast infection. Yeast infections are not necessarily sexually transmitted, though it is possible for a yeast infection to be passed from one partner to another during unprotected intercourse.
Many women get yeast infections after taking antibiotics to treat other infections. Antibiotics can kill the bacteria in the vagina, upsetting the vaginal flora. Hormone changes (like those that occur as a result of pregnancy) can cause yeast infections to develop. Tight clothing, nylon underwear, pantyhose, and wet bathing suits hold in heat and moisture – the conditions in which yeast organisms thrive. Changes in diet, emotional stress, menstruation, and diabetes can make yeast infections more likely to occur.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
The common symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are:
o Burning in and around the vagina
o Thick, white discharge
If a woman has any of these symptoms, she should check with her health care provider, as there are other infections that can cause similar symptoms. A clinician will diagnose a yeast infection by taking a sample of the discharge and examining it under a microscope.
In a man, itching, burning, and redness of the penis can all be signs of a yeast infection. If a man has any of these symptoms, he should contact his health care provider. If he knows that his partner is being treated for a yeast infection, he should mention that to the clinician.
Since many women will get more than one yeast infection in their lives, they may not find it necessary to consult their health care provider every time. Women who have had yeast infections before often recognize the symptoms and can buy over-the-counter medications to treat them. If a woman uses an over-the-counter remedy and the infection does not go away, she should consult her health care provider.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
Vaginal yeast infections can be treated topically (at the site of the infection) or with a medication taken orally (by mouth). There most commonly prescribed oral medication for yeast infections is called Diflucan™. It is a single pill taken by mouth. The symptoms of the yeast infection should begin to go away within 24 hours of taking the medication. Some women who take Diflucan™ might also want to use a topical cream to provide immediate relief from symptoms.
Many health care providers will recommend that a woman purchase an over-the-counter treatment (rather than use a prescription) for yeast infections. These are available in treatment courses that last 1, 3, 5, 7, or 10 days. A woman’s health care provider should be able to tell her which option will work best for treating her infection. Most of these treatment kits contain medicated suppositories that are inserted into the vagina and creams that can help reduce irritation and itchiness.
Whatever method a woman chooses to treat a yeast infection, it is important for her to follow all the directions exactly as they are written. She should use all the medication, even if she starts to feel better right away.
Most women should avoid sexual intercourse (especially unprotected sexual intercourse) while they are being treated for a yeast infection. Yeast infections can be passed to partners during sexual intercourse. Intercourse may be painful while a woman has an active yeast infection, and can prevent the medication from working properly.
HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF FROM IT?
Some yeast infections are unavoidable, but there are things women can do to reduce their risk of developing them. If a woman has to take antibiotics to treat another illness, many people advise that she eat plenty of yogurt while she is taking the antibiotics, which can help replace the bacteria that the antibiotics might kill. Also, women can:
o Wear loose-fitting clothing whenever possible
o Wear only underwear that has a cotton crotch
o Avoid wearing wet bathing suits and exercise close
o Dry the genital area thoroughly after swimming or bathing
o Avoid douching, which increases a woman’s chances of developing a range of vaginal infections