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Have your vagina and vulva been itching like crazy? Do your genitals feel sore, dry, swollen, and irritated? Do you feel discomfort during sex and while urinating? Finally, has your vaginal discharge been white, thick, creamy, and a bit clumpy — like cottage cheese? 

If you can answer "yes" to all of the above, you almost certainly have a yeast infection on your hands. Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida, and it's rare to encounter a woman who has never suffered from one during her lifetime. 

You'll have more questions, though:

  • Are yeast infections sexually transmitted?
  • How do I get rid of my nasty symptoms as soon as possible?
  • Is there anything I can do to prevent future yeast infections?
  • Do I need to see a doctor if I am pretty sure I have a yeast infection?

How Do You Get A Yeast Infection?

While an overgrowth of a fungus that might be present in the vagina without causing any symptoms, Candida, is the direct cause of a yeast infection, there are risk factors you need to know about. 

Pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems, those with diabetes, women using certain kinds of birth control pills, and those who recently took a course of antibiotics, are at an increased risk of developing a yeast infection. The reason pregnant women and those using hormonal contraceptives are at a higher risk of yeast infections is an increase in estrogen. This gives the fungus that causes yeast infections the chance to grow rapidly.

Women who use vaginal douches "to stay clean" also have a higher risk. This is because douching disturbs the microbial flora of the vagina. You don't need to cleanse your vagina — it is self-cleaning. 

A yeast infection is not considered to be a sexually transmitted disease; girls and women of all ages can develop them without ever having sex. It is, however, possible for a yeast infection to be passed onto you by a (sex) partner. Men are less likely than women to have yeast infections, but they can get them. Male yeast infections manifest as redness, a dry, scaly skin rash, and white spots on the penis.

Note that yeast infections don't just occur in the genital region. The mouth, nipples, esophagus, and blood stream can all be affected. Oral yeast infections (thrush) are manifested as white patches within the mouth. If you notice this, please see your healthcare provider at your earliest convenience. 

How Do I Treat My Yeast Infection?

Yeast infections can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal medications. You can also try taking probiotics at the same time. 

So, Do I Need To See A Doctor If I Already 'Know' I Have A Yeast Infection?

Ideally, yes.

Women who notice the tell-tale signs of a yeast infection may be tempted to go it alone with over-the-counter antifungals, especially if they have already had yeast infections in the past and are quite sure they know exactly what they are dealing with. 

Chances are that you are right and you really do have a yeast infection. A yeast infection may, however, not be the only thing you're dealing with, especially if you are sexually active.

Women who have developed the symptoms of a yeast infection after unprotected sexual contact will want to make sure they do not also have sexually transmitted diseases. (Remember, many STDs can be treated with nothing more than a course of antibiotics. The sooner you get treated, the lower your risk of developing long-term complications. If you do have a more serious sexually transmitted disease, timely diagnosis is especially important!)

In addition, some women who think they are sure they have a yeast infection actually turn out to have vaginitis, an inflammation of the vagina, caused by something else — including STDs and sexual intercourse. 

I Don't Want A Yeast Infection Again — What Can I Do?

Don't douche. Stay away from perfumed hygiene products, synthetic clothing, and tight clothing. Use condoms if you know your partner currently has a yeast infection. Wipe from front to back, and keep your diabetes under control if you're diabetic. 

Some people with repeated yeast infections decide to follow a so-called yeast infection diet. There is some evidence that an overconsumption of sugar makes you more vulnerable to yeast infections, so cutting out sugar makes sense. Some people additionally eliminate white flour products and fermented yeast products, including alcoholic beverages, from their diets. 

Probiotics may play a role in treating and preventing yeast infections, so if you are interested in following a yeast infection diet, you may want to try a lactobacillus supplement or consume yogurt with live cultures. 

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