If you have recently noticed some changes in your vagina, such as irritation, soreness or a complete change in discharge, chances are you could be experiencing a yeast infection (also called vaginal candidiasis). Relax. It sounds worse than it is and, in fact, it is actually very common, even if most of us don’t want to admit it. The truth? They are painful and irritating but completely curable – and avoidable!
Learn what symptoms to look for, how to treat and prevent them here.
What is a Yeast Infection?
Vaginal candidiasis is common, affecting up to three in every four women at some point in their lives, with some experiencing a recurrence. It is not sexually transmitted, but there is an increased risk of developing an infection if you are sexually active.
Vaginal yeast infection discharge is usually very thick in consistency, and odourless. Other common symptoms include a soreness and itching inside the vagina and around the vulva (outside your vagina).
The good news is that most women find that over the counter treatments are easily accessible, and very effective in treating vaginal candidiasis – with most infections clearing up after 7-14 days.
What Causes Yeast Infections?
Vaginal candidiasis occurs when the healthy balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina is unbalanced. Your vagina’s pH levels are usually acidic, but if this is disrupted, a normally harmless fungi called candida can start to grow faster than usual – and this can lead to an infection.
There can actually be several potential reasons why this happens, including:
The role of antibiotics is to kill off bacteria in the body and, unfortunately, this also includes the good bacteria that your vagina needs to stay healthy. This can lead to an imbalance of your vagina’s pH levels, which in turn can lead to vaginal candidiasis.
Many methods of birth control contain a mix of oestrogen and progestin, which can disrupt the body’s natural hormonal balance. This disruption can lead to a yeast overgrowth, again potentially increasing the risk of an infection.
Studies have found that a weakened immune system can also lead to the overgrowth of yeast in the vagina. Some medications and certain medical conditions can lead to a weakened immune system. Speak to your healthcare provider if you are concerned about this.
Yeast Infection Symptoms
Typical symptoms may differ from person to person, with most experiencing some or all of the following: itching, soreness and swelling to the vagina and vaginal lips (labia), along with a change in normal vaginal discharge.
Dr Julie Bowring, consultant in sexual and reproduction health at London Gynaecology, explains further:
‘Many women notice a thicker vaginal discharge and one of the most common symptoms is itching inside the vagina or over the vulva. This may lead to discomfort inside the vagina, and some women also experience a burning sensation when passing urine. It is not uncommon to find sex more difficult and women may feel sore afterwards.’
It is worth noting here that pain during sex can also be a sign of other medical conditions, such as uterine fibroids. If you are not sure, always seek advice from your healthcare provider.
Other less common symptoms include: fever, chills, nausea or vomiting and abdominal/pelvic pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, again you should seek medical advice to rule out a possible urinary tract infection (UTI).
Yeast Infection vs Bacterial Vaginosis
Although vaginal candidiasis is not the same as bacterial vaginosis (and requires a different treatment plan), many women do often often mistake their symptoms with the symptoms of a bacterial infection.
Dr Saurabh Phadnis, consultant gynaecologist and gynaecologist oncologist at London Gynaecology, explains the difference:
‘Yeast is a fungal infection. Fungi are far more complicated organisms in comparison to bacteria in terms of their cell structure. They are usually slower to mutate and hence can be easily treated with anti-fungal medications. Bacteria on the other hand are treated by antibiotics.’
Treatment Options for Yeast Infections
If you are able to spot the early signs of vaginal candidiasis, it is a good idea to start yeast infection treatment treatment as soon as you can. It’s also important to treat both the symptoms and the cause of the infection. This means using an internal treatment alongside an external treatment.
It is possible for vaginal candidiasis to go away on its own, but most women tend to opt for treatment given that the common symptoms usually experienced are, if nothing else, unpleasant to say the least and could potentially lead to more unwanted symptoms overall.
Some treatments may need longer than the usual 7 days to start working, or you might find that the infection returns. In this case, it is advisable to again seek advice from your healthcare provider.
You should also seek medical advice if you are under the age of 12, or if you are pregnant.
Anti-Fungal Vaginal Treatment
Anti-fungal treatments are available over the counter and are safe to use during pregnancy.
You can choose to take a pessary (a tablet inserted into the vagina) to treat the infection, along with an anti-fungal cream applied externally to ease symptoms such as itching and soreness.
Internal anti-fungal creams are also available if you prefer not to use a pessary, and can be used alongside the external cream.
One Time Oral Medication
Some women prefer to take a medication called Fluconazole, which is a one time oral tablet that gets to work a lot more quickly, usually within 2 days. This can also be used with the external cream to relieve symptoms, but it is not suitable if you are pregnant.
Yeast Infection Prevention Tips
Recurring infections can happen, but the good news is, there is plenty you can do to prevent that from happening.
Maintain a Normal pH balance
When your vagina’s pH balance is disrupted, bad bacteria and fungus can start to overgrow, and this is what leads to infections. So, although it might require a few lifestyle changes, it is definitely worth it.
Avoid Douching and Fragranced Soaps
Soaps and shower gels that are heavily fragranced can disrupt the pH balance of your vagina, so always avoid using them. Douching (washing inside the vagina) isn’t necessary either. Your vagina is actually able to self clean, so mild soap and warm water is all you need when you shower.
Use Moisture Wicking Underwear
Tight underwear made from synthetic materials is never a great idea for vaginal hygiene and trying to prevent infection. These materials tend to create a warm and moist environment where yeast can thrive, and where the balance of bacteria can change.
Natural fibres such as cotton are much better, because they allow your vagina to breathe and because they’re moisture wicking too, which means that you stay dry and comfortable, and your vagina’s pH balance remains stable.
During your period, there is a lot more moisture for your underwear to deal with, and it is important to replace your tampon or pads regularly too. We recommend our WUKA Ultimate™ Lace Hipster briefs for complete tampon and pad replacement instead. These popular bestseller period pants are made from organic cotton, so they will keep you clean and dry during your period, reducing the risk of infection and ensuring your vagina is happy all day long.
We also recommend our WUKA Basics™ Thong made from Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) certified cotton. This period-proof thong is a great option for lighter days, or to absorb discharge throughout your cycle.
About London Gynaecology:
London Gynaecology is an established private gynaecology practice providing daily services to women. Led by a team of consultant gynaecologists who hold senior positions in the NHS and bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to London Gynaecology.