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Halina Tomaszczyk, MD
Halina Tomaszczyk, MD | GMC licence number: 3125964
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Vaginal yeast infection – symptoms, causes, treatment, prevention

Vaginal yeast infection is a common name for a vaginal infection that is professionally known as vaginal candidiasis. Right after bacterial vaginosis, it is the most common genitourinary infection in most women at every age. Vaginal candidiasis should not be ignored, as, untreated, may lead to numerous complications. 

Vaginal yeast infection is mostly caused by yeast fungi belonging to Candida albicans species, which, due to disturbed vaginal flora, begin to dominate and cause unpleasant symptoms. Experiencing various types of vaginal infection symptoms, very often, women first reach for intimate hygiene products, probiotics, or over-the-counter preparations for vaginal infections. They may reduce the symptoms of candidiasis at the beginning, but will not cure it completely, therefore, you should always go to a doctor in such a situation.

Vaginal yeast infection – symptoms

Burning sensation, discharges, pruritus, vaginal pain during and after a sexual intercourse, vaginal dryness, redness and swelling of the vulva are the main symptoms of an infection, which may indicate vaginal candidiasis. Usually, vaginal discharge changes its colour and texture from smooth and transparent or slightly whitish, odourless mucus into clearly white, thick, and clumpy consistency with a sweet smell of yeast. Over time, discharges may become more yellow, but in some cases this symptom does not occur whatsoever. 

How to find out whether it is vaginal yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis? Not on your own, obviously, because an accurate diagnosis is possible through vaginal swab and culture. Then, you can find out whether the infection is caused by yeasts or other microorganisms. It might happen that vaginal yeast infection is asymptomatic and women finds out about the infection only when visiting a gynaecologist.

Vaginal yeast infection – causes

Vaginal candidiasis usually develops through endogenous infection. This means that pathogens causing the infections are already present in the human body and, in favourable conditions, overcome the protective barriers and cause inflammation. Yeasts, which are the most common cause of candidiasis, may, for example, come from intestines or live in the vagina without causing any abnormal symptoms. 

The main protective barrier of the vagina is a proper bacterial microflora, with rod-shaped lactic acid bacteria (Lactobacillus) playing a key role. 

What, then, contributes to a disturbed vaginal flora leading to vaginal candidiasis? The problem affects many women regardless of age, so there may be numerous causes.

  1. Incorrect hygiene of intimate areas – on the one hand, it might be the lack of properly frequent hygiene, especially during menstruation, which weakens the defence mechanisms of the vagina. On the other hand, too intense and frequent hygiene of intimate areas also can disturb the natural balance of the vaginal flora and make it easier for yeasts to develop an infection. Note that preparations with vagina-friendly pH (intimate hygiene washes and gels) should be used, while improper soaps and irrigations should be avoided if their use is not justified. It is also not recommended to use someone else’s towels or borrow underwear.
  2. Use of medicines:
    • One of the top factors conducive to vaginal yeast infection are antibiotics, which – by fighting disease-causing microorganisms – kill also the “good” bacteria responsible for the acidic environment of the vagina. Some types of antibiotics additionally induce the proliferation of yeasts.
    • Corticosteroids – anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy, and immunosuppressive drugs also may contribute to the development of a yeast infection.
    • Contraceptive pills and tablets used during a hormonal therapy.
  3. Weakness caused by a disease. Reduced body immunity.
  4. Diabetes – high blood sugar is conducive to yeast growth.
  5. Hormonal disorders which reduce the vaginal acidity. This is why vaginal candidiasis is more common in:
    • Pregnant women
    • Women in menopause, where vaginal dryness is an additional factor.
  6. End of a monthly cycle, when hormonal fluctuations also take place.
  7. Avitaminosis – particularly important are deficiencies of B-group vitamins.
  8. Long-term stress which weakens the immune system.
  9. Bacterial infections.
  10. Use of swimming pools, saunas, and public toilettes.
  11. Partner, who may not have any symptoms, but still be an infection carrier. Therefore, in recurring candidiasis, it is recommended that both partners undergo tests and treatment.
  12. Synthetic underwear, unbreathable clothing.
  13. Improper diet with an excessive amount of carbohydrates. Simple sugars are an ideal food for yeasts.

Vaginal yeast infection – treatment Globules, ointments, creams, tablets, probiotics

You should not treat vaginal yeast infection with homemade methods or on your own because not fully treated, badly treated, chronic, and recurring infection may lead to more serious complications and diseases. First of all, when the symptoms of an infection are observed, a woman should go to a doctor. 

A test will demonstrate which species of Candida we are dealing with, while an antibiotic sensitivity test will show which drug will be the most effective in a given case. In order to start treatment early, a gynaecologist may prescribe an antifungal drug with a broad spectrum of action and later, having received the test results, start a targeted therapy (aimed at a specific Candida species). 

Vaginal yeast infection is treated with:

  • Fungicidal vaginal globules
  • Ointments and creams applied to intimate areas
  • Oral medication in the case of advanced, recurring candidiasis or if, for some reason, vaginal globules cannot be used
  • Vaginal or oral preparations containing Lactobacillus bacteria strains (probiotics)
  • The treatment time depends on the severity of candidiasis, but usually lasts from 7 to 14 days. Remember that under no circumstances can the treatment be interrupted even if the symptoms stop after three days and you feel better. This does not mean that the infection has been completely treated and, if the treatment is discontinued too early, yeasts will start to grow again and the infection will recur. After several days from a completed treatment, a doctor may recommend a follow-up swab test in order to check whether everything has returned to normal.

    Vaginal yeast infection – over-the-counter drugs

    Vaginal infections, including vaginal yeast infection, should be treated after a consultation with a gynaecologist. Some candidiasis medications are on prescription, but there are also over-the-counter drugs supporting the treatment of vaginal infections. 

    Over-the-counter drugs for vaginal yeast infection include:

  • Probiotics – used in order to supplement the treatment of vaginal yeast infection in recurring candidiasis or as a prophylaxis when a woman may be more susceptible to infections. They are available in the form of oral tablets, washes, gels for irrigation, or vaginal capsules.
  • Antifungal ointments, creams, and gels used locally on intimate areas.
  • Vaginal irrigation liquids.
  • Oral preparations – homeopathic drugs supporting vaginal infection therapies.
  • Vaginal yeast infection – prevention

    In order to prevent vaginal yeast infection and protect yourself from recurring vaginal infections, it is important to avoid factors contributing to the yeast growth. In order to maintain the proper vaginal flora:

    1. Cleanse intimate areas properly and use appropriate cosmetics. Too frequent vaginal hygiene weakens the natural vaginal flora, which increases the susceptibility to candidiasis. For more frequent cleansing during menstruation, only use cosmetics with proper pH (such cosmetics should also be used every day), but sometimes water will be enough. Instead of taking long baths, it is best to take quick showers – especially, do not lie in a bathtub every day. Do not use sponges or washcloths to cleanse your intimate areas. Wipe using your own towel only.
    2. Maintain proper diet – well-balanced, light diet with low carbohydrate intake. The best food for yeasts is sugar, therefore, it is worth cutting it out.
    3. Avoid public toilettes and, when it is impossible, remember not to sit directly on the toilette seat.
    4. Cut down on saunas, jacuzzi, and swimming pools.
    5. Support your body with probiotics, especially in the period of reduced immunity and during antibiotic therapies.
    6. Wear breathable clothes and cotton underwear.
    7. During menstruation, it is better to use sanitary pads instead of tampons.

    Recurring vaginal yeast infection

    Recurring vaginal yeast infection may be caused by:

  • Failure to treat the previous infection completely
  • Improper treatment (candidiasis medications were not targeted, while those with a broad spectrum of use were not able to deal with the specific Candida species)
  • Improper diet, rich in carbohydrates
  • Sexual intercourse with a partner who is a yeast infection carrier, although has no symptoms
  • Improper hygiene of intimate areas
  • General weakness, especially of the immune system
  • Constant antibiotic therapies
  • Disturbed hormonal balance
  • Hormonal therapy, taking contraceptive pills.
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