Vaginal yeast infections are one of the most common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge. They often occur because of excess weight, antibiotics use or just having a warm, sweaty genital region (making them very common in the warmer months). But do you always have to go to the doctor when things get a little itchy down there? Sometimes, you want to be able to test quickly without a visit to the doctor's office.
Of course, visiting your OB-GYN to get treated for a yeast infection is always the best option, especially if you need other issues checked out, too. However, if you can't get an appointment in a timely manner or you don't have time to get tested in person, you may consider an at-home yeast infection test.
What is a yeast infection?
"A yeast infection is caused by an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina," said Carly Ross, M.D., the OB-GYN medical advisor for Stix, a women's health brand in Philadelphia. "Symptoms typically include vaginal itching and irritation along with a thick, white, cottage-cheesy discharge."
This overgrowth occurs during disruptions in the pH balance of the vagina.
"Pregnancy, uncontrolled diabetes, antibiotic treatment, some birth control pills can give yeast infection; mechanical stress such as chafing from underwear or sport activities, stress and excessive washing of the vulva or the use of wrong washes can aid in the development of a yeast infection," said Gunvor Ekman-Ordeberg, OB-GYN and co-founder of DeoDoc Swedish Intimate Skin Care in Stockholm.
What is an at-home yeast infection test?
At-home yeast infection tests measure the acidity of vaginal discharge. Kits typically contain a pH strip you hold alongside the wall of the vagina for a few seconds. Afterward, you use the chart provided to determine the acidity.
"A normal vaginal pH is relatively acidic, measuring 4.0 to 4.5," said Iris Kerin Orbuch, M.D., a California-based endometriosis specialist and best-selling co-author of "Beating Endo: How to Reclaim Your Life From Endometriosis."
However, people experiencing a yeast infection typically have a normal pH level, so the test isn't able to tell you much about what's going on down yonder.
"It is important to remember that changes in vaginal pH don't always mean you have an infection," Orbuch said.
What are the pros of an at-home yeast infection test?
The name itself describes a majority of the benefits of doing a test at home.
"Pros of an at-home yeast infection test are being able to do the test in the privacy of your own home and avoiding a doctor's visit before beginning to treat yourself," Ross said.
...and what are the cons?
The cons of at-home yeast infection tests significantly outweigh the benefits.
"I cannot stress enough that these tests are not to detect vaginal yeast infections," Ekman-Ordeberg said. "They will only measure your pH, which can give you an indication of bacterial vaginosis. Bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections are not the same thing and they require different treatment."
What's the difference? Bacterial vaginosis is caused by the overgrowth of bad bacteria in the vagina as opposed to the good bacteria. On the other hand, yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of yeast commonly referred to as Candida albicans.
To properly receive a yeast infection diagnosis, a trip to the gynecologist is required. At the office, they do a physical examination to provide accurate results.
"In the office, the doctor would take a sample of your vaginal discharge and look at it under the microscope to see if there is yeast present," Ross said. "Alternatively, a sample of the discharge could be sent to the lab for culture to see if yeast grows."
If you have a yeast infection, you need to seek medical advice anyway to get the proper treatment, which normally consists of antibiotic creams, pills (fluconazole), suppositories or ointments that can only be prescribed by a physician.
Bottom line? At-home yeast infection tests are unreliable and do not work. They are not to be used as a replacement for visiting a doctor. While they may be an indicator of an infection, they cannot definitively say if you have a yeast infection.