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The Facts About Yeast Infections

Yeast infections are itchy and uncomfortable—but common. Here's what to do.

The female pelvic region is shown up close covered by pink underwear.

A yeast infection causes irritation and intense itchiness of the tissues at the vaginal opening and produces atypical discharge. The condition is very common, with up to 3 in 4 women likely to be affected at some point in their lives.

Anytime people have an issue in their genital area, they may be embarrassed to talk about it and, therefore, may not always seek medical help. Fortunately, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can effectively treat yeast infections without a trip to the doctor.

Here's everything you need to know about yeast infections, including symptoms, risk factors and treatments.

What is a yeast infection?

A yeast infection, commonly referred to as vulvovaginal candidiasis or vaginal candidiasis, occurs when the yeast that normally resides in the vagina grows out of control. Candida is the main type of fungus that is responsible for this infection.

Candida does not normally cause any problems. However, an imbalance of good and bad bacteria can cause the yeast to grow rapidly, resulting in pain, swelling and discomfort in many cases.

While certain factors can increase your risk, a vaginal yeast infection is often unavoidable.


Although a yeast infection is rarely serious, the symptoms can be very uncomfortable and painful. The severity of the symptoms varies from person to person, but typically, you experience pain during urination, soreness, burning and swelling of the vulva, and a thick, white vaginal discharge that may resemble cottage cheese.

You may experience one or all of these symptoms, however, they should never be ignored.

In most cases, a yeast infection does not simply go away without treatment. In fact, it is likely that the symptoms will worsen and put you at risk of recurring yeast infections.

What are the risk factors for yeast infections?

Any woman can experience a yeast infection, but some women may be more at risk than others. Certain medical conditions can increase the risk. These include uncontrolled diabetes, HIV and a weakened immune system.

Pregnancy, menopause or taking birth control pills can cause increased estrogen levels, which can lead to a yeast infection. Additionally, taking antibiotics can kill some of the healthy bacteria that resides in the vagina, which can allow yeast to overgrow.

Some of the other factors that can increase your risk of a yeast infection include douching, using vaginal wipes or sprays, and washing your vagina with fragranced soap.

How is a yeast infection treated?

You should see a doctor the first time you experience symptoms of a yeast infection because it's important to rule out other serious causes, such as a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Once your doctor is sure you have a yeast infection, they can prescribe an antifungal medicine in the form of a pill, a cream, an ointment or a suppository that you insert into your vagina.

How long you take the medicine depends on what your healthcare provider recommends, but it usually is about seven days. Many people see an improvement in symptoms after a day or two, but you must continue taking the medicine for the prescribed time to make sure the infection fully clears up.

Where can yeast infections originate?

Research shows that yeast infections are the second-most common cause of vaginitis, or inflammation of the vagina. Approximately 3 out of 4 women get a yeast infection in their lifetime.

A 2018 study revealed that 138 million women worldwide experience recurrent yeast infections, and that number is only set to increase.

Even though a yeast infection is not an STI, it's often recommended that you avoid sex until your infection has cleared up. There is a 15 percent chance that a woman with a yeast infection can pass it on to their male partner, and this can cause an itchy rash on the penis. If the woman's partner is also a woman, the risk of passing on the infection increases.

Diagnosis and testing

It's important to get a diagnosis, especially if this is your first time experiencing symptoms. Your doctor or nurse can examine your vagina and vulva for signs of redness and swelling. They usually take a sample of the vaginal discharge and send it to a lab to be examined under a microscope.

At-home testing kits are available to diagnose a yeast infection. However, it's uncertain whether these kits are accurate. It's always recommended that you go to your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Can a yeast infection be prevented?

There are times when it's difficult to prevent a yeast infection: during pregnancy, while using birth control and while taking antibiotics. However, you can make many lifestyle changes to lower your risk or stop recurring infections.

These steps include wearing loose, breathable underwear, avoiding scented soaps and other vaginal products, wiping front to back after a bowel movement, changing your underwear after exercising or when wet, and avoiding hot baths.

If you have diabetes or another health problem that puts you at risk of a yeast infection, talk to your doctor about ways you can manage your condition.

Can men get yeast infections?

Despite yeast infections commonly being associated with women, men can get them, too. Yeast infections in men present as an infection surrounding the penis and testicles, and it's caused by an overgrowth of fungus.

The symptoms of a yeast infection in men are redness, itching or burning on the tip of the penis, swelling of the tip of the penis or the foreskin, and discharge that resembles cottage cheese.

The treatment usually involves an antifungal cream, steroid cream or oral medication.


Is a yeast infection a sexually transmitted infection?

No. A yeast infection is not an STI and they are not commonly associated. However, some of the symptoms of a yeast infection can mirror the symptoms of an STI, so it's important to go to the doctor and get tested to rule out an STI or any other serious causes.

What is the main cause of yeast infections?

Yeast infections are caused by a type of fungus called Candida albicans. This type of yeast commonly resides throughout the body and normally does not cause any problems. However, when there is a change in the vaginal bacteria, this can cause the yeast to grow out of control, which leads to an infection.

Does a yeast infection go away on its own?

No, not usually. While it's true that some milder cases could clear up on their own, it's not recommended that you leave a yeast infection untreated. The symptoms can be difficult to live with and can interfere with your daily activities. Once you start treatment, you should see relief within a couple of days, so you should not delay it.