Three out of four women are affected by this condition at least once in their lives. Although a yeast infection is very unpleasant, it is usually easily treatable. In this article, we will explain the causes, the possible symptoms, and the treatment options available.
What is a yeast infection?
A yeast infection is a vaginal infection caused by yeast fungi. In most cases, it is the yeast Candida albicans, which also occurs in the natural vaginal environment and causes the infection through overgrowth. A yeast infection can occur both in the vagina and externally in the pubic area (vulva). Vaginal mycosis, as it is known in scientific terms, is the second most common cause of vaginal infection after vaginosis (a bacterial infection of the vagina).
What causes the yeast infection?
A yeast infection occurs when there is an imbalance in the vaginal flora. Normally, lactic acid bacteria ensure an acidic environment in the vaginal mucosa, which serves as a protective mechanism against pathogens. If this environment is impacted, it may trigger a yeast infection.
Risk factors include:
- High estrogen levels such as during puberty, pregnancy or menopause
- Taking oral contraceptives or other medications such as antibiotics or cortisone
- Chronic stress
- Wrong kind of clothing (e.g., skintight underwear made of synthetic fabrics)
- Excessive intimate hygiene
Many of these factors affect the vaginal environment, increasing sugar levels or decreasing acidity in the vagina, which provides ideal growth conditions for a yeast infection.
What are the symptoms of a yeast infection?
The following typical symptoms may occur with a yeast infection:
- Itching and burning in the vaginal or pubic area
- Yellowish-white, odorless, flaky discharge (curd-like).
- Redness and swollen labia
- Occasional discomfort during urination
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Whitish coating on the mucous membrane
The above-mentioned complaints do not always indicate the presence of a yeast infection. Both bacterial vaginosis and parasitic trichomoniasis cause similar symptoms. However, in the case of bacterial vaginosis, the discharge tends to smell fishy and unpleasant, for example. Therefore, a gynecological examination is usually carried out to ensure a reliable diagnosis
Treatment of the yeast infection
A yeast infection is treated with antimycotics, i.e., antifungal agents. They are used as vaginal tablets/suppositories for insertion and/or cream for application. Antiseptics (special agents for disinfection) are also sometimes used. When treated correctly, a yeast infection disappears within a few days. Some preparations are available over the counter in pharmacies.
If local treatment is not successful or the yeast infection keeps recurring, internal use of antifungal drugs (oral) is usually necessary. However, a chronic yeast infection that occurs at least four times a year tends to be more difficult to treat because some strains of Candida albicans can become resistant to the active ingredients.
During pregnancy, a yeast infection should always be treated by a medical professional, even if it does not (yet) cause any discomfort, so that the birth canal is cleared of all fungi in good time.
- Dry your intimate area well after showering or swimming, and keep it clean.
- Avoid using fragrances or other chemical irritants for intimate care where possible. Instead, use a pH-neutral soap to maintain the acidic protective environment. Special intimate lotions containing lactic acid are also available.
- Do not overdo intimate hygiene (too often or with additional douching).
- Avoid synthetic, tight or even abrasive underwear, because yeast fungi (candida) flourish in a moist, warm environment.
- Change your tampons regularly or use breathable pads. Panty liners containing plastic film are rather counterproductive, as they may create a moist, warm environment in the vaginal area.
- In the case of antibiotic treatment, vaginal suppositories containing lactic acid can be used as a preventive measure.
- Wipe from front to back after you use the toilet.
- It has not yet been clearly proven that a sugar-free diet helps to combat yeast infections. However, some experts believe that foods high in carbohydrates as well as those containing yeast and dairy products may promote fungal growth.