Yeast infections occur when there is an overgrowth of yeast in the body. Bodies produce a certain degree of yeasts and other bacterias, which are generally regulated and eliminated by our immune functions and natural bodily processes. However, in warm, moist parts of the body--including the mouth, skin, feet, and vagina--sometimes a yeast overgrowth occurs.
When the term "yeast infection" is used, it generally refers to a yeast infection in the vagina. Vaginal yeast infections, also called vulvovaginal candidiasis, can occur when this overgrowth of yeast occurs in the vagina or when our bodies do not regulate fungus properly.
Causes of a Vaginal Yeast Infection
Yeast infections occur for many reasons. Conditions which lower the immune system--including stress, illnesses, or pregnancy--can inhibit the body's natural ability to minimize the level of yeasts and other fungi. When this occurs, the overgrowth of yeast causing the vaginal yeast infection can occur. Certain medications--including antibiotics, birth control pills, and steroids--can also inhibit the control of yeast by interfering with immune system functions and/or killing good bacteria that keeps yeast in check. Uncontrolled diabetes and high blood sugar can also increase the risk of contacting a vaginal yeast infection. Hormone changes, such as those brought on by menstruation, can also interfere with the bodies ability to properly regulate yeast.
Finally, certain behaviors increase a persons risk for developing a yeast infection. Wearing clothing that is too tight or made from synthetic materials can create an environment where yeast flourish. In addition, using products like douches or scented feminine hygiene products can upset the chemical balance in the vagina and cause an overgrowth in yeast.
Symtpoms of a Vaginal Yeast Infection
Vaginal yeast infections are a symptomatic illness, and symptoms appear when the yeast overgrowth first becomes out of control. Symptoms include irritation and itching in and around the vaginal area. There also may be itching, swelling and redness in the vulva. Unusual vaginal discharge which may have the consistency of cottage cheese can also indicate that a yeast overgrowth exists. Finally, burning during urination or while having sexual intercourse can also suggest a yeast infection.
Spreading Vaginal Yeast Infections
Generally, a yeast infection is caused by an imbalance within the body and the vaginal area. Thus, yeast infections are not typically contagious and can't be spread by skin to skin contact. In rare instances, sexual contact can transmit an overabundance of yeast to a sexual partner. When and if that occurs, the male partner may develop itching or a rash on his penis due to the overabundance of yeast. This transfer of yeast is not considered to be a sexually transmitted disease and is treatable.
Yeast infections can be diagnosed by a home test and/or by a doctor of gynecologist. There are a number of ways to diagnose a yeast infection. A doctor can evaluate unusual vaginal discharge under a microscope in a process called a wet prep. Under the microscope, the doctor will be able to detect the presence of candida which signifies that there is an overabundance of yeast causing a yest infection.
Gynecologists may also diagnose yeast infections through pelvic exams. Yeast infections cause inflammation of the skin within the vulva, vagina or on the cervix. This inflammation can suggest to your doctor that the presence of yeast is irritating the vaginal area. In addition, dry white plagues of yeast may also be present along the walls of the vagina.
Doctors may also take urine samples to rule out other causes of vaginal irritation, including urinary tract infections.
Yeast infections can be treated orally or vaginally. Vaginal cream is inserted in and around the vagina using a suppository. A suppository consists of an applicator that allows you to insert the medicine inside the vagina. The medicines control the production of yeast, to get it back in check so it can stop producing symptoms. Vaginal cream may also relieve itching at the site if the infection.
Yeast infection treatments can take anywhere from 3 to 14 days to clear up the problem, depending on the severity of the yeast infection and the type of treatment. While symptoms may disappear early, it is important to continue the entire prescribed course of treatment to avoid a relapse of the yeast infection, if the yeast begins to grow again once treatment is discontinued.
Wear loose fitting and comfortable clothing that does not trap moisture. Avoid using scented products around the vagina and vaginal area that may interfere with the vagina's ability to cleanse itself naturally. Keep your vaginal area clean and dry and avoid remaining in wet bathing suits or underwear for longer than necessary. Refrain from taking antibiotics unless prescribed by a doctor. Finally, those with diabetes need to take appropriate steps to manage the level of blood sugar in their bodies.