There are a number of different types of infections that can affect a woman’s reproductive system. From bacterial vaginosis to pelvic inflammatory disease, some of these infections can pose serious problems for your overall health. However, the most common form of reproductive infection is generally mild and uncomplicated. Known as a yeast infection, or thrush, this type of infection affects millions of women every year. Though it can cause uncomfortable symptoms, most yeast infections can be effectively treated by your health care provider.
What is a Yeast Infection?
Yeast infections are caused by a naturally occurring fungus, known as Candida albicans. This fungus is found in small amounts inside of your vagina, as well as in your mouth and digestive tract. Candida yeast is usually kept in balance by the acidic environment inside of your vagina. However, sometimes this acidic environment can become out of balance, causing the candida fungus to grow rapidly. This overgrowth of candida yeast in the vagina is known as a vaginal yeast infection. More than 75% of women experience at least one yeast infection at some point in their lives.
What Causes a Yeast Infection?
There are a number of possible reasons why the candida yeast may start to overgrow. Factors affecting the balance of the candida yeast in your vagina include:
- having your menstrual period
- using the birth control pill
- taking antibiotics (particularly tetracycline)
- having HIV/AIDs
The candida yeast can also grow quickly in moist and warm environments. For this reason, wearing tight clothing, damp bathing suits, or frequent douching can also lead to a vaginal yeast infection.
What are the Symptoms of a Yeast Infection?
Yeast infection symptoms can range from mild to severe, but typically include:
- itching around the vagina
- redness and irritation of the labia (the skin surrounding the vagina)
- pain during sexual intercourse
- burning during urination
- thick, white discharge from the vagina (often resembling cottage cheese)
Complications of Yeast Infection
Yeast infections are rarely serious and normally cause no additional health complications. It is possible to develop chronic yeast infections, however, this is typically due to the use of ineffective treatment. Pregnant women who have a yeast infection during labour and delivery, can pass their infection on to their child. In newborns, these infections typically take the form of thrush, an oral candida infection that causes white bumps to appear all over the mouth.
Male Yeast Infections
Though rare, it is possible to spread your yeast infection on to your sexual partner. Even men can get yeast infections that attack the tip of the penis. This type of yeast infection is known as bulanitis, and is caused by the same candida organism responsible for causing vaginal yeast infections. If your partner is experiencing any yeast infection symptoms, make sure that they visit their health care provider for treatment.
Diagnosing a Yeast Infection
It is generally recommended that women experiencing symptoms of a possible yeast infection visit with their health care providers. Your health care provider can perform a number of tests in order to ensure that you are indeed suffering from a yeast infection. This will allow you to receive proper treatment.
Diagnosis of a candida yeast infection is typically straightforward. Your health care provider will likely perform a pelvic exam, in order to rule out other possible infections, including trichomoniasis and other STDs that can produce similar symptoms. Your healthcare provider will than take a swab of your vaginal discharge and analyze this swab under a slide. The presence of the candida yeast will be visible under a microscope.
Treatment of Yeast Infections
Yeast infection treatment is highly effective and can help to eliminate your symptoms and the infection within a few days. If this is your first infection, or if you are pregnant or experiencing other health related problems, it is generally recommended that you ask your healthcare provider for a prescription treatment. If you have already had a yeast infection, and are familiar with the symptoms, you may want to try an over-the-counter treatment from your local pharmacy. Typical treatments include:
- vaginal creams
- vaginal suppositories (inserted with an applicator)
- oral medications
Depending upon the type of medication you decide to use, you may have to continue the treatment for between three and seven days. Symptoms, including itching, typically disappear within the first few days of treatment.
Preventing Yeast Infections
There are a few things that you can do to help prevent future yeast infections:
- Try not to wear tight clothing or synthetic fabrics. These trap moisture close to your body and can lead to an infection.
- Remove damp clothes and bathing suits promptly.
- Avoid douching or using scented feminine hygiene products.
- Avoid taking too many bubble baths or using harsh soaps. Instead, stick to mild, hypoallergenic products.
These white vaginal bumps can also be a sign of an STD. Check out our STD forum to see what other women are saying about similar symptoms.