For women, a yeast infection is typically characterized by vaginal itching and burning, and a thick cottage cheese-like discharge. Over-the-counter drugs like Monistat can clear up the infection in just a few days, but what should you do if the problem lasts longer, or keeps coming back?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that three out of four women will get a yeast infection in their lives with half of women getting more than one.
What Causes Yeast Infections?
Your body, including your vagina, is home to millions of beneficial microorganisms that work to keep you healthy. The fungus that causes yeast infections, most commonly candida albicans, can live in your body without causing a problem as long as your good bacteria are plentiful. However if conditions are right, candida albicans can grow and thrive and cause an uncomfortable infection.
Yeast infections are more common during pregnancy, following antibiotics, with poorly controlled diabetes and with improper hygiene. Tight, non-breathable, non-cotton underwear, douching, frequent bubble baths, hormone imbalance and panty liners can all alter the natural balance of bacteria in your body and create an environment that is friendly to the growth of candida albicans.
“Some women are prone to recurring yeast infections for a number of reasons,” said Ian Ledford, DO, from Samaritan Internal Medicine - Corvallis. “In these cases, there seems to be a problem with the protective function of the vaginal mucus. Reducing risk factors such as inappropriate antibiotic use, uncontrolled blood sugar, and poor hygiene will help you from getting a yeast infection.”
When to See Your Health Care Provider
For persistent or recurring infections, Dr. Ledford reports your provider may prescribe an oral or topical antifungal medication.
If you have had more than four yeast infections in a year or have an infection that doesn’t go away with treatment, Dr. Ledford encourages women to see their provider. If you have vaginal discharge that is off-white, grayish or greenish-yellow, this could point toward other bacterial or sexually transmitted infections that require different treatment.
“Yeast infections can generally be diagnosed and treated at home, so if yours is becoming a problem then it’s time to see a doctor,” said Dr. Ledford.
Learn more about vaginal yeast infections from our health library.