A vaginal yeast infection is a fungal infection caused by the bacteria Candida Albicans. A healthy, happy vagina normally has some Candida and other healthy bacteria within it, but it exists in a delicate and acidic balance. When something occurs which disrupts that balance, and the vagina becomes more alkali and less acidic, that bacteria proliferates and causes an infection.
Yeast infections can be the result of many things, including an unbalanced diet, a preexisting sexually transmitted disease, antibiotics, birth control pills, pregnancy, diabetes or immunosupression as the result of disease like AIDS or the HIV virus. Yeast infections are often present due to the interference of several accomplices (see below).
Douching, pantyhose and synthetic or wet undergarments without breathability, diets heavy in sugar, simple carbohydrates or yeast, allergic reactions, other infections or sexually transmitted diseases.
If this is the first time you suspect a yeast infection, see your doctor or gynecologist. If it is not, you can simply call into your doctor, and get a prescribed approach by telephone, or get your regular over-the-counter or natural remedy if it continues to be effective for you.
Most doctors prescribe either oral medications like Diflucan, or over-the-counter treatments like Monistat or Gyne-Lotrimin. The latter are used with an application tube which inserts the treatment cream or ovule into your vagina. With that treatment may also be a soothing cream for your labia and vulva to relieve soreness, itching and swelling. It's important to go to the doctor, however, the first time you have these symptoms. Do not self-medicate buy simply buying an over-the-counter treatment. If you do, and you do NOT have a yeast infection, you could either reduce the effectiveness of the medication when you DO have one, or you could end up with one you didn't have in the first place by disrupting the acid balance of your vagina with treatment that isn't correct.
If you are using suppositories or creams as listed above, most doctors don't advise using a menstrual pad -- not tampons or menstrual cups -- with them when there is overflow. The fibers of a pad can cause even more irritation, which is the last thing someone with a yeast infection needs. Instead, simply go to the bathroom regularly and wipe away the excess.
Cranberry juice is natures gift to urogenital and vaginal health. Until you can get to the doctor, you can help soothe your discomfort with the almighty cranberry. You can either drink undiluted cranberry juice with water (Beware! It's VERY sour), or get cranberry tablets (Cran-Actin is a good brand) at your local natural foods store. Take the tablets as instructed with lots of fresh water. The high level of ascorbic acid in cranberry acts as a natural disinfectant in your body and helps restore the naturally acidic state of the vagina vital to its health.
Yogurt is also very helpful. You can use it (organic and plain yogurt only) as a poultice (something you apply to the skin) on or inside your vagina, by simply spreading it with a finger. In addition, simply eating plenty of natural yogurt with live cultures (especially when on antibiotics) helps protect and restore the healthy bacteria in your body.
Level of Danger
Minimal (so long as it isn't a symptom of something else), though the level of annoyance is hella high. Yeast infections are not exactly contagious, but a decent percentage of sexual partners experience itching and rashes if one partner has one. In addition, those being treated for a yeast infection should abstain from sex, especially since treatments can erode a condom, and sexual activity can increase swelling and irritation. Chronic or recurrent infections may also occur, as may secondary infection. If you scratch or rub your vaginal area too much because of the itching, the skin of the vulva may become cracked and raw, making it more susceptible to another -- or a separate -- infection.
Chronic yeast infections (when you seem to get them over and over again) should be reported to a doctor and looked into, because they can be an early sign of HIV infection or another immunosuppressive disease or disorder.
Avoid douching, as well as undergarments which do not allow for air flow (like tight nylons or synthetic fibers) to the genitals. Watch your diet, and ask your doctor about it if you get more than one infection. What you're eating (or not eating) may be triggering infection. Keep your genitals clean, but don't overwash. Washing too much, or using harsh soaps on and in the vaginal canal can disrupt the acid balance. If you're taking antibiotics for something, be sure and eat plenty of organic, plain yogurt, or acidophilus tablets (which is the natural bacteria in yogurt, but make sure you buy the sort that need to be refrigerated, the others are far less effective). Be sensitive to your genitals sensitivities. If you're allergic or sensitive to latex, or certain detergents, lubricants or other substances, find alternatives.