FBI Files: Candidiasis, AKA, Yeast Infections
- abnormal vaginal discharge that is usually thick, white and pasty with small curds
- vaginal and labial itching and soreness
- redness and swelling of the labia or vagina
- pain with intercourse
- pain or burning while urinating
- vulval "cuts," fissues or sores (if severe)
Background: 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 very 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 antibiotics, an unbalanced diet, a preexisting sexually transmitted infection (STI or STD), 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).
Known Accomplices: Douching, pantyhose and synthetic or wet undergarments without breathability, diets heavy in sugar, other simple carbohydrates or yeast, alcohol, caffiene, allergic reactions, other infections or sexually transmitted diseases.
Advised Approach: 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 remedies if they continues to be effective for you.
Weapons: 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. Ideally, you don't want to self-medicate with an over-the-counter treatment. That's because 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. And if you have another kind of infection entirely, it could get worse while you wait longer to get the right treatment for it.
If you are using suppositories or creams as listed above, most doctors advise using a menstrual pad -- not tampons or menstrual cups -- with them when there is overflow. The fibers of a tampon can cause even more irritation, which is the last thing someone with a yeast infection needs. You can also just go to the bathroom regularly and wipe away the excess.
Cranberry juice is nature's 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 at your local natural foods store. Take the tablets as instructed with lots of fresh water. The high level of ascorbic acid in cranberry can act as a natural disinfectant in your body and can help restore the naturally acidic state of the vagina vital to its health. Probiotics are also your friend, especially as a preventative, gut alsdo when you already have a yeast overgrowth. You can get them to take as supplements in capsule or liquid form or eat them by eating things that contain live cultures (like yogurt that says it has them).
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 pain, 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 or things like sexual activity, 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, including because they can be an early sign of HIV infection or another immunosuppressive disease or disorder.
Protective measures: 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 inside 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 takin probiotic tablets . Be sensitive to your genitals sensitivities. If you're allergic or sensitive to latex, or certain detergents, lubricants or other substances, find alternatives.