All You Need To Know About Vaginal Yeast Infections
In my post on vaginal discharge, we saw the different types of vaginal discharge. As we found out, one of the most common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge is vulvovaginal candidiasis – two dreaded words for women everywhere.
As many as 75% (3 out of 4) of women will experience Vaginal yeast infections at least once and about 40-45% will have two or more episodes in their lifetime. At these percentages, the sad truth is that it is likely that you, too, have suffered from these unscrupulous brutes – or that you will.
So, in light of this, let’s take a couple of minutes to arm ourselves with some knowledge on vaginal yeast infections, shall we?
What is Candidiasis?
Candidiasis is an infection caused by a yeast (a type of fungus) called Candida – commonly Candida albicans. Candida normally lives inside the body (in places such as the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina) and on skin without causing any problems. In the vagina, Candida maintains a delicate balance with other naturally occurring microorganisms in the vagina. Sometimes, however, Candida can multiply and cause an infection if the internal environment of the vagina changes in a way that makes it conducive for the fungi to thrive. These are usually damp and moist environments. Candidiasis in the vagina is commonly called a vaginal yeast infection. Other names for this infection are vaginal candidiasis and vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC) or ‘white’ (in some places ).
♥ Candidiasis can affect other parts of the body. Candidiasis in the mouth is known as Oral Thrush.
Who is at risk?
Women who are more likely to get vaginal candidiasis include those who:
- Are pregnant
- Use hormonal contraceptives (for example, birth control pills)
- Have diabetes
- Have a weakened immune system (for example, due to HIV infection or medicines that weaken the immune system, such as steroids and chemotherapy)
- Are taking or have recently taken antibiotics.
Symptoms of candidiasis
In truth, not all women will experience noticeable symptoms of a yeast infection. If the infection is mild, the symptoms might also be very subtle. Knowing what’s normal for you will help you identify any changes in your vaginal health. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms consult your healthcare professional for diagnosis:
- Vaginal itching or soreness
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain or discomfort when urinating
- A thick, white, odorless discharge that resembles cottage cheese
Why you should see your healthcare professional
Because the symptoms in women can be similar to other infections like bacterial vaginosis (bacterial overgrowth in the vagina) and sexually transmitted diseases, it’s important to visit your doctor. Note that yeast infections are frequently self-diagnosed incorrectly (meaning the issue is something else). Even when it is correctly diagnosed, it’s not always as simple as it may seem.
Although most cases of vaginal candidiasis are mild, some women can develop severe infections. Professionals classify vaginal yeast infections as uncomplicated and complicated vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC).
Uncomplicated vaginal yeast infection is usually sporadic and infrequent. It is caused primarily by Candida albicans – in women who are not immunocompromised (have weak immune systems) – and is usually a mild infection.
As if the everyday candidiasis was not bad enough, the word complicated gets thrown in there. Yup, vaginal yeast infections can be complicated. Recurrent, severe and non-albicans VVC (candidiasis not caused by Candida albicans) are all considered complicated vaginal yeast infections.
Recurrent VVC refers to when you have 4 or more vaginal yeast infections with noticeable symptoms vaginal within a year. It occurs in less than 5% of women.
In Severe VVC, you will experience extensive vulval reddening, swelling, excoriations (skin peeling) and fissure(crack) formation.
Cases of Non-albicans VVC are often difficult to treat and should ideally be seen to by a specialist. Women may or may not show symptoms and only about half of the vaginal samples taken from infected persons for testing come back positive.
The treatment options vary for each of the above clinical scenarios, for which reason, proper medical consultation should be sought in order for the healthcare professional to ascertain which of the cases is being dealt with.
Ladies! It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Seek the necessary help if need be. There’s help available (for this and other vaginal infections). Moreover, when a partner mentions noticing any abnormal discharge (which may or may not be VVC), don’t just brush it off. Do something about it! Your reproductive health matters too!
And now Prevention
Your hygiene matters (a lot!)
- Don’t douche (avoid the use of soaps and perfumes in and around the vagina and vulva). The vagina is naturally self-cleansing so please don’t douche. Douching disturbs the healthy pH of the vagina and can kill good bacteria, allowing for the overgrowth of candida. [NB: Vulva – refers to the external parts of the female genitals]
- Check out your laundry detergent (that you are washing your panties with!). Are there perfumes and chemicals that could be causing a problem?
- Avoid keeping your vagina in a moist condition for an extended period of time. Don’t sit around in sweaty gym clothes or a wet bathing suit. Change out of them ASAP
- Change your pads (and tampons) frequently.
- Synthetic underwear and tight clothes made of materials that do not breathe are a complete no-no. Ditch those in favour of cotton underwear and wear loose clothes
- Wipe from front to back after visiting the washroom. You don’t want to be spreading organisms from your backside to your holy grail, do you?
- Skip the hot tubs and bubble baths. A little sacrifice for the sake of those good guys working so hard to prevent the overgrowth of their unscrupulous cousins.
- Keep your blood sugar in check.