A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Yeast infections: 9 things you need to know

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Yeast infections are one of three types of vaginal infections, and they’re treated differently than the others. If one course of over-the counter treatment doesn’t work, see a provider.

Itching, burning, discharge. It may be a yeast infection.

Here’s what you need to know, according to Dr. Amy Lysy, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology at Marshfield Clinic’s Eau Claire Center.

1. Well first, it might not be a yeast infection.

Three major vaginal infections have the same symptoms. They are: yeast infections bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis.

“We actually recommend if you have symptoms you come in to be evaluated,” Lysy said. It can be inconvenient, but it will ensure you receive the proper treatment for your infection.

2. Yeast infections are not the most common vaginal infection.

Bacterial vaginosis, an overgrowth of normal bacteria that live in the vagina, is most common. However, Lysy said a poll of college-age women report at least one yeast infection in their lifetime.

3. Yeast infections are treated differently.

A yeast infection, or candidiasis, is caused by the fungus candida. It’s treated with antifungal medication. Bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotic. Trichomoniasis, the third common vaginal infection, is sexually transmitted. It is treated with antibiotic. It’s important for your partner to be treated as well.

“Doing a one-course, over-the-counter (treatment) might be an option,” Lysy said, “but if it didn’t get better, then I would for sure get in to be seen.”

4. It’s hard to tell if it’s a yeast infection.

Vaginal yeast is found in 10-15 percent of women and isn’t considered an infection unless an inflammation causes symptoms, Lysy said.

A yeast infection can cause burning, soreness and irritation on the outside and into the vagina. It can cause pain around the vaginal opening when urinating, rather than in the bladder or where the urine comes out.

These infections also can cause soreness during sex. Sometimes the symptoms are worse during the week before your period. The labia are swollen and red in color.

Yeast infections often include the “classic” discharge, which looks like cottage cheese – white and curdy. But discharge can also be thin.

“So sometimes you really can’t tell what is a yeast infection from what is another kind of infection,” Lysy said. “We don’t have a good over-the-counter test for it.”

5. You can get yeast infections in other places.

You can get them in the mouth, which is called thrush, or on the skin, which is cutaneous candidiasis.

“Usually, these types of infections are not common in people who have a strong immune system,” Lysy said. Babies or people with compromised immune systems from diabetes or other medical conditions are more likely to get them.

Skin infections can be underneath breast folds or skin folds on the abdomen, red and sore with pinpoint dots. Yeast infections grow in moist, warm environments.

6. Nothing is proven to prevent yeast infections.

Some people talk about probiotics, garlic, tree oil and yogurt, Lysy said, “but in trials, nothing has proven to help.” Douching can actually make you prone to other vaginal infections.

“A lot of things have been tried, but what works for one woman might not work for another,” Lysy said, because there are different reasons for the yeast to grow. “Nothing has been proven to be the great panacea.”

Stay as healthy overall as you can, she said. If you have diabetes, keep good control of your blood sugars.

7. Treatment might not work right away.

Some women will be treated but not get better right away or their symptoms will come back, Lysy said.

Two variants of yeast infections exist: uncomplicated and complicated. Women with uncomplicated yeast infections usually have milder symptoms and healthy immune systems. A one-time vaginal yeast cream or one tablet by mouth might cure uncomplicated cases.

But complicated infections can require a couple of doses of the pill or a seven-day course of cream, usually because the patients are more ill to begin with, Lysy said.

8. Men can get yeast infections.

Obviously, men can’t get vaginal yeast infections, but they can get thrush or skin yeast infections.

Some men also have soreness from being exposed to vaginal yeast infections through intercourse.

“They don’t get it, but they have a hypersensitive reaction to yeast organisms,” Lysy said. It’s not treated with antibiotics, but a man with soreness should shower and use a low-dose steroid cream.

9. Yeast infections can be resistant to treatment.

“Typically the most common type of yeast infection is most easily cured,” Lysy said. But, with the “candida albicans, we have seen a little resistance to Fluconazole in women who use it frequently and long term.”

Your doctor can culture the organism to see what works and provide the best course of treatment.

See more topics covering women’s health.

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