Are you experiencing skin irritation or itching with some discharge? Maybe in the area of your genitals, armpit or mouth? If so, you might have a yeast infection. While that might be uncomfortable, it is treatable. This article will give you an overview of yeast infections and their prevention and treatment.
To prevent yeast infections, keeping the areas of the skin dry and hygienic, while staying away from scented soaps is highly recommended.
Understanding what causes yeast infections can also help to prevent their occurrence. It can feel empowering to understand how your body functions. If you want to further grasp what causes yeast infections and learn how to prevent and treat them, continue reading.
What is a yeast infection?
A yeast infection is a fungal infection on the skin. Yeast infections occur most commonly in moist and warm surroundings, as a result of changes in bacterial composition.
Yeast infections are often observed in areas characterised by warmth and natural moisture including the vagina, penis, and other regions such as the armpit, mouth and between the toes. While a yeast infection can be uncomfortable, it is easily treatable and there are usually no long-lasting effects. However, yeast infections have the potential to recur and become chronic conditions.
Symptoms of yeast infection
The symptoms of a yeast infection can vary depending on gender and where the yeast infection is located.
Symptoms in people assigned female at birth:
- Irritation or itchiness around the vagina
- White vaginal discharge (the discharge does not necessarily smell unpleasant)
- Can sting or be sore when urinating, or during intercourse
Symptoms in people assigned male at birth:
- Can experience difficulty pulling back the foreskin
- White discharge (usually unpleasant smelling discharge)
- Burning, stinging, or irritation under the foreskin
Symptoms in other areas:
- Red rash
- White or yellow discharge
In general, the symptoms include itchiness, discomfort and/or irritation, a rash and white (or yellow) discharge. A yeast infection can also be accompanied by a secondary infection. A secondary infection could arise as a result of irritated skin. If a secondary infection develops, both the yeast infection and secondary infection might need to be treated.
Why do yeast infections happen?
Yeast infections are fungal infections that occur predominantly in moist and warm environments, as a result of alterations in the bacterial balance. Your body is surrounded and protected by bacteria. These bacteria are commensal, or “good bacteria”, and are part of the natural microbiome. Good bacteria protect your body by eliminating harmful bacteria and other microbes.
The microbiome differs in different parts of your body and can change due to environmental, dietary, and genetic factors. A yeast infection can occur as a result of bacterial changes in an area of your body. These changes can include environmental changes (i.e. bacterial composition, pH) as well as dietary changes, medications, taking antibiotics or taking probiotics, for example. The changing bacterial balance gives space for a yeast infection to grow.1
The crotch area is particularly susceptible to these conditions, making vaginal yeast infections quite common. Despite yeast infections not being categorized as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), sex remains one of the possible causes of (genital) yeast infections.
If you experience discomfort during sex, you may find refraining from intercourse until the infection is healed to be beneficial.
Common causes of yeast infection
While a yeast infection is typically caused by bacterial changes, there are different reasons for this to happen. Possible causes for yeast infections include:1,2
- Moist and warm environments
- Taking antibiotics
- Poorly controlled diabetes
- A weakened immune system (for example due to HIV or cancer treatment)
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Irritated or damaged skin
While birth control is not a cause of yeast infection, studies show that it can have a role in increasing the risk of developing these infections. Estradiol-containing contraceptives, for example, can increase the risk of yeast infections. This is because alterations in oestrogen levels can influence the microbiome, and as noted above, bacterial changes can increase the occurrence of yeast infections.2,
How is a yeast infection diagnosed?
To diagnose a yeast infection a healthcare practitioner will talk about your medical history and ask about your symptoms. Observation of the infected site can also help to classify infection types. It is possible that the practitioner may need to take some of the infected skin for further laboratory analysis.
How to treat a vaginal yeast infection?
There are different ways to treat vaginal yeast infections that depend on different factors, such as age, health, and severity of the infection.
Treatment options include:
- Topical creams or ointments can treat vaginal yeast infection, these usually ease irritation or ‘itchyness’
- Oral intake or vaginal insertion of a tablet, such as antifungal medication
To treat your yeast infection, you should consult with your doctor or pharmacist.
How long do yeast infections last?
The length of a yeast infection depends on its severity. If the yeast infection is moderate to severe, it may take up to two weeks to improve symptoms after treatment. Mild yeast infections might not require treatment and could last as little as three days.
If your yeast infection lasts longer than two weeks, or if the medication does not help, reach out to your doctor.
How to prevent a yeast infection
There are different ways to prevent a yeast infection. These options include:
- Maintaining good hygiene
- Using unperfumed cleansing and moisturising products
- Wearing cotton underwear to prevent genital yeast infection, and reducing friction in susceptible areas can help to prevent yeast infections
- For recurring yeast infections in the genital area, taking probiotics can help to balance the microbiome
- Keeping areas dry
- If your partner is diagnosed with a yeast infection, refraining from intercourse will help to prevent the transmission of yeast
When to see a doctor?
If you are experiencing a yeast infection for the first time, you should reach out to your doctor. Furthermore, if you develop a yeast infection more than four times a year, you should seek medical advice. Should you notice a secondary infection, for example, swelling, you should reach out to your healthcare provider. Furthermore, if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have a weakened immune system, informing your doctor or midwife is important.
A yeast infection is a fungal infection that presents itself in a rash-like skin irritation with white discharge often accompanied by itchiness and discomfort. It occurs because of bacterial changes in the skin in moist and warm environments. Yeast infections are diagnosed based on the symptoms and physical observation of the affected region. To prevent yeast infections, cotton underwear is recommended. Furthermore, keeping the area dry and hygienic, while avoiding scented soaps can help prevent yeast infections. Treatment options for yeast infections include creams and antifungal medication. If you experience a yeast infection for the first time, very often or have a secondary infection and a weakened immune system, it is recommended that you contact a healthcare professional.
- Boston 677 Huntington Avenue, Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. The microbiome [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2017 [cited 2022 Nov 4]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/
- Aminzadeh A, Sabeti Sanat A, Nik Akhtar S. Frequency of candidiasis and colonization of candida albicans in relation to oral contraceptive pills. Iran Red Crescent Med J [Internet]. 2016 Aug 17 [cited 2022 Nov 4];18(10):e38909. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5291939/