Do you have a thick, white clumpy discharge? Chances are that you could have a yeast infection!
Yeast infections are very common and affect 75% of women at some point during their lives. 5-8% of people get recurring yeast infections and will have four or more of them in a single year.
The good news is that it’s easy to cure. Find out more about what causes yeast infections, symptoms and cures, as well as how your period affects them.
What Causes Yeast Infections?
Candida Albicans is the culprit behind most yeast infections (90%). The remainder are another strain of Candida.
Most people already have Candida present in their vagina, but they have no symptoms of a yeast infection. For an infection to occur, the balance between yeast and bacteria has to be disturbed, which allows the yeast to grow too rapidly.
The balance can be easily disturbed when taking antibiotics or by immunosuppressive drugs. Other reasons include after chemotherapy, or when taking cortisone related medications.
Some conditions that may predispose someone to more yeast infections are pregnancy, diabetes, and taking oral contraceptives.
People with HIV or other conditions that weaken the immune system are also more susceptible to infections like this.
High Estrogen Levels
This can happen during pregnancy, with hormone therapy treatment, when using high-dose birth control, or during the menstrual cycle.
Warm, Moist Environments
Yeast love warm, moist environments so not drying off after a shower, wearing tight restrictive clothing, or underwear that doesn’t breathe can be part of the problem. As soon as you finish a workout or swim, remove wet clothing.
Remember to change your pad and tampon more often when the weather gets warmer too.
Also be sure to change these things after a workout, shower, or swimming session to reduce your risk of getting a yeast infection.
Another cause of yeast infections are chemical irritants, such as those found in douches, vaginal soaps or some brands of scented tampons. Regular showers are enough to keep the vagina clean, and these products to “clean” the vagina are not recommended. In fact, they’re on our list of the Top 5 Things you Should Never Put into your Vagina.
After Going to the Bathroom
Finally, you can contract vaginal infections if you wipe from back to front when going to the bathroom. Go front to back in order to prevent this.
Not Washing your Hands Well
It’s important to wash your hands well before handling a tampon, or especially a menstrual cup. If you don’t, you can introduce all kinds of foreign bacteria into your vagina.
Yeast Infections are not considered to be an STI (sexually transmitted infection). That said, they can pass from one partner to the other.
Studies have shown that people who are overweight tend to get more yeast infections.
Although it’s not really proven, one theory is that non-organic tampons can lead to an increase in yeast infections. This is because some brands of them contain trace amounts of toxic chemicals, which can throw off the pH balance during your period.
If you’re constantly getting yeast infections, try switching to organic tampons. Or, make the switch to organic/cloth pads or a menstrual cup and see if you have better results.
Menstrual Cup Yeast Infection?
Some people find that they get fewer yeast infections when switching to a menstrual cup. The theory is that you’re not exposing your vagina to toxic chemicals as are sometimes found in tampons.
However, some people find that they get more yeast infections with something like the Diva Cup. If this happens to you, there are a few things to consider:
- Do you wash your hands well with soap before handling the cup (removing or inserting it)
- Is your cup clean? Be sure to wash it with soap or menstrual cup wash at least once a day, 2-3x a day is preferable.
- Have you washed off the soap residue well?
- You can boil your cup in a pot of water on the stove for 5 minutes at the end of your cycle to sterilize it.
If you have diabetes that isn’t controlled well, you may be more susceptible to yeast infections. This is because these women have poorly controlled blood sugar levels.
Compromised Immune Systems
There are a number of reasons why you might have a suppressed immune system, including an HIV medication or certain medications. This can leave you more susceptible to vaginal infections.
The food we eat can have an impact on our health. Eating sugary foods like soda may lead to an increase in yeast infections, particularly if your immune system is already compromised for some other reason.
Most Common Causes of Yeast Infections
Can Tampons Cause Yeast Infections?
Tampons have been known to cause vaginal infections for some people, particularly the scented brands. If you’re prone to yeast infections, it’s recommended that you change them out sooner the recommended 8 hours. This holds true for menstrual pads as well.
Remember that yeast breeds in warm, moist environments. Pads, which are next to your vagina, and tampons, which are in your vagina can keep excess moisture around. This is exactly what you don’t want in order to prevent a yeast infection!
Opt for Organic Tampons or Menstrual Cups
Organic tampons are hypoallergenic and shouldn’t irritate the vagina. Menstrual cups contain no toxins in them, and most people find that they get fewer vaginal infections when making the switch from tampons.
What are the Symptoms of Yeast Infections?
Some of the symptoms of yeast infections are the following:
- Itching or burning around the vulva, as well as redness, irritation and soreness
- Discharge (usually thick, odourless, and sometimes like cottage cheese). White discharge that’s doesn’t have a cottage cheese like consistency is not normally a yeast infection.
- Pain during intercourse or urination
- pH balance equal to or less than 4.5
Should I Visit my Doctor for a Yeast Infection?
In general, if you have any sort of thing that’s not quite right with your vagina, it’s time to check in with your doctor. As already mentioned, self diagnosing a yeast infection when you have BV, and vice-versa can lead to some poor results for you.
In addition, there are some STI’s that have similar symptoms as a yeast infection. For example, Trichomoniasis comes along with itching, irritation and white discharge, the same as a yeast infection.
Wait a Day or Two?
That said, if you have a mild amount of discharge, and some slight itching, you could give it a day or two to see if it clears up by itself. If not, then don’t hesitate to make an appointment to see a medical professional.
Recurrent Yeast Infection?
If you’ve had yeast infections before and know the symptoms clearly, you could consider treating it yourself with an over the counter anti-fungal medicine. However, if you’re pregnant, be sure to see your doctor.
How are Yeast Infections Diagnosed?
Self diagnosis often goes wrong because people misdiagnose a yeast infection as bacterial vaginosis and vice versa. The rule of thumb is that BV is stinky, while a yeast infection is not.
However, if you’re experiencing one of these things for the first time, check with your doctor. They’ll usually get a culture of the discharge done to be sure. They can also test the pH balance in your vagina to gather additional clues as to what’s going on.
What your Doctor Will Ask You
If you visit your doctor with a suspected yeast infection, there are a few common things that they’ll probably do.
The first is to ask about your medical history, including whether you’ve had vaginal infections before.
The next thing your doctor might do is perform a vaginal exam, in order to look for signs of infection.
Finally, your doctor may take a sample of the vaginal secretions in order to perform a diagnostic test. If it’s a recurring yeast infection, this can help to identify the specific kind of yeast and may lead to better treatment outcomes.
How to Cure Yeast Infections
Treatment usually consists of topical or oral anti-fungal medication.
Topical antibiotics (anti-fungals) can be bought over the counter and the length of treatment depends on the kind (usually from 1-7 days). They cure 90% of the cases for people who complete the entire course of treatment.
If your yeast infections persists for more than a week after treatment, be sure to visit your doctor again. They can do some more tests to help rule out more serious conditions.
***A word of caution about this. Some people treat themselves with over the counter medications, but they don’t actually have a yeast infection. It’s often better to check with your doctor to make sure this is the case.***
Oral prescriptions can be used by people with recurring yeast infections, or those who didn’t respond to over the counter treatments. Diflucan is a common one that is used. This option cannot be used by pregnant women. Check with your doctor for the full details.
What about Complicated, or Recurring Yeast Infections?
Some people seem to get yeast infections that last a really long time, or that keep coming back. In this case, what are some of the treatment options that your doctor may consider for you?
- Your doctor may try long-course vaginal therapy which consists of Azole for 7-14 days. It can be in vaginal cream, ointment, tablet or suppository form.
- You could also try multidose oral medications, such as 2-3 doses of fluconazone. However, this is not recommended for pregnant women so be sure to let your doctor know if this is the case for you.
- Maintenance therapy. If you get recurring yeast infections, your doctor may recommend medication at regular intervals to prevent an overgrowth of yeast.
In general, partners aren’t treated for an overgrowth of yeast. However, with recurring ones, your doctor may recommend using condoms, or that your partner be treated if they have signs of a genital yeast infection.
I’m Pregnant: Can I use these Medications?
If you’re pregnant, it’s safe to use miconazole or clotrimazole. However, you should not use fluconazole because it can cause birth defects. Check with your doctor to be certain. Extra caution is needed, so please don’t self-diagnose and treat this condition when you’re pregnant.
Can I Use Monistat While on my Period?
Monistat is one of the most popular over the counter treatments for a yeast infection. According to the company website, it is possible to use Monistat during your period. There is no difference in how the product works, during your period, or not.
They do mention that you should not use tampons if you’re also using Monistat because they can remove some of the medication. They suggest a deodorant free pad or sanitary napkin.
Recurring Yeast Infection Treatment
If you’re gotten yeast infections at least 4 times within a year, your doctor could recommend taking a fluconazole pill weekly for 6 months to clear it up.
Condoms and Diaphragms with Anti-Fungals
Remember that you shouldn’t use condoms or diaphragms for birth control or STI protection when you’re using anti-fungal creams for a yeast infection. This is because the oil in them can weaken the rubber, making them ineffective.
What about Boric Acid for Yeast Infections?
Another treatment option for yeast infection that don’t respond well to anti-fungals is boric acid capsules. It’s not only an anti-fungal, but an antiseptic as well.
Check with your doctor about this option. They may want to consider this option if other treatment options have proven to be not that effective.
What about Yogurt for Treating Yeast Infections?
There are some people who swear by eating yogurt, or applying it vaginally in order to treat yeast infections. There is some evidence from a small study that it is indeed more effective than a placebo or vaginally applied Clotrimazole.
Another similar option is try a daily dose of probiotics in order to prevent vaginal infections.
Talk to your doctor about whether or not this home remedy could work for you.
Tea Tree Oil and Yeast Infections
There is some initial research showing that a suppository with tea tree oil may be effective at treating yeast infections. It can harm the bad bacteria, while sparing the good stuff. More research is needed.
Take caution with tea tree oil on sensitive skin however. Dilute it and use sparingly, especially at first to see if there’s any reaction.
Yeast Infection Soap: Does it Exist?
A common question that people have is whether or not there’s a soap for yeast infections. They mostly mean something that you can use in, and around your vagina to clean out the yeast infection.
This product doesn’t really exist, and even if did, you shouldn’t use it. Vaginal soaps, cleansers and washes can throw off the pH balance of your vaginal like nothing else and lead to further infections down the road.
If you suspect that you have a yeast infection, see your doctor and follow their recommended course of treatment. Then, take some of the advice in the section below about how to avoid them in the future.
10 Home Remedies for Yeast Infections
Does my Partner Need to Be Treated for a Yeast Infection as Well?
A yeast infection is not considered to be an STI because you can get it without having had sex. However, it can be passed from partner to partner and men can get it as well. You should consider using things like condoms and dental dams to prevent this.
If you have a yeast infection, your partner does not need to be treated as well unless they’re showing symptoms of it themselves.
Periods and Yeast Infections
Here are all the details you need to know about periods and vaginal infection. It is certainly possible to have a yeast infection on your period, as well as before or after.
Yeast Infection Before Period
Some people commonly experience vaginal infections before their period. It can be because of changing hormone levels. Or, it can be because the immune system is slightly weakened. If you’re going to get a yeast infection, the most likely time is within a week before your period starts.
Itchy Vagina Before Period: is it a Yeast Infection?
If you have an itchy vagina right before your period, it could be a sign of a yeast infection. It could also be a skin infection, or some other thing not related to a vaginal infection. Check with your doctor if this happens to you frequently.
Yeast Infection After Period
It’s also quite common to get a vaginal infection after your period. The reason is the same: hormonal changes. This can cause a fluctuation in the pH level in your vagina which can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria, or yeast.
Can you Use Tampons with a Yeast Infection?
It is indeed possible to use your regular form of period protection, including tampons while you have a vaginal infection.
However, if you’re using a topical anti-fungal treatment, tampons should be avoided. This is because they’ll absorb some of the cream. Instead, use a hypoallergenic pad.
Can Yeast Infections Affect your Period?
Your period will happen whether you have a vaginal infection or not.
Brown, Clumpy Discharge and Itching
If you have brown discharge, that’s also accompanied by itching and/or burning, you may have a yeast infection around the time of your period. More details here:
Does My Period cause a Yeast Infection?
Let’s talk pH balance in your vagina for a minute. A normal vagina’s hovers between 3.5 and 4.5. In this zone, good bacteria are happy, but bad bacteria and yeast are not.
However, blood has a pH of 7.3. As you might guess, this can have a slight impact on pH levels. But, is it enough to give you a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis? Probably not.
Some doctors theorize that menstruation can actually help to get rid of a yeast infection by flushing out some of the yeast.
Can you Use Yeast Infection Cream While on your Period?
A common question is whether or not you can use over the counter yeast infection creams like Monistat during your period. The easy answer is, “yes!” Your period will not affect the effectiveness of these products.
Just be sure to avoid tampons if you’re using these creams to treat a yeast infection. Make the switch to organic, or unscented pads or reusable cloth pads for use with Monistat.
Does your Period Get Rid of a Yeast Infection?
Another question is whether or not your period can help to clear a yeast infection. It’s not likely that menstruation will clear up a yeast infection entirely. However, it may help to flush the yeast out of your vagina. In addition, it may alter the pH balance of your vagina slightly, which could have a positive (or also negative effect).
There isn’t a lot of information about how menstruation impacts yeast infections in terms of getting rid of it.
Yeast Infection and Delayed Period
There is some people who anecdotally find that their period is delayed by a day or two because they have a yeast infection. However, there is no evidence to support this.
Yeast Infection During your Period
Is my Menstrual Cup Causing Vaginal Infections?
Most people experience fewer vaginal infections like BV when making the switch to a menstrual cup like the Diva Cup from tampons. However, there are some people who have more.
If this is the case for you, here are a few things you can try:
- Wash your hands before inserting your menstrual cup, taking it out, or even handling it in any way.
- Keep your menstrual cup clean during your period. Do this by washing it well with a mild soap or menstrual cup wash and water.
- Be sure to wash off any soap residue very well.
- You can boil your cup between periods in a pot of water on the stove for 5 minutes to sterilize it.
Following these steps should cure most of the vaginal infection and menstrual cup problems. If not, try switching to pads or tampons for a few months. See if the situation improves. Menstrual cups like the Diva Cup don’t work for everyone.
Do I have a Yeast Infection, or Something Else?
Yeast infections symptoms can sometimes resemble other things, making them a little bit tricky to self-diagnose at home. That’s why we recommend checking in with your doctor if you notice anything a bit funky going on with your vagina.
Here are some of the things that yeast infections can sometimes get confused with.
S0me sexually transmitted infections can also cause itching, burning, or changes in vaginal discharge. Or, you may have no obvious symptoms but could have something like pain during urination or sex.
For example, Trichomoniasis can cause itching, burning, and pain during urination. However, it does come with a smelly discharge and remember, a yeast infection has discharge without an odour in most cases.
Herpes can cause itching and irritation in the beginning before painful blisters form. However, you probably won’t have discharge with this.
Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea often come with no symptoms, but you may notice some additional discharge and pain when peeing.
As you can see from these above examples, many of the symptoms quite closely resemble a vaginal yeast infection. What makes this a big problem is because of the following.
It’s important to treat an STI quickly, if you do have one because they can develop into something more serious like Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). This can cause something as serious as infertility.
Allergies or Skin Sensitivity
You may be allergic to something that you’re putting in, or near your vagina which can cause redness, pain and irritation. The most likely suspects are pads and tampons. You can try going organic, or switch to something like a menstrual cup.
Many people get confused between a yeast infection and BV. The major problem is that treatment for the wrong condition can actually make it much worse. See your doctor for a proper diagnosis.
This can cause itching, burning and irritation around your anus. But, it can sometimes be mistaken for the area around your vagina.
Not Enough Lubrication
As you approach menopause, you may notice that your vagina gets dryer and lacks lubrication. This is due to changing hormone levels.
The result can be minor cuts and abrasions from penetrative sex or using tampons, which can cause pain and irritation.
How Can I Prevent Vaginal Infections?
Nobody likes a thick, white, clumpy discharge!
Here are a few things you can do to keep your vagina happy and free from infection:
- Take regular showers and keep things clean “down there”
- Avoid tight-fitting clothing
- Change out of sweaty workout clothes or swimsuits quickly
- Don’t use douches, vaginal soaps, or scented tampons
- Change your tampon, pantyliner, or pad regularly
- Consider making the switch to a menstrual cup
- Wash your hands before handling any feminine hygiene product
- Wear breathable cotton underwear
- Consider loose fitting pajamas with no underwear at night
- Wipe from front to back after using the bathroom
- Avoid hot tubs or very hot baths
- If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar in check
- Eat yogurt with live cultures (maybe?), or consider taking a probiotic
- Maintain good overall health, and a healthy body weight
If you take a quick glance at the above list about how to avoid yeast infections, you’ll probably notice a few common themes: Avoid the hot and sweaty, keep it clean, and avoid putting random things in your vagina.
Avoid the Hot and Sweaty
You want to avoid any sort of situation in which the area around your vagina gets hot and sweaty and stays that way for a long time. Of course, feel free to exercise, but take a shower after, or at the very least change out of your sweaty clothes. Consider loose fitting PJ’s and no underwear at night.
Keep things Clean
Another common theme is to keep things clean. Wash your hands before inserting or removing a tampon or menstrual cup. Take regular showers.
Avoid Random Things in your Vagina
Your vagina does a really great job at keeping itself clean. Things like vaginal discharge help to regulate things. You don’t need to help it along with things like douching, or feminine sprays. This will throw off the pH balance of things and leave you more susceptible to a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis.
Tips for Preventing a Yeast Infection
Does Yogurt Help Prevent Infection?
It’s common wisdom that eating lots of yogurt helps to keep the pH levels in your vagina in check. But, does it really work? Maybe.
Studies show that eating yogurt with “live cultures” daily or taking Lactobacillus acidophilus capsules can help to reduce the number of vaginal infections you get. However, it’s not really a slam-dunk and further research is needed.
Yeast Infection vs Bacterial Vaginosis
One common problem is that many women are confused as to the difference between a yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis (BV). Self-diagnosis (and treatment) with over the counter medicines or home remedies can actually make both of these problems worse, if you’re treating for the wrong condition.
For example, over the counter medications for yeast infections will make your BV worse. Or, getting your hands on some antibiotics to treat BV when you actually have a yeast infection will make it worse by killing all the good bacteria in your body.
Please see a doctor for a vaginal infection, especially if it’s your first time experiencing it.
That said, there are a few common ways to differentiate between a yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis.
A common sign of a yeast infection is white, clumpy discharge. It doesn’t have a smell, but you can have some serious itching and burning around your vulva.
Usually you’ll have a grey-white discharge that’s thin and watery. Unlike a yeast infection, there are usually no clumps in it. It has a strong, fishy odour to it that’s quite distinctive. There isn’t itching or burning usually with BV.
You can learn more here: Everything you Need to Know about Bacterial Vaginosis.
What is Thrush?
Depending on where you live, a yeast infection in the vagina may also be called thrush. However, this is technically incorrect.
Technically, an oral yeast infection is known as thrush. It can infect the mouth, tongue, lips or gums. It’s most common among young children and babies, but it can also happen to adults.
Some of the symptoms include irritation, red cracks, peeling, ulcers, red patches on tongue or in mouth, and a white or yellowish coating on the lips.
A single incident usually isn’t a problem and it’s easily treated. However, recurring cases of thrush can indicate a compromised immune system.
Vaginal Infections: Have your Say!
Is there a question that we didn’t answer in this ultimate guide to yeast infections? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Tammy Ford is the resident expert for all things Women’s Health (vaginal discharge and infections, perimenopause, menstrual cycles and more) and is also a chief tester of all things eco-friendly period products. She has a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and specializes in reproductive health.
You can contact her via email: [email protected]