Doctor's Notes on Vaginal Yeast Infection
A vaginal yeast infection is most commonly caused by Candida yeast. The condition can be referred to as vaginal candidiasis or yeast vaginitis. Inflammation or irritation of the tissues of the vagina cause the characteristic symptoms of a yeast infection. Although yeast is normally present in the healthy vagina, disturbances in the normal mix of bacteria in the vagina due to illness, hormonal changes, or taking antibiotics can create an environment in which a yeast infection can develop.
Symptoms and signs of a vaginal yeast infection include itching, which can be severe, along with burning and irritation. A white-gray, thick vaginal discharge is often present that has been described as having the consistency of cottage cheese. Other associated symptoms can include pain or burning with sexual intercourse and redness and swelling of the vulva.
Vaginal Yeast Infection Symptoms
The following are symptoms associated with vaginal yeast infections:
- irritated vagina and vaginal area,
- vaginal discharge (typically white-gray and thick, with a consistency resembling cottage cheese),
- intense itching of the genitals,
- painful or burning urination, or
- painful intercourse.
Vaginal Yeast Infection Causes
The vagina is an environment that maintains its own balance of microorganisms. When this balance is disrupted, such as when the fungus Candida albicans is allowed to multiply unchecked, a vaginal yeast infection can result. The following are examples of factors that can disrupt the natural balance of microorganisms that live in the vagina:
- Antibiotic use: Antibiotics can destroy bacteria that protect the vagina or alter the balance of bacteria that are normally present. A vaginal yeast infection may develop during or after the use of antibiotics taken to treat other conditions such as strep throat.
- Steroid use
- Diabetes: This disease can lower the glycogen store in certain vaginal cells. Diabetes may also raise the sugar content (and pH) of the vagina, which increases the risk for developing a vaginal yeast infection.
- Factors that can cause a weakened immune system (for example, HIV/AIDS, steroid use, pregnancy, cancer chemotherapy or other drugs that weaken the immune system)
- Use of douches or feminine hygiene sprays
- Scratches or wounds in the vagina (for example, caused during insertion of tampons or other objects).
- Underwear that is tight or made of a material other than cotton. (This can increase temperature, moisture, and local irritation.)
- Hormonal changes
Fungal skin infections can be itchy and annoying, but they're rarely serious. Common infections such as athlete's foot, jock itch, and ringworm are caused by fungus and are easy to get and to pass around. In healthy people, they usually don't spread beyond the skin's surface, so they're easy to treat. If you spend a lot of time at the gym, take steps to protect yourself against fungal infections.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.