WHAT IS IT?
Yeast is a type of fungal micro-organism that lives naturally in vagina. However, it is part of a delicate and acidic balance. If the balance is disrupted and the vagina becomes more alkaline (less acidic), the yeast can grow beyond the normal amount and cause an infection. 75% of women develop a vaginal yeast infection at least once in their lifetime (sexualityandu.ca, 2007).
Yeast infections are most common in women, but men can also get them in their genital region. Sometimes a yeast infection in a male is called “jock itch”.
Yeast can also live naturally in the mouth in harmless quantities. If the balance is disrupted, both men and women can get a yeast infection in their mouth. An oral yeast infection is typically called “thrush”.
It is also possible for men and women to have an anal yeast infection.
There are many different types of yeast, but the type that most often lives in humans is called Candida albicans. Sometimes people who have too much yeast are said to have candidiasis.
HOW WOULD I GET IT?
There are several ways someone can get a yeast infection. Here are some of the causes:
- An unbalanced diet. Yeast feeds off of sugar, so following a diet that is high in sugar, simple carbs, and processed food can lead to a yeast infection. A diet high in caffeine has also been linked to problems with yeast.
- Antibiotics. Antibiotics are designed to destroy bacteria. Sometimes, in addition to killing the “bad” bacteria, they also destroy our “good” bacteria. This includes the bacteria that are needed to balance yeast. Without the good bacteria to keep it in check, yeast is able to grow freely and can lead to an infection.
- Hormonal changes. Hormonal changes can lead to changes in the pH balance of the vagina, which disrupts the delicate balance. Some women experience yeast infections naturally as part of their regular menstrual cycle, and they will often clear up on their own. Some women also experience an increase in yeast infections if they are on the birth control pill or are pregnant.
- Certain clothing. Yeast likes to live in a warm, moist environment. Sometimes wearing nylon underwear, pantyhose, tight jeans, or wet undergarments/bathing suits can cause a yeast infection.
- Scented products near the genital region. Many scented products such as bubble bath, scented soaps, scented laundry detergent, and flavored condoms/oral dams contain chemicals that can lead to yeast infections.
- General sensitivities. Some people are just naturally sensitive or allergic to things like latex (e.g. latex condoms), lubricants, certain detergents, or other substances, and will develop yeast infections as a result of using them.
- Underlying health condition – Some people with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, are at increased risk for yeast infections.
- From a partner. Yeast can be present on your partner’s genitals and passed back and forth during sexual activity. If a person performs oral sex on a partner that has a genital yeast infection, that person may get a yeast infection in their mouth (“thrush”).
HOW WOULD I KNOW I HAD IT?
Common symptoms of a genital yeast infection include itching, burning, redness, and/or general feeling of irritation of the vagina, vulva, penis, testes, and/or anus. Someone may experience discomfort during urination or sexual activity. Women may notice an unusual discharge that is thick and white (sometimes described as cottage-cheese-like). If there is a discharge, it may smell something like baking bread.
Common symptoms of an oral yeast infection are a white coating on the tongue, an ulcer on the tongue or inside the cheeks; and/or feeling like the mouth is unusually dry.
A doctor can usually diagnose a yeast infection visually. The doctor may choose to send a sample to the lab to confirm the diagnosis.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
There are several natural approaches, as well as over-the-counter and prescription treatments. One natural approach involves inserting 2 capsules of Lactobacillus Acidophilus at bedtime for 5-7 days. The capsules will melt at body temperature in your vagina while you sleep, and release “good” bacteria that can balance out the yeast. The capsules can be purchased at the Halifax Sexual Health Centre, health food stores, and at most drug stores. They should be stored in the refrigerator. You can also use unsweetened plain yoghurt (that contains an active culture of Lactobacillus Acidophilus), as a vaginal treatment. You can use an applicator or clean fingers to insert it twice daily.
Over-the-counter treatments, such as Monistat, Gynecure, and Canesten, typically involve capsules that are inserted at bedtime for 3 – 7 days and/or vaginal cream. You may want to wear a panty-liner the next day, as the medication often leaks out of the vagina after dissolving.
If you are on your period, do not use tampons while using vaginal capsules. They will interfere with the medication. During treatment days, it may be preferable to avoid vaginal intercourse since this can irritate the area. If you choose to have vaginal intercourse, it is important to remember that certain yeast medications contain oils and there is potential for latex condoms to break.
Another treatment for prolonged or repeated infections is a drug called Fluconazole, which is taken by mouth. It requires a prescription and can be taken on a one-time basis or as a preventative treatment over a period of months. It is more expensive than creams or vaginal capsules.
IF IT ISN’T TREATED, CAN IT LEAD TO COMPLICATIONS?
Yeast infections can increase the risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV.
HOW CAN I PREVENT IT?
Here are some steps you can take to lower your risk of getting a yeast infection:
- Eat a balanced diet that’s low in processed sugar and caffeine
- Avoid taking antibiotics unless they’re absolutely necessary
- Wear loose, breathable clothing. Change out of wet bathing suits as soon as you can. Wear cotton underwear free of dyes
- If you have chronic yeast infections, you may want to avoid certain types of birth control, such as the Pill
- Avoid using scented products, such as bubble bath, in your genital region
- If you have chronic yeast infections, try to limit your genital contact with products that contain chemicals (e.g. detergents) or other irritants (e.g. latex)
- Take lactobacillus acidophilus vaginally as a daily preventative
- Do not douche