Why are you itchy down there?
You’ve been taking antibiotics for a urinary tract infection for the past several days. Now, you have a strong itching sensation in your vagina and you notice a white discharge. What is going on? How can you get rid of these annoying symptoms? Is there anything you can do to prevent it from happening in the future?
Women naturally have a balance of microbes, such as candida and lactobacillus, in their vagina that helps to prevent them from having infections. Sometimes, the microbes can get out of balance, which results in an overgrowth of one organism. If there is an abundance of the fungus candida albicans, it can trigger a yeast infection, or vaginal candidiasis. While this is the most common reason for a yeast infection, other candida fungi can be the culprit. It’s important to note that they’re usually harder to treat. Yeast infections aren’t considered a sexually transmitted infection. Still, there is an increased risk of acquiring one with regular sexual activity since this can alter the natural balance of microbes in your vagina.
Several factors can cause an overgrowth of yeast, like pregnancy, uncontrolled diabetes, impaired immune system, or using oral contraceptive/hormone therapy. However, the most frequent reason is the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics because it can cause an imbalance in the natural vaginal flora. Typically, yeast infections are mild to moderate. Symptoms include itching/irritation of the vagina/vulva, burning sensation (especially during intercourse or while urinating), redness/swelling of the vulva, vaginal pain/soreness, vaginal rash, watery vaginal discharge, or thick/white/odor-free vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese. Sometimes, the symptoms become severe, like extensive redness and swelling/itching resulting in tears, cracks, or sores in the vagina.
Yeast infections are treated based on their severity and frequency. For the majority of cases, using an antifungal medication, miconazole or terconazole, for three to seven days is usually all that is needed. These are available in creams, ointments, tablets, or suppositories available over-the-counter or as a prescription. Another option is to take a single dose pill, fluconazole. For more severe infections, you might need to take two single doses three days apart. It’s important to note that this medication can’t be taken during pregnancy. If your symptoms don’t go away after treatment or reappear within two months, you should see your doctor since this is a sign that the infection is more difficult to treat than most yeast infections. Some people try home remedies to treat yeast infections, but these are not proven to work.
If you have a severe infection or frequent yeast infections (four or more in a year), your doctor will propose a few different treatment options. The first is taking vaginal antifungal medication daily for up to two weeks and then once a week for six months. If you’re not pregnant, your doctor may also recommend two or three doses of oral antifungal medicine. If the type of fungus causing the infection is resistant to azole therapy, your doctor will prescribe a boric acid capsule that is to be inserted into the vagina. It’s vital not to take this capsule by mouth since it can be fatal.
There are several things that you can do to decrease your chances of getting a yeast infection. One of the most important is not to use antibiotics unless you need them. This means not taking them for colds or other viral infections. Another key element is to wear underwear that has a cotton crotch and isn’t too tight. It’s a good idea to avoid wearing tight-fitting pantyhose and staying in wet clothing (ex. swimsuits or sweaty workout attire) for long periods. Steer clear of douching, hot tubs, and very hot baths since these can disrupt the natural vaginal flora. Also, don’t use scented feminine hygiene products.
Yeast infections are annoying and irritating, but can easily be treated. If you have any questions or concerns about yeast infections, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit WomensHealth.gov’s yeast infection page at https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/vaginal-yeast-infections