Ah, yeast infections. Every person with a vagina will almost inevitably experience this pesky, unfortunately named condition at some point in their life. Yeast infections can be majorly uncomfortable to have—and majorly uncomfortable to talk about. But that shouldn’t be the case. To learn everything about yeast infections and to prove that you shouldn’t feel weird (well, at least, emotionally weird) when you have one, HelloGiggles spoke to a specialist. And here’s everything you’ve ever wanted—and maybe did not want—to learn about the beast that is yeast.
As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes, the exact number of people who get yeast infections is unknown. But yeast infections are the second most common vaginal infection in the United States, so we spoke to Dr. Jennifer Conti about the condition also known as candidal vaginitis. Dr. Conti is a clinical assistant professor in obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University and is the cohost of “The V Word” podcast, where she candidly discusses women’s health issues. So she was an ideal doctor to get real about yeast.
While penises can develop yeast infections, Dr. Conti says that isn’t typical. So in the following Q&A, she focused on how yeast infections impact vaginas—and how they are nothing to be ashamed of.
What is a yeast infection?
“Most healthy vaginas have some amount of yeast in them. A yeast infection is when the balance of yeast changes such that it outnumbers the other microorganisms in there that are working to keep things stable. Everything in moderation, right?”
What are the symptoms?
“The most common symptoms are intense itchiness and a white, chalky discharge that looks a little like cottage cheese (actually, ricotta).”
How do I get one?
“Anyone and everyone can get a yeast infection, and at some point in her lifetime, it’s likely that a woman will experience one. There are some conditions that make these infections more likely, however, like diabetes and other things that weaken your immune system.”
How can I avoid getting one?
“There’s a lot of lore out there about how to avoid or prevent yeast infections, but in general, the best advice is to practice good vaginal hygiene. This means absolutely no douching. The vagina is a magical, self-cleansing environment that does not need external chemicals or products to keep it clean—I don’t care how ‘gentle’ the packaging claims to be.”
Why is it called a yeast infection? Is there a less cringe-worthy name for it?
“You can call it candidal vulvovaginitis if you like, but that’s a mouthful.”
Does birth control or any other medication cause yeast infections?
“The main medications to be cautious of are antibiotics. They wipe out both the bad bacteria wherever the infection is and the good bacteria in your vagina. With this change in the vaginal environment and less good bacteria present, yeast can grow out of control. This doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s something to keep in mind whenever you take antibiotics.”
What should I do if I think I have a yeast infection?
“A lot of other things can also look like a yeast infection, so if you think you have one, it’s important to see your gynecology provider to make sure it’s actually yeast and not something else.”
I can’t get an appointment with my doctor until a week from now. Should I treat it myself?
“If you have the classic picture of thick, cheesy discharge and intense itching, you can self-treat with over-the-counter creams, but if that doesn’t improve, I would still see a provider to make sure there’s not something else going on.”
How can I tell the difference between a yeast infection and a bacterial infection?
“Yeast is itchy and with white, chunky discharge, but typically no odor. Bacterial infections (like bacterial vaginosis) stink to all hell and typically have a thin watery discharge, but no itching.”
Are over-the-counter medications as effective as what my doctor would prescribe me?
“When used properly, creams can be just as effective as the one-time pill, but let’s be honest—they’re way messier and less convenient to use.”
How long do I typically have to take the medication for?
“The creams typically require a three to seven day course, whereas the pill is just a one-time dose (amazing).”
Does a yeast infection treatment make any other medications less effective?
“No, but always make sure it doesn’t interact with any other meds you may be on first.”
Are there other ways to treat yeast infections besides medication? Does yogurt really help?
“Unfortunately, yogurt doesn’t help (but it also doesn’t hurt).”
Is it okay to have sex when I have a yeast infection?
“This all depends on your own comfort. When your vag is raw and itchy from infection, you may not really want to be having the sex, but then again, to each their own.”
Can I use tampons or menstrual cups if I have my period and a yeast infection?
Can I get yeast infections when I’m pregnant?
“Yes, and in fact, pregnant women are more likely to get yeast infections because pregnancy is technically an immunocompromised state.”
How do I deal with the symptoms while I’m waiting for the infection to clear?
“In general with itchiness, scratching always makes a situation worse, so I always recommend a cold pack or frozen pack of peas applied to the vulva to help with that intense urge to itch.”
Why do I get yeast infections more than other people I know?
“Every vagina is different and some are more prone to yeast infections than others. If you’re having recurrent yeast infections (more than three to four per year) and they are actually confirmed to be true yeast infections by your health care provider, then you may need a different type of treatment plan.”
Do I have a reason to feel embarrassed that I have a yeast infection?
“Never ever apologize for your vagina. These things happen and do not mean you have a ‘dirty’ vagina or anything about which to feel embarrassed.”
Yeast infections will never be the most comfortable thing to have or to talk about. But know that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with your vagina and that yeast is just a part of life.