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Why that yeast infection won't go away

 
As many as 75 per cent of women will have a yeast infection at some point in their life (Shutterstock)

Yeast infections are very common according to the Mayo Clinic, as many as 75 per cent of women will have a yeast infection at some point in their life. Also called vaginal candidiasis, it is a fungal infection whose symptoms include irritation, discharge and intense itchiness of the vagina and vulva.

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You get a vaginal yeast infection when your vagina’s ecosystem is out of balance. A healthy vagina contains bacteria and yeast cells. When something – such as taking antibiotics, douching, and diabetes – upsets this delicate balance, the yeast cells can multiply and lead to the symptoms of a yeast infection.

Despite vaginal infection being so common, there is a lot of misinformation on exactly what causes it, its prevention, and treatment. Here is all your gynaecologist wishes you’d know about yeast infections:

It’s not your fault

Are you prone to yeast infections? It might feel like you’re doing something wrong to be constantly fighting the itch... especially when your best friend says she only had one episode a few years ago. Gynaecologists say that some women are more prone to yeast infections that others.  A yeast infection can be triggered by something as simple as changing your bathing soap, eating sweets, being stressed, ovulating, using birth control pills, or feeling fatigued. This shows you that you can get a yeast infection without doing anything that you can link to it directly.

Over-the-counter drugs are OK

When you start experiencing the symptoms of a yeast infection, should you visit a doctor or buy OTC drugs? This is a complicated question because many a time, people who think they have a yeast infection actually don’t.

According to one 2002 study published in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, women who self-diagnosed and tried to treat a yeast infection reached the correct conclusion just 33 per cent of the time. Additionally, another 2007 study by Saint Louis University found that just 26 per cent were right on self-diagnosis.

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There are other vaginal issues which cause the same symptoms as a yeast infection. These include sexually transmitted infections and bacterial vaginosis. But if you get yeast infection symptoms right, OTC medication will clear up the symptoms and bring relief.

If you have the two classic symptoms of a yeast infections – itching and discharge – gynaecologists say it is safe to try OTC medication.

You get a vaginal yeast infection when your vagina’s ecosystem is out of balance (Shutterstock)  

Longer treatments work better

Taking drugs suck – which is why most of us opt for the shortest dose medication possible. When you ask a pharmacist for yeast infection drugs, they will probably give you a prescription for one, three, or seven days.

If you have recurrent yeast infections, gynaecologists recommend going for the longer treatment options. You should also opt for longer treatment if you have a complicated infection with more severe symptoms – such as painful swelling of the vagina and vulva.

Sex and yeast infections

Many people still assume that vaginal yeast infections are a sexually transmitted. They’re both wrong and right. Technically, vaginal candidiasis isn’t considered a sexually transmitted infection. The infection is an overgrowth of yeast cells present in a healthy vagina. But there’s an increased risk of yeast infection when a woman is sexually active.

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When you have a yeast infection, it’s also wise to avoid having sex until you’ve completed your treatment and the symptoms have cleared. There are several reasons for this: having sex might irritate the vaginal area more and delay healing, you are more likely to get vaginal micro-tears which make you more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases, if you’re using creams or suppositories, sex will interfere with the treatment, and you’re also likely to pass the infection on to your partner.

Pregnancy might increase your risk

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Yeast infections are common in pregnant women because of hormonal fluctuations. If you’re pregnant and suspect that you have a yeast infection, you should consult your doctor for proper diagnosis.

Note that the treatment for yeast infections might be slightly different for pregnant women. For instance, pregnant women aren’t given oral anti-fungal medications to avoid the risk of birth defects. A 2016 study from Denmark found a link between oral fluconazole to treat yeast infections during pregnancy, and increased risk of miscarriages. However, topical anti-fungals are usually safe to use during pregnancy. Always consult a doctor before taking any medication during pregnancy.

Yeast infections and UTIs are different

Although it’s possible to have one or the other, or even both at the same time, urinary tract infections are totally different from yeast infections. Like its name indicates, a UTI is an infection that affects the urinary system -- the urethra, bladder, and kidneys.

The symptoms of a UTI are also different from those of a yeast infection. The distinction is that with a UTI, your urine is likely to have blood.

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