Understanding Vaginal Yeast Infections
July 2nd 2020 | Written by Miranda Van Haarlem (She/Her), Graphics by Sissi Chen (She/Her)
Did you know that the vagina is a self-cleaning organ? Through the use of discharge, the vagina can clean itself of certain bacteria to keep everything in line. But, like other cleaning mechanisms, sometimes things go astray. Itching, burning and heavy discharge are all common signs that there is an overgrowth of the Candida fungi leading to Candidiasis - more commonly known as a vaginal yeast infection.
Note: The information contained in this blog is true to the best of our knowledge. We, however, are not medical professionals, so we recommend that you also explore The Canadian Women’s Health Network and seek out information from trusted health professionals.
So what exactly is a yeast infection?
Candida is known as your “beneficial flora”, which recognizes and damages harmful bacteria. Candida thrives in warm and dark places, such as the vagina. Stress, diet, illness, antibiotics, and pregnancy can all disrupt our body’s natural flora, causing an overgrowth of certain bacterias and leading to infection. Studies looking at self-identified women found that approximately 75% of women will have one vaginal yeast infection in their lifetime and of those people, half will have at least one more.
How do I know if I have a vaginal yeast infection?
Like other infections, not every individual will experience the same symptoms. Typically, the symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include:
Itching, burning or soreness in and around the vulva and vagina
Redness or swelling of the vulva
Thick, white, clumpy, odour-free discharge
Pain during sex or urination
Trust me, you will know when you have one.
What causes a yeast infection?
A yeast infection can occur if there is an imbalance or change in your day to day life. For example, common causes of yeast infection include but are not limited to:
Stress and anxiety
Poor diet and/or change in diet
The introduction of antibiotics can decrease the number of good bacteria in your body
Hormonal changes/imbalances such as menstruation or menopause
Weakened immune system
Some females are more prone to recurring yeast infections than others. Speaking from personal experience, yeast infections and I are best friends.
How do you treat a yeast infection?
Professionals recommend that individuals discomfort seek medical assistance to verify the discomfort is caused by a yeast infection and not a sexually transmitted infection with similar symptoms. For women who are prone to yeast infections, antifungal medications are available without a prescription. These medications come in oral tablets as well as tablets that can be inserted into the vagina. There are also creams that can help with the itching and burning. A rule to follow with the itchiness, scratching will never help, believe me! A personal tip to help with the swelling or to fight the urge to itch would be to apply a clean cold pack or even a frozen pack of peas to your vulva.
How do I prevent myself from getting a yeast infection?
While there is no golden rule about how to not get a vaginal yeast infection there are some dos and don’ts:
If you menstruate change your tampons, pads, diva-cups or period underwear frequently
Wear cotton underwear as it does not trap moisture as easily
Only take antibiotics when prescribed by your doctor or health professional and make sure to finish the whole prescription
Keep the external genitalia area clean and dry as much as possible
Practise proper diet, sleep, and exercise
Wearing dental dams and/or condoms can help, particularly if you or your partner have recurring yeast infections
Try to avoid scented soaps, and sprays in the genital area as these can cause an imbalance in the natural bacteria
If I am not sexually active can I still get a yeast infection?
Yeast infections happen regardless of age and/or sexual activity. Yeast infections are not sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and usually have little to do with sexual activity! Yeast infections simply take place when the body's immune system is weakened or the natural flora is unbalanced.
Can males get yeast infections?
Yes, males can get yeast infections! While it is not as common for a male to have a yeast infection, it is still possible! Usually, these infections take place through unprotected intercourse with a female who has a yeast infection. The symptoms manifest in the same ways as females, usually with redness, itching and burning on the head of the penis.
Can periods cause yeast infections?
While periods are not the primary cause of vaginal yeast infections, they can provoke one. The pH of the vagina changes during menstruation and can cause an increase of growth in bacteria, including Candida. Menstruation may also weaken the immune system which can create an environment for Candida to thrive.
So are yeast infections normal?
Heck yes! Yeast infections are incredibly common. They are uncomfortable to have, and sometimes uncomfortable to talk about, but you are not alone - Never apologize for your vagina. If you ever feel insecure about having more yeast infections than those around you, remember every vagina is different, and I for one, feel your pain.