Vaginal yeast infection – how to avoid candidiasis


Vaginal yeast infection – how to avoid candidiasis

Vaginal yeast infection, thrush, vulvovaginal candidiasis… Those sound ominous. To make things worse, everyone, no matter their age, is susceptible to the disease. How to avoid it then? What are the symptoms of yeast infection during pregnancy? And, if you get it, what are the treatment options? We’ll try to answer all those questions in this article.

Dominika Olchowik

Published: 15.06.2021 11 minreading time

Vaginal fungus illustration

Illustration: Jarek Danilenko

What is a vaginal yeast infection?

It’s a yeast infection of your private parts. It’s estimated that 75% of people with vaginas suffer from vaginal yeast infection at least once in their lifetime and at least half of them has to go through it more than once. This type of affliction is one of the most frequently occuring gynaecological infections.

Candida albicans – guilty!

In the majority of cases, vaginal candidiasis is caused by fungi – Candida albicans species (Saccharomycetaceae family pathogens, simple, single-cell organisms). In most people, they are permanent residents of the acidic vaginal bacterial flora and their presence doesn’t bring about any worrying symptoms. Consequently, there’s no need to implement any treatment.

Due to the possible presence of fungi in the bacterial flora of the vagina it has created a number of defence mechanisms to protect itself from various infections. Those mechanisms are:

  • acidic vaginal pH (between 3.6 and 4.5),

  • constant vaginal epitel exfoliation (it regulates the lubrication of vaginal mucosa),

  • excretion of natural vaginal discharge (don’t confuse it with unusual/abnormal vaginal discharge – the former cleanses the vagina from dead cells and bacteria, prepares the vagina for subsequent phases of the menstrual cycle, and contains health information about the organism),

  • colonisation resistance (microorganisms in the bacterial flora of your vagina, which act as protection from pathogens).

There are over 100 types of microorganisms in the vagina – in one millilitre of the vaginal discharge we can find around 100 bacteria. Lactobacilli constitute the majority and are responsible for the aforementioned protection and vaginal pH. The deficiency of those leads to creation of a more basic environment inside the vagina, which opens up ways to the development of vaginal yeast infection. The healthy, acidic vaginal flora is also conditioned by estrogen. Before the first period, vaginal pH is slightly less acidic – afterwards, due to the production of estrogen by the ovaries, Lactobacilli dominate the microflora and constitute 96% thereof. In the final days of the cycle, and during menopause, vaginal pH rises, which is caused by the plummeting levels of estrogen. This leads to the changes in the bacterial balance, which, in consequence, might result in a more serious infection.

What increases risks of contracting vaginal yeast infection

Candida species is an opportunistic pathogenic yeast, which means that it attacks and grows when the conditions are just right for it. What a comfort-seeking creature… ;)

The risk of developing (not only yeast) infections increases when our organism is weakened. Additionally, in the case of candida fungus, the condition of the vaginal microflora is crucial – its pH, temperature, the amount of Lactobacilli. A healthy flora acts as a natural shield and protects the vagina from various infections and bacteria – every wobble in this balance is thus dangerous.

You might want to read our article about bacterial vaginosis.

Other factors causing yeast infection

  • Hormonal changes and disturbances in the vaginal microflora – hence the particular liability of pregnant people (or those on their periods). They should remember about proper hygiene of the private parts.

  • Elevated glucose levels – in diabetes, it applies to the blood sugar level in all bodily secreta (e.g. urine or vaginal mucus), which facilitates growth and reproduction of the fungi.

  • Using antibiotics and steroids – these types of (broad-spectrum) medicines also have a negative impact on the “good” bacteria, acting for the benefit of our organisms and immune systems.

  • Hormonal birth control – prolonged use thereof might influence the bacterial flora and the increase of vaginal pH, rendering it more basic, which aids the development of yeast infections.

  • Inadequate hygiene – especially during menses.

  • Wearing tight underwear made of synthetic fibres – prevents the skin from breathing.

  • Eating habits with insufficient iron and B vitamins supplementation, rich in sugars and simple carbohydrates.

Yeast infection symptoms

It happens sometimes that vaginal yeast infections don’t present any symptoms and many people find out about them during routine gynaecological check-ups. A vaginal infection caused by endomycetes is often self-limited, although it doesn’t mean it’s completely cured. Usually, a yeast infection results in severe symptoms, difficult to miss.

Most common vaginal yeast infection symptoms

  • severe vaginal itching,

  • spotty exanthema; can be transferred from the intimate area to the belly button, crutch, and groin,

  • white and lumpy vaginal discharge (cottage cheese consistency),

  • stinging urination,

  • painful sex,

  • swelling and reddening of the vagina and vulva, which sometimes spread to the groin and anal area.

How to treat vaginal yeast infection

In case any worrying symptoms appear, it’s advisable to immediately contact your doctor to diagnose your condition and implement appropriate treatment. A wrong diagnosis and treatment might lead to more serious complications and diseases (the infection might spread to other organs or even cause infertility). It’s important because the symptoms of vaginal yeast infection might also indicate other vaginal infections (BV, for instance), which require completely different medical proceedings.

Antifungal susceptibility tests allow us to accurately determine the exact type of Candida fungus we’re dealing with. Initially, the patient is started on broad-spectrum antifungal antibiotics. If the treatment is ineffective, a fungal culture test should be carried out to implement targeted therapy, focused on the specific cause of the infection.

Vaginal yeast infection treatment

Adequate hygiene is critical in treating yeast infections caused by Candida fungus. Apart from that it’s advisable to use:

  • topical antifungal medicines – ointments, creams, or vaginal globules, which can restore vaginal bacterial flora and contain Lactobacilli and Azole derivatives (for example, Clotrimazole, which effectively combats all types of fungi; or Fluconazole – most effective against endomycetes),

  • systemic pharmaceuticals and antibiotics,

  • supplements, such as probiotics,

  • boric acid – in the form of intravaginal capsules; it shows 70% success rate in fighting off vaginal yeast infections, however, it might cause irritation.

Topical remedies, as well as those taken orally, are effective in 80-90%. Although pills are easier to take, ointments and creams prove to act faster – their downside is that they can damage barrier contraception (condoms) during sex. Moreover, during the treatment of a yeast infection, and a short time after that, it’s crucial to remember that your partner might also contract the infection. So it’s best to refrain from sex for some time. Itching and stinging might quickly return and all kinds of irritation in your private parts might reignite various infections.

It usually takes 7 to 14 days to treat yeast infections; however, the duration of the treatment depends on the chosen cure. If we stop taking medicines too early, the infection might return, which is why it’s important to keep your gynaecologist on speed dial in order to go through it successfully.

Sometimes we don’t have access to our doctor (when on holiday or a trip). So if you get a yeast infection and feel like you’d need support in the initial phase of the infection, it’s advisable to get yourself some over the counter medicines (ointments, vaginal globules). They will alleviate the nagging symptoms but won’t cure the infection – so make an appointment as soon as possible after you get back home.

Vaginal yeast infection during pregnancy

This infection is a particularly frequent one during pregnancy due to the natural hormonal imbalance and weakened immune system. So it’s important not to ignore any worrying symptoms. Not only should you treat them immediately but also try to be proactive.

Symptoms of a yeast infection during pregnancy

  • itching, redness, and swelling of the vagina;

  • characteristic vaginal discharge – during a yeast infection when you’re pregnant, the mucus is usually thick and lumpy (like cottage cheese); sometimes it has a subtle yeast-like smell, although odourless discharge occurs as well;

  • redness of the vulva;

  • painful sex;

  • vaginal dryness;

  • urgent need to urinate and pain during peeing

What causes a yeast infection during pregnancy?

We already know that candidiasis is caused by fungi which grow in the vagina, as a result of the disturbances of the bacterial flora. During pregnancy, the immune system is weakened and the hormonal storm hits us daily ;) It creates a perfect environment for the yeast infection to spread. And pregnant people are extremely susceptible to it.

Can yeast infections influence the foetus?

Yes – suffering from vaginal yeast infection during pregnancy might result in damage to the foetus, however not directly.

Untreated yeast infections might cause the amnion to burst, in consequence leading to premature childbirth. If the infection penetrates the amniotic fluid, the foetus’ development might be jeopardised (by meningitis, for instance).

It’s crucial that the infection is treated on the day of birth at the latest. However, instant action and appropriate treatment is extremely important throughout the entire foetal life. Newborn babies don’t have a fully developed immune system, which is why there’s a well-founded concern that the baby might contract a yeast infection. This can result in the growth of thrushes in the newborn’s digestive tract (also in the anal area) and pneumonia. It might also cause nappy rashes in the future.

Vaginal yeast infection during pregnancy requires a healthy amount of proactive measures, as well as actions aiming to relieve some of the most nagging symptoms.

  • Wear loose and gentle underwear; at night it’s best to sleep naked;

  • take good care of your hygiene and dry your vulva thoroughly after a shower or a bath;

  • refrain from using pantyliners;

  • if you’re on antibiotics, take probiotics as well.

Although breastfeeding is extremely important, Candida fungi, living around your nipples, might cause an independent nipple thrush, which is grounds for switching to baby milk and a prospective use of fungicidin. So, vaginal yeast infection is not a direct contraindication to breastfeeding.

In the first trimester, all antifungal medicines are banned! It’s the time when the baby’s internal organs form and the substances used in such drugs might cause irreversible damage. In the second and third trimesters no negative side effects were observed during the treatment both for the foetus and the pregnant person.

Recurrent vaginal yeast infection

Fungi infections are contagious and have a tendency to be recurrent.

We can talk about recurrence if vaginal yeast infections happen at least 4 times a year (with prior intake of antibiotics) or 3 times a year (if no antibiotic therapy was applied). The recurrent vaginal yeast infections are usually caused by the same strain of bacteria as the one which brought about the original infection. However, it’s always advisable to run some microbiological tests. If we’re dealing with another type of bacteria, modification of the treatment is necessary.

Chief causes of the recurrent vaginal yeast infection

  • Weakened organism,

  • inadequate hygiene,

  • vaginal pH imbalance,

  • diabetes,

  • HIV infection,

  • hormonal imbalance caused by hypothyroidism,

  • unhealthy diet, bad eating habits,

  • genetic factors.

In case of a recurrent yeast infection, the treatment should always be extended to the partner because candidiasis is also a sexually transmitted infection. Penis yeast infection often presents symptoms in the form of blotchy rashes, the occurrence of which might be accompanied by severe pain and discomfort (during urination, for instance). Proactive actions depend on the type of genitals we’re dealing with – in people with vaginas it’s usually intravaginal medicines that are applied, while in people with penises drugs taken orally are the go-to option (additional creams and topical medicines might be applied on both). If we take such proactive actions, the risk of getting yeast infections in the future is greatly diminished. Always remember about barrier contraception because it constitutes the only protection against sexually transmitted infections.

Recurrent candidiasis – complications

Recurrent and untreated vaginal yeast infections might lead to a number of serious complications and diseases, such as:

  • fungal infections of the cervix and the fallopian tubes,

  • infertility (caused by post-infection concretions in the fallopian tubes),

  • other infections of the internal organs.

Prophylaxis – how to avoid vaginal yeast infections

In order to reduce the risk of getting vaginal yeast infections you should:

  • Take care of proper hygiene – wash your private parts at least 2 times a day (in the morning and evening) with a delicate intimate wash (containing lactic acid, which helps to keep the right pH of vaginal microflora).

  • On the other hand, refrain from douching (as it sluices out the precious Lactobacilli and sterilises the bacterial flora of the vagina) – keep in mind that the acidic environment helps our vaginas clean themselves. We only wash the vulva!

  • If you’ve dealt with the vaginal yeast infection already – you can use intravaginal probiotics and/or oral ones in order to restore the flora.

  • Steer clear of scented intimate products (these include toilet paper, pads, and pantyliners!).

  • Don’t use someone else’s towel or underwear. As far as the latter is concerned, wear breathable flimsy cotton underwear (linen works as well) and run away from artificial synthetic materials.

Diet is also extremely important – as a proactive action, as well as during the treatment of the recurrent yeast infection.

  • It’s advisable that people dealing with candidiasis minimise the amount of simple sugar in their diet – it’s a delicacy for Candida fungi.

  • It’s recommended to eat wholemeal products – they provide us with lots of dietary fibre which is the source of B vitamins. Fungi use up our reserve supplies of those, putting our organism in dire need of them.

  • It might not be a good idea to eat a lot of dairy products.

We always do our best to fill our texts with valuable and substantive information on each subject we touch upon. Keep in mind, though, that the symptoms of vaginal yeast infections and the course of the disease itself might differ depending on the general condition of a particular organism. In case of candidiasis it’s best to get in touch with your doctor and implement appropriate treatment. It’s crucial to take proactive actions and take good care of your body. Moreover, it’s pivotal to listen to your gynaecologist’s orders (especially if you’re pregnant) including the ones concerning the treatment of your partner.


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