Genital Herpes and Yeast Infections
Long before I ever contracted herpes I often fell victim to yeast infections. At first I blamed it on my active aquatic lifestyle, which included swimming and surfing. Other times I’d blame it on my diet, which, although not poor, could always be improved on. More recently I started wondering whether taking an antiviral for herpes, Acyclovir, could be promoting yeast infections the way taking an antibiotic does. But before jumping to conclusions I decided to do some research.
Much more common in women than in men, yeast infections, thrush, or whatever you want to call it (the scientific name being Candidiasis) is really an overgrowth of the Candida fungus, or yeast, in the genital area (although it can occur in the mouth, or any mucous membrane, as well). Yeast in this area is naturally kept in check by healthy bacteria. When there are not enough healthy bacteria, or there is too much yeast, an infection can occur. So it makes sense that antibiotics would promote a yeast infection, because it might kill the good bacteria that balances out the yeast. But an antiviral has no effect on the bacteria levels in the body, and thus would not stimulate yeast production in the genitals.
Ok, so I guess I can’t use Acyclovir as the scape goat for my yeast woes. My recurring yeast infections may be due to my diet, stress, or, who knows, a genetic predisposition? In any case, it appears it’s merely a coincidence that I get both recurring herpes outbreaks and yeast infections (geez, I’m a mess down there). But why is this important? Well if you suffer from both too, then you’ll understand that sometimes it can be tricky to make a self-diagnosis. In the past I have used Monistat thinking I had a yeast infection, only to have the burning get worse and realize it was a herpes outbreak. Conversely, I’ve taken Acyclovir for a few days with no alleviation of itching. Anyone who’s had a yeast infection knows that even a few days of it is a few days too many.
Herpes outbreaks and yeast infections can often have very similar symptoms, even though they are very different problems. So let’s break down the major differences:
-Herpes is a virus, which needs a host to survive; a yeast infection is simply an overgrowth of fungus on the body.
-Herpes is generally a sexually transmitted disease; a yeast infection is not. Yeast infections can be spread via sex, but they can also occur from non-sexual activities such as sitting in a bathing suit too long, eating a lot of sugar, or anything that decreases immune function like stress and lack of sleep.
-Herpes is incurable, but can be suppressed with prescribed medication; a yeast infection is curable, and can be eradicated with the use of over-the-counter cream. (This is not to mention alternative approaches.)
So where does the confusion lie? For me, it is in the symptoms, which can be very similar. Both herpes and yeast infections can display symptoms of itching, burning, discharge and odor, irritation, redness, swelling, blisters, and/or fissures. So if you have one or more of those symptoms, how do you know if you have herpes or a yeast infection? There are a few ways you may be able to tell:
-The itching, burning, and swelling of a herpes outbreak are usually in specific locations, whereas these same symptoms of a yeast infection may feel more general, or spread out.
-Typically the discharge of a herpes outbreak will be watery, and sometimes smelly, whereas the discharge of a yeast infection is thick but relatively odorless. Discharge varies greatly from person to person, and therefore a change in discharge is more significant than the discharge itself.
-Blisters on the skin characterize herpes outbreaks, but blisters are not typical of yeast infections. However, I have personally experienced fissures (little cracks) on the skin during both herpes and yeast episodes. In that case, one must consider the other symptoms before determining which condition he/she has.
-Herpes outbreaks may sometimes be accompanied by flu-like symptoms, yeast infections do not.
-From my own experience, itching from a herpes outbreak can occur anywhere remotely near the base of my spine, not necessarily on my genitals. Itching from a yeast infection, however, only occurs on the moist parts of the genital area.
Both herpes and yeast infections are extremely uncomfortable, and therefore I always want to clear them up ASAP. I have struggled with interpreting the symptoms and making a decision, but have recently started to understand the real differences and how they feel. I hope my personal research can help some of you that have similar issues. Please share your own stories and advice below.
Penelope wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Sexual Health.