Today, treatments for yeast infections are available in your grocery store or pharmacy, over-the-counter. You don't need to see a doctor in order to buy a treatment kit and use it. Because yeast infections are common, this helps millions of women. However, there are times when you should see a doctor before purchasing and using the medication.
What Are Vaginal Yeast Infections?
Yeast is a type of fungus. A yeast infection is caused when you have an overgrowth of the fungus called candida albicans in your vagina. Symptoms of a yeast infection include:
- Redness, soreness and swelling of the vagina and vulva
- Pain during sex or when urinating
- Thick, white discharge that resembles cottage cheese
- Rash on the vagina
You may have all of these symptoms or just a few. Symptoms can be mild or severe. Approximately three-fourths of women will have a yeast infection sometime in their life. Yeast infections are not STIs and are rarely transmitted during sex. Yeast infections can be uncomfortable but are rarely serious.
What Causes Yeast Infections?
There is always a small amount of candida yeast in your vagina, it is when there is an abundance, or overgrowth, that a yeast infection occurs. Some of the reasons this happens are:
- Taking antibiotics
- Weak immune system
- Poor eating habits
- Hormonal imbalance
You may notice yeast infections more often after your period, when your hormone levels change. Using tampons can also contribute to yeast infections.
When to See the Doctor
Although treatment is available without a prescription, you should always see a doctor if you have never had or been treated for a yeast infection before. There are other conditions which can cause symptoms of a yeast infection, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. Your doctor will test to see if it is a yeast infection caused by the candida yeast.
Your doctor will perform a pelvic exam and observe any signs of infection. He may take a vaginal culture that will be sent to a lab for further testing. This normally happens if you have recurrent yeast infections or a yeast infection that isn't responding to treatment. Once you are diagnosed with a yeast infection, you can determine if it is a yeast infection in the future.
If you have more than four yeast infections per year, talk with your doctor. This could signal that there is something other than candida causing your yeast infection.
While the over-the-counter medications are safe to use, using them wrong, such as if you do not have a yeast infection, can worsen the underlying condition. Once your doctor has established that it is a yeast infection, you can discuss whether over-the-counter treatments are appropriate or if he should prescribe medication.
"Vaginal Yeast Infections Fact Sheet," Updated 2012, July 16, Staff Writer, Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
"Yeast Infections & Vaginitis," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Planned Parenthood