How To Tell If You Have A Yeast Infection & Get Rid Of It

Photographed by Kate Anglestein.
Yeast infections are the most common type of vaginal infection and arguably the least fun. Up to three out of four people with vaginas will get a yeast infection at some point in their life, and most will get more than one. So we're all doomed! Sort of.
There are so many reasons why your vagina could be itchy or producing weird discharge in your underwear, and if it is because of a yeast infection, then it's usually pretty easy to treat. But you should probably see your gynecologist (the internet is not a doctor), or at least call them to tell them you think you have one, because there's a small chance the symptoms could be indicative of a more serious medical condition, like an STI or even diabetes. Your doctor can do a quick swab of your vagina and let you know exactly what it is you're dealing with. Ahead, a few basics to know about yeast infections.

What is a yeast infection?

An infection caused by an overgrowth of yeast in your vagina. In a person's vagina, there's always some amount of yeast and bacteria in careful balance, but when something tampers with those amounts, your vagina makes more yeast to overcompensate, which causes a yeast infection.

What does a yeast infection feel like?

You usually can tell when you have a yeast infection because it makes your vagina itch and burn, and sometimes your vulva gets red and swollen. Yeast infections come with a thick, white discharge that looks like cottage cheese and has no smell, which is different from the distinct fishy smell of bacterial vaginosis. You might also notice some pain or burning during sex or when you pee, because your vagina is so inflamed.

Why do you get yeast infections?

Taking antibiotics can cause yeast infections, because antibiotics kill the bacteria in your vagina that's supposed to be there to keep everything in balance. (If your doctor prescribed antibiotics for some other infection, you should still take them, but ask your doctor if they can also give you yeast infection meds to take with it.) Pregnant people also tend to get more yeast infections because they experience so many hormonal changes that can screw with the vagina's pH. Some people with compromised immune systems (like someone with HIV) may also get recurrent yeast infections because their immune system can't work properly to fight off infection.

How do you get rid of a yeast infection?

There are vaginal suppositories that you can buy OTC (like Monistat) that contain an egg-shaped anti-fungal medication that you shoot up your vagina like you would a tampon. It slowly dissolves and treats the infection in a day or two, but the medication itself tends to produce a little discharge, which is totally normal but potentially annoying. And it's smart to talk to your doctor about the best OTC option for you, so give 'em a call before you head to the pharmacy. If you'd rather take a pill, there's a prescription pill called fluconazole that stops the infection in one dose — and both treatments are equally effective, according to one study.
While you're treating a yeast infection you should try to create the healthiest environment possible for your vagina to breathe. (A good idea anytime, really.) Wear cotton underwear instead of nylon to keep your vaginal area dry, and take off sweaty, tight workout clothes as soon as you're done wearing them. Don't douche or use any soaps or feminine hygiene products, because they can remove the healthy bacteria that your vagina needs to keep everything balanced.

Can a yeast infection go away on its own?

Mild yeast infections can occasionally clear up over time without any treatment. But, here’s the thing: you should still see your doctor or healthcare provider to ensure that it is, in fact, a run-of-the mill yeast infection and not something more serious that you're letting fester.

What happens if it comes back?

Even though most people with vaginas do get more than one yeast infection in their lifetime, if treatments aren't working or you just keep getting yeast infections over and over again, you should talk to your doctor. It's possible that you have a tricky, treatment-resistant strain of yeast in your vagina, but the only way to know that is to go to your doctor and let them take a culture. Recurrent yeast infections can also be a sign of a larger issue, like diabetes, so again, you should really call that doc.
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