Wellness & Fitness

Yeast infection: The misconceptions, myths and simple prevention ways


Globally, over 75 percent of women suffer from yeast infections at some point. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

As a woman, you will probably get a yeast infection at some point in your life. Globally, over 75 percent of women suffer from yeast infections at some point.

Here’s what you need to know about yeast infection.

What is a yeast infection?

Yeast infection, commonly referred to as vaginal yeast infection is a fungal infection that occurs when there is an increase in the growth of yeast in the vagina.

There are many yeast infections, with the most common being vaginal yeast infection.

Yeast plays an important role in determining the health of your vagina, but when it overgrows, it leads to an infection that causes discomfort around the vagina.

What causes a yeast infection?

A healthy vagina contains a balanced mix of yeast and bacteria. Some of the bacteria work to ensure this mix is maintained and there is no overgrowth of yeast.

Sometimes, however, this balance is disrupted and this results in an overgrowth of yeast leading to a yeast infection.

This overgrowth of yeast is highly associated with the use of strong antibiotics that sometimes cause an imbalance in the pH.

It is for this reason that when you are treated with strong antibiotics, you are also given a probiotic to prevent this overgrowth.

Pregnant women are also most likely to get yeast infections because the hormonal changes during pregnancy can disrupt the pH balance of the vagina.

Uncontrolled diabetes is also one of the causes of yeast infection. This is because sugar is a catalyst for the growth of yeast cells.

Taking certain oral contraceptives has also been associated with a higher risk of yeast infection. This is because these contraceptives increase estrogen levels leading to the disturbance of the natural hormonal balance.

Symptoms of a yeast infection?

The first and most common symptom is vaginal itching. There is also a burning sensation with urination and sometimes pain or soreness during intercourse.

Vaginal discharge with a yeast infection is usually white and thick and usually has no foul smell. With discharge, it is important to understand the colour, types, and consistencies of the discharge during the cycle.

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The discharge associated with a yeast infection is very thick and appears like cottage cheese.

How is yeast infection treated?

Depending on the severity, your doctor will recommend the right treatment regimen for the infection.

For mild to moderate symptoms, your doctor might recommend taking an antifungal medication, usually in the form of a cream, ointment, tablets, or suppositories. This will usually clear the infection.

Your doctor can also recommend a single oral dose. This oral dose is however not recommended for pregnant women because it is known to cause some birth defects.

For those with more severe symptoms, your doctor might recommend antifungal medication to be taken for two weeks and then once a week for six months.

Myths and misconceptions

One of the common misconceptions is that yeast infection is sexually transmitted. Although it is a fungal infection, it is advised that an infected person refrains from sexual intercourse while infected.

Another misconception is that yeast infection affects only women. While women are more prone to contracting yeast infections, men too can develop yeast infections.

It is also assumed that yeast infection occurs only around the vagina and penis. In a true sense, yeast can be found all over your body and one can develop a yeast infection anywhere, and especially in areas where the body is warm and moist.

Oral thrush is an example of a yeast infection that occurs in the mouth.

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Yeast infection prevention

Sometimes attacks of a yeast infection usually occur without an identifiable precipitating factor. Nevertheless, several factors predispose to symptomatic vaginal yeast infection including;

Poorly controlled diabetes: Women with diabetes mellitus who have poor blood sugar control are more prone to yeast infection than women whose blood sugar is normal.

Maintaining good blood sugar control can help to prevent vaginal yeast infection.

Use of antibiotics: About one in three women are more at risk of vaginal yeast infection during or after taking broad-spectrum antibiotics.

These drugs prevent normal bacterial flora, and as a result, favour the growth of disease-causing germs such as yeast.

In women who are prone to symptomatic yeast infections with antibiotic treatment, a dose of an antifungal drug at the start and end of antibiotic use may prevent post-antibiotic yeast infection.

Increased estrogen levels: Vaginal yeast infection appears to occur more often in the setting of increased estrogen levels, such as oral contraceptive use (especially when estrogen dose is high), pregnancy, and estrogen therapy, including topical or intravaginal estrogen therapy by postmenopausal women.

Immunosuppression: Vaginal yeast infections are more common in people whose immune system is weaker than normal, such as those who have HIV infection and those on steroid treatment.

Contraceptive devices: Vaginal sponges, diaphragms, and intrauterine devices have been associated with vaginal yeast infection but not consistently.

Dr Okemo is a consultant Obstetrician Gynaecologist at Aga Khan University Hospital Nairobi.