When Juanita was diagnosed with strep throat, her doctor
prescribed an antibiotic to treat the infection. Juanita started to
feel better soon after she took the medication - the pain in her
throat subsided and her temperature returned to normal. But then
she noticed an unusual discharge in her underwear. To make things
worse, her vaginal area felt very itchy.
Juanita told her mom what was going on, and her mom took her
back to the doctor's office. There, Juanita found out she had a
yeast infection. Although she'd had been nervous about seeing a
doctor for such a personal reason, she was relieved to find out
that diagnosing and treating a yeast infection is simple and
What Is a Yeast Infection?
A yeast infection, also known as
-uh-sis), is the name for a common infection caused by a yeast
(a type of fungus).
Yeast infections usually occur in warm, moist parts of the body,
such as the mouth and moist areas of skin. When they cause an
infection in the vagina, it is known as
can overgrow for many reasons. Stress, pregnancy, and illnesses
that affect the immune system may allow yeast to multiply, as can
certain medicines. These include some birth control pills and
steroids. Or if you're taking antibiotics, such as for strep
throat, the antibiotics can kill "good" bacteria that
also live in the body and normally keep the growth of
in the vagina in check. Yeast also can flourish if a girl's
blood sugar is high. Girls who have diabetes that isn't
controlled are at a higher risk for yeast infections.
Many girls find that yeast infections tend to show up right
before they get their periods because of the hormonal changes that
come with the menstrual cycle. Clothing (especially underwear) that
is too tight or made of materials like nylon that trap heat and
moisture might lead to yeast infections because yeast can thrive in
this type of environment. And douching and using scented sanitary
products can upset the healthy balance of bacteria in the vagina
and make yeast infections more likely.
Yeast infections can happen to any girl, and they're not
related to having sex - although they occasionally can be spread
from one sexual partner to the other. This is quite rare, though,
and the partner of someone who has a yeast infection does not
automatically have to be treated. Yeast infections that are spread
through sex are not considered a sexually transmitted disease
(STD). A doctor won't be able to tell how you got a yeast
infection, but will be able to tell you if you really have one, and
if so, how to treat it.
What Are the Symptoms of a Yeast Infection?
Common signs and symptoms of yeast infections include:
- itching and irritation in the vagina
- redness, swelling, or itching of the vulva (the folds of skin
outside the vagina)
- a thick, white discharge that can look like cottage cheese
and is usually odorless, although it might smell like bread or
- pain or burning when urinating or during sex
If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor or
gynecologist. It's easy to confuse the symptoms of a yeast
infection with those of some STDs and other vaginal infections.
Your doctor can give you the right diagnosis.
Do Guys Get Yeast Infections?
Guys don't get vaginal yeast infections, but
-tis), an infection of the head of the penis, can be caused by the
that causes infections in girls. Guys who have diabetes are more
prone to this infection. A guy who gets balanitis may not have any
symptoms or the tip of the penis may become red and sore or itchy.
Some guys might have a slight discharge as well.
Guys who are not circumcised need to take extra care to clean
properly beneath their foreskins. The warm, moist folds of the
foreskin are the perfect environment for yeast to thrive. Keeping
the area clean and dry may help prevent an infection, but if
symptoms do show up, a trip to the doctor will solve the
How Can I Prevent Yeast Infections?
What you wear - or don't wear - can help you avoid a yeast
infection. Yeast grows best in a warm, moist environment: think wet
bathing suits, tight jeans, and stretchy exercise gear. Nylon
underwear, pantyhose, and other synthetic materials that trap
moisture also make yeast infections more likely.
Some girls may react to certain dyes or perfumes in soaps, bath
gels or lotions, sanitary products, and laundry detergents. When
the reaction causes irritation, that can set the stage for a yeast
infection. Your best bet is to steer clear of perfumed products and
to use mild and fragrance-free products when possible.
To help keep your vaginal area dry, try switching to
all-cotton underwear and make sure you carefully dry off after you
shower. If you can, wear cotton underwear to bed or don't wear
any, and always wash and thoroughly dry your underwear before
wearing them. Don't lounge around in a wet bathing suit and
avoid jeans or pantyhose that are too tight.
Don't take leftover antibiotics or someone else's
antibiotics if you think you have an infection. Only take
antibiotics when and how they're prescribed for you. And if you
have diabetes, make sure you keep your blood sugar levels under
Do I Need to See a Doctor?
Treating a yeast infection is simple. But it's still
important to visit your doctor for the right diagnosis, since other
infections can cause similar symptoms but require different
treatments. Your doctor might take a urine sample - to rule out a
urinary tract infection - and some discharge from your vagina to
examine under a microscope.
If you do have a yeast infection, your doctor will probably
prescribe a pill to swallow or a vaginal cream or suppository. When
you get home, follow all the directions on the package carefully. A
suppository will come with an applicator to help you place the
medicine inside your vagina, where it can begin to work.
All of these types of medication can clear up your symptoms in a
couple of days and cure the infection within a week. It's
important that you take the medicine for the whole time that your
doctor prescribes. If you stop taking it too soon, the infection
could come back.
The doctor may also prescribe a cream you can apply around the
vagina to relieve itching. Some of these creams are available
without a prescription in your local drugstore, but you
shouldn't just buy a cream if you think you have a yeast
infection. It's important to see a doctor for your diagnosis,
because if you actually have another type of infection the problem
could get worse if it is not properly treated. Also,
over-the-counter medicine should not be used by anyone who is under
12 or pregnant.
Yeast infections can be annoying, especially if they happen
regularly. To help avoid them, follow your doctor's advice,
wear cotton underwear, and try to wear loose-fitting clothes. Your
body will thank you.
Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: November 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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