Yeast infections (also known as candidiasis) are common infections caused by candida albicans, 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 vulvovaginal candidiasis. Vaginal yeast infections are common among growing girls. About 75% of all females have a yeast infection at some point in their lives.
Vaginal yeast infections can cause pain, itching, redness, a thick white vaginal discharge, pain during urination, and sometimes whitish patches on the skin of the vaginal area. In most cases, yeast infections can be prevented by keeping the vaginal area clean and dry.
If your daughter has a vaginal yeast infection, her doctor can prescribe proper treatment that can clear up the symptoms in a couple of days and cure the infection within a week.
Candida is normally found in small amounts on the skin and inside the mouth, digestive tract, and vagina without causing any disease. The amount of candida in a person's body is kept under control by a healthy immune system and some "good" bacteria.
Symptoms appear when the candida in the body overgrows and leads to an infection. For example, if someone's immune system is weakened (due to an illness or medicines like chemotherapy or steroids), candida in the vagina can multiply and cause symptoms of a yeast infection.
Sometimes candida overgrowth occurs after a girl has received antibiotics for a bacterial infection (such as strep throat) because antibiotics can kill off the "good" bacteria that keep the candida from growing. 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.
Yeast can thrive in moist, dark environments, so clothing (especially underwear) that is too tight or made of materials like nylon that trap heat and moisture might lead to yeast infections.
As girls mature and go through puberty, hormonal changes can make them more susceptible to yeast infections — sometimes girls get yeast infections right before their menstrual periods. Pregnant women are also more prone to yeast infections. Young girls who haven't gone through puberty yet are less likely to get yeast infections, but they can occur. So if your young daughter complains of itching or discomfort in her vaginal area, it's important to talk with her doctor.
Yeast infections can happen to any girl, and they're not considered sexually transmitted infections — although they may be able to be spread from one sexual partner to the other.
In some cases, yeast infections can be prevented by using unscented soap and avoiding vaginal sprays or douches. For some girls, certain bath gels, lotions, or laundry detergents lead to irritation that can make a yeast infection more likely. So it's a good idea to buy mild and fragrance-free bath and cleansing products for your daughter.
It can also help to make sure your daughter wears cotton underwear or underwear with a cotton crotch that won't trap moisture or block air circulation. And have her avoid clothing that's too tight or made of materials like nylon that can trap heat and moisture (such as tight jeans, nylon underwear, and pantyhose). After swimming or exercising in tight nylon clothing, she should quickly change out of the wet or damp gear and into dry, looser fitting clothing.
If your daughter is experiencing any symptoms of a yeast infection, like itchiness or abnormal vaginal discharge, she should see her doctor or gynecologist. Other infections can cause similar symptoms but require different treatments. The doctor might take a urine sample — to rule out a urinary tract infection (UTI) — and some discharge from your daughter's vagina to examine under a microscope.
If she does have a yeast infection, her doctor can prescribe a medication to take by mouth or a vaginal cream, tablet, or suppository that will quickly clear up the symptoms in a few days and the infection within a week. Anyone using a vaginal treatment should abstain from sex until the infection has been treated — these medications can weaken condoms and diaphragms.
If your daughter is not feeling better within a few days of finishing treatment, call the doctor.
Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: January 2012