How long does a yeast infection last? And all your other yeast infection questions answered, such as its causes, symptoms, or treatment.
Vulvovaginal candidiasis or yeast infection is one of the most common diseases women suffer. It is so common that around 75% of all women will experience one to two episodes in their lifetime. Even when it affects the genitals, it is not a sexually transmitted infection. This misconception may be the cause for yeast infections not to be talked about enough.
In the following article, a doctor (me) will answer all the questions you may have about this topic. What actually is a yeast infection? Does it smell? And when should I see a doctor about it? And many other questions simply explained. You can be sure that, by the end of this reading, you’ll have much more information about this disease.
What is a yeast infection?
A yeast infection is a condition resulting from excessive growth of yeast (fungus). It can harm the mouth and the skin too, but it significantly affects the vagina. This condition is also known as vulvovaginal candidiasis because the fungi that cause this infection is the Candida albicans.
Candida albicans is the most frequent fungi that affect humans. The vagina usually has a small amount of Candida albicans along with other types of microorganisms. These microorganisms include bacteria too.
Sometimes, the balance between the typical microorganisms that live in the vagina is lost. This can cause bacterial infections or fungal infections. Several situations or habits can cause this imbalance of germs, which we’ll mention later.
Yeast infections are a very common condition, especially in women. In fact, the form of the disease they cause the most is by infecting the vagina. Although it is not openly discussed, about ¾ of women worldwide will have a vaginal yeast infection during their lifetime.
It is essential to know that yeast infections are not sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This statement sources on the fact that every woman has yeast organisms in their vagina. Therefore, even women who are not sexually active can have yeast infections too.
What are the causes of a yeast infection?
The candida fungus lives in your body without causing damage. It usually habits the mouth, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and vagina.
In the vagina, yeast and bacterium cohabit peacefully. The bacterium Lactobacillus is the one that keeps the candida from reproducing out of control.
When the balance between bacterium and yeast is lost, infections happen. Many causes can result in the loss of this healthy balance.
- Medication: Some medications like antibiotics can cause vaginal candidiasis. This is because antibiotics kill bacteria, good or bad, affecting the vagina’s microorganisms’ balance. Another drug that can make you likely to develop yeast infections are birth control pills. But in this case, the cause is the change in our hormone levels.
- Hormones: Lactobacillus growth depends on a hormone called estrogen. When your levels of hormones change due to pregnancy, breast-feeding, or menopause, the lactobacillus growth suffers. This can result in a candida overgrowth.
- Diabetes: If you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels can be high. Higher blood sugar levels can make fungus grow faster. This is because they feed on the sugar of the mucous membranes.
- Sex life: Even though candida infection is not an STDs, the frequency of intercourse can make you develop candidiasis.
- Hygiene methods: Methods like vaginal douches and sprays affect the vaginal environment. Changes in vaginal pH are a risk factor for candida infections.
- Weakened immune system: Diseases that affect your immune system like HIV or auto-immune diseases make you more likely to develop infections.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of yeast infections are very annoying. It is considered vulvovaginitis because it affects and swells the vagina and the vulva (outer female genitals).
The symptoms of vaginal thrush include intense vaginal itching and irritation. The vulva can be sore, causing pain and discomfort during sexual intercourse and urination.
Vulvovaginal inflammation has symptoms like redness, soreness, and cracked skin. There can also be a vaginal discharge. Patients can describe that the discharge is like cottage cheese. It is usually white and has no odor. This is the essential characteristic to differentiate it from bacterial vaginosis, where the vaginal secretions have a really fetid odor.
Yeast overgrowth can also happen in your mouth, causing oral yeast infection. Oral thrush symptoms include patches in your inner cheeks, gums, tonsils, and lips. These patches can be white or yellow and may bleed when scraped. You can also experience burning and pain in your mouth and throat, making it difficult to swallow.
Candida albicans is also a cause of fungal skin infections. This type of skin infection is pretty common, and the symptoms are usually mild. In this case, yeast organisms grow faster in moist and creased areas like the groins and armpits.
This latter variety of yeast infection usually occurs in babies that wear diapers. The combination of wet and warmth inside the diaper is the perfect place for candida to grow. The symptoms include rash, especially on skin folds like armpits, genitals, and under the breasts.
Does a yeast infection smell?
Not really. In fact, this is a fundamental characteristic to identify a vaginal yeast infection. Like we mentioned before, candidiasis can cause vaginal discharge. This vaginal discharge is white in color. It can be watery or have little lumps. This is why its texture is compared to cottage cheese. But the most important characteristic is that it is odorless.
As you can see, the odor can be a symptom to differentiate between vaginal infections. This is one reason you should go to your doctor in the event of any vaginal infection. With a correct diagnosis, you get the right treatment for the condition.
How long does a yeast infection last?
The duration of a yeast infection depends on two main factors: the severity of the infection and the treatment it receives. These infections can go from mild to severe; however, the treatment will remain the same.
These infections can usually be eliminated with a short treatment of antifungal medication. Sometimes a single dose will make it. Mild infections may clear up in as few as three days.
In some cases, they do not even require treatment, but this is not very common. On the other hand, it may take one to two weeks to clear in more severe cases.
People with a yeast infection should always visit a physician to receive proper treatment. Yeast infections that go untreated can become a very threatening condition. This because it can affect several systems through the human body. It can reach the blood, heart, brain, eyes, and bones.
Receiving treatment with over the counter medications may not be as effective as the treatment from a physician. Strictly speaking, it may work; however, a doctor will measure how severe it is the infection.
Luckily, most of the infections are mild, as 3 out of 4 women will suffer once or twice in a lifetime a yeast infection. The doctor may indicate long-course vaginal therapy that takes about 7 to 14 days or a single dose medication with fluconazole. It depends on the severity and the background of the patient.
What will happen if a yeast infection is left untreated?
That depends on every case and the symptoms you are experiencing. If you have few symptoms and a mild yeast infection, there is a possibility that it disappears without treatment.
However, don’t rely on this completely. Like any other infection, even if mild, it should be treated.
If you don’t get treatment, yeast infections are most likely to get worse. The itching, redness, and edema (or swelling) of your genitals will worsen over time. It can expand to other areas, like the vagina’s skin surroundings.
If you scratch, you can harm your skin and cause open skin patches. It is not very common that candida vaginal infection causes oral thrush, but it can happen if left untreated.
Sometimes, Candida fungus can get inside your body when you don’t receive treatment. This is called invasive candidiasis. It can get in your blood and travel around your body and damage your brain, heart, and eyes.
If the infection gets really bad, or you have a weak immune system, you can even develop sepsis. Sepsis is a severe systemic infection that causes damage to multiple organs. A vast quantity of people dies from sepsis each year worldwide.
Luckily, it is not common for people with candida infections to remain without treatment.
What can mimic a yeast infection?
Vaginal yeast infections can have many symptoms in common with other vaginal infections. So it is not uncommon to mistake the diagnosis at first.
Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and bacterial vaginosis all cause vaginal symptoms. Remember, chlamydia and gonorrhea are considered STDs, while yeast infections aren’t.
They can manifest with redness, soreness, and painful sexual relations. Also, they all manifest with vaginal discharge, which can have a bad smell.
Other conditions like allergies caused by tampons and pads can cause irritation and edema. You can also confuse your symptoms of candidiasis with a urinary tract infection. This because you can experience painful urination when suffering from a vaginal yeast infection.
How doctors diagnose this infection?
The diagnosis of yeast infections is actually quite simple. When you go to your doctor, they will ask questions about your medical history. They could ask questions about your sex life, if you had yeast infections before, and if you had STDs.
Doctors can also ask if you are taking birth control pills or have chronic diseases like diabetes or HIV. Then, the doctor will ask questions about the symptoms you are having.
Once the interrogatory is complete, your doctor will begin the physical exam. The physical exam includes a pelvic exam. If you possess symptoms of vaginal yeast infection, your doctor will examine your vagina and cervix. This is done with and speculum exam.
Your doctor will insert a speculum to dilate your vaginal canal and observe your cervix, which is the lowest portion of the uterus on top of the vagina. This will help your doctor determine if you have redness, vaginal discharge, or edema.
Most of the time, the diagnosis is only clinical. Meaning, most of the time, doctors don’t need further tests. However, the diagnosis can be made with a sample of your vaginal fluids. The doctor puts this sample in a microscope to look for candida. This sample can be cultured too for the yeast to grow.
In the case of oral thrush, your doctor will examine your mouth, searching for plaques. Doctors will obtain a sample of the plaques’ content. They will put in a microscope and make the diagnosis.
In the case of skin infections, further tests are not necessary.
What is the treatment of yeast infections?
Yeast infection treatment is, of course, antifungal medicine. Depending on if you have vaginal symptoms, oral or skin symptoms, the medications’ presentation may vary.
There are many antifungal medications. For example, fluconazole, butoconazole, clotrimazole, miconazole, and nystatin are the most common. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor can prescribe oral treatment with pills, vaginal suppositories, or vaginal cream.
One of the most typical treatments for vaginal yeast infection is a single dose of fluconazole. If your symptoms are moderate or severe, your doctor can indicate fluconazole once a day for three days.
On the other side, topical treatment with vaginal creams or suppositories is indicated once a day for three days. If you are pregnant, this treatment should be seven days long, at least.
For oral thrush, the treatment includes fluconazole too. And for skin infections, antifungal creams like clotrimazole and miconazole are commonly prescribed. The antifungal cream treatment works by applying a thin layer in the affected area, up to twice a day. The continuance and overall days of the treatment depend on the case.
How do you know when a yeast infection is gone?
It is as simple as when you stop having symptoms. Yeast infections cause many uncomfortable symptoms. When you get your treatment, your symptoms should start to get better. And you will probably notice right away.
The itching will be milder each day, the irritation will vanish, and the vaginal discharge will stop. You can still have a little pain or discomfort during sex and a little pain during urination. But this will get better quickly, too.
Remember that your symptoms would disappear in a few days after treatment if you had a mild yeast infection. If you had a moderate yeast infection, the symptoms’ complete disappearance could take a couple of weeks.
How long does a yeast infection last after taking fluconazole?
It will depend on the severity of the infection. Fluconazole is the first-line treatment for treating yeast infections. It may take from a couple of days to clear out to two weeks.
Mild infections will be more likely to receive a single dose of treatment. Patients may begin to notice an improvement to their symptoms from one to three days. If the symptoms do not improve, the patient may be suffering from a moderate or severe infection.
Moderate and severe infections may receive long course treatment that will last from 7 to 14 days. The symptoms in these cases should improve within one to two weeks. In rare cases, the treatment may continue for six months.
Can you have a yeast infection for years?
In the specific case of the vaginal infection, no. However, what you can have is recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis. This happens when a woman has four or more episodes of symptomatic yeast infection within a year. This happens to around 5% of women of reproductive age.
There are several motives why a yeast infection repeats itself. The first and most common is that the infection wasn’t completely treated. This is why you should visit your doctor to get the right treatment.
Another one is that you keep habits that make you likely to develop a chronic yeast infection. Wearing damp clothes and vaginal douches can make your vagina a great environment for candida overgrowth. Or maybe, you have another disease that makes you prone to infections, like diabetes. In this case, you should visit your doctor as well.
When should you see your doctor about yeast infection?
In an ideal world, you should always see your doctor when experiencing any health issue. However, we don’t live in an ideal world.
Since yeast infections are so common in women, most of them don’t go to the doctor for treatment. They usually get over-the-counter drugs like vaginal suppositories and antifungal ointments. This is not bad.
Actually, most of the time, this treatment is pretty effective to treat your infection. However, we’ve talked about how other vaginal infections can cause similar symptoms. And these infections don’t get better with antifungal treatment.
If you have symptoms similar to yeast infection, but you are not 100% sure, go to your doctor. You should also visit your doctor if you didn’t get better after the treatment.
In some cases, you should get medical help right away. This is usually recommended for complicated yeast infections.
A yeast infection is complicated when you experience severe symptoms of vulvovaginitis. A yeast infection is also complicated when diagnosed in pregnant, uncontrolled diabetic women or women with weakened immune systems.
Do you have symptoms of this infection?
This is a Yeast infection Symptoms Checker. It gathers the most important signs, symptoms, and risk factors for this infection. Therefore, the tool will identify the symptoms and risk factors because of yeast infection and suggest if somebody has it. Using this tool is free and would only take a few minutes.