Ever had a vaginal yeast infection? Seventy-five per cent of women suffer from it at least once in their lives. The condition occurs when there’s a disruption to the normal vaginal flora and, contrary to popular belief, isn’t a sexually transmitted disease. Dr Grace Huang of DTAP Clinic shares more about the symptoms, causes and treatment options.

The signs and causes

The symptoms for a vaginal yeast infection include an itch in vulva and/or the vagina; discomfort (often described as a burning sensation); pain or soreness that could be more evident during sexual intercourse or urination; and abnormal vaginal discharge commonly described as clumpy, curd-like or “cottage cheese”-like and can be white, yellow, or green in colour.

According to Dr Huang, a disruption in normal vaginal flora can happen when a person has a weakened immune system, which may occur in individuals with poorly controlled diabetes or people taking immunosuppressive medication, or when they have antibiotic ingestion.

“This is because antibiotics, even for an unrelated infection, can kill the good vaginal flora, allowing yeast overgrowth,” she explains. She adds that pregnant women are also more susceptible to yeast infections due to the hormonal and bodily changes, and that women who take birth control pills may also experience them more often due to the increased levels of estrogen.

How it is treated

Left untreated, a yeast infection can result in open wounds from scratching. Also, if you have it once, you are more likely to have a repeat infection.

The good news is this infection can be easily treated with antifungal medication. This can either be administered orally (tablets) or intra-vaginally (cream or vaginal pessaries). 

“For women who suffer from recurrent yeast infections, like four episodes a year, regular suppressive antifungal medications may be recommended,” says Dr Huang.

And while yeast infections may not be fully preventable, you can reduce your risk by not douching or using harsh soaps or scented feminine care products, and opting for loose, breathable cotton underwear. She also recommends avoiding antibiotics unless necessary as they can kill off good vaginal flora. 

“Yeast infections are extremely common and treatable and there is no need to suffer in silence if you are experiencing one.”