Vaginal Yeast Infections

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on March 07, 2024
4 min read

The vagina normally contains a healthy balance of bacteria and yeast. The hormone estrogen helps bacteria called lactobacilli to grow. These bacteria kill harmful organisms in the vagina and keep you healthy. But when something happens to tip that balance, a fungus called candida can grow out of control and cause a yeast infection, also known as vaginal candidiasis.

They’re itchy and uncomfortable, and no one really likes to talk about them. But vaginal yeast infections are very common. It’s estimated that 75% of women will have at least one yeast infection in their lifetime.

Though yeast infections can happen to anyone at any time, certain things make them more likely. Most infections can be cleared up quickly and easily.

Yeast infection vs. bacterial vaginosis

Yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis (BV) are both vaginal infections called vaginitis. While the conditions may have similar symptoms, they happen for different reasons and need different treatments. You can use an over-the-counter treatment for a yeast infection but will probably need prescription medicine for BV.


Itchiness and discomfort are the main symptoms of a yeast infection, but there are others:

  • Burning, redness, and swelling of the vagina and the vulva (the outer part of the female genitals)
  • Pain or burning when you pee
  • Pain during sex
  • A thick, white, odorless discharge, similar to cottage cheese
  • Watery discharge
  • Vaginal rash
  • Small cuts or tiny cracks in the skin of your vulva

If you think you have a yeast infection, see your doctor before treating yourself. The symptoms of yeast infections are similar to other, more serious conditions, including sexually transmitted infections and bacterial vaginosis (bacterial overgrowth in the vagina). An accurate diagnosis is important so you can get the best treatment.

There are many reasons you could get a yeast infection, including:

  • Hormones. Changes during pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause (or if you’re taking birth control pills) can change the balance in your vagina.
  • Diabetes. If your diabetes is not well-controlled, the increase in sugar in the mucous membranes of your vagina can create a place for yeast to grow.
  • Antibiotics. These drugs can kill off many of the good bacteria that live in your vagina.
  • Douches and vaginal sprays. The use of these products can change the balance in your vagina.
  • A weakened immune system. If you are HIV-positive or have another immune system disorder, the yeast may also grow uncontrolled.
  • Sex. Though a yeast infection is not considered a sexually transmitted infection, it can be passed from person to person through sexual contact.
  • Stress. Research shows that the candida fungus, like other organisms, responds to stress. Our knowledge of this response mostly comes from lab studies where scientists grow it in glucose. But in the human body, the fungus faces different conditions and is exposed to many stresses at once, which impacts its ability to cause disease.

Are yeast infections contagious?

You can get a yeast infection both through sex and without sexual contact, but it's not a sexually transmitted infection (STI).


Diagnosing a yeast infection involves your doctor or nurse examining your vulva and vagina. They'll also get a sample of discharge by swabbing your vagina, then send the sample to a lab to be examined.

The most common way to treat yeast infections is with over-the-counter antifungal creams, ointments, or suppositories (with clotrimazole or miconazole). Treatment can take 1 to 7 days. Your doctor may also prescribe an oral antifungal medication, such as fluconazole (Diflucan) or ibrexafungerp (Brexafemme). 

If you’re pregnant, it’s safe to use creams or suppositories, but avoid oral medications. 

It’s important for you to know that some yeast infection medications weaken condoms or diaphragms. That makes it easier for you to get pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted disease. Be sure to read instructions and warnings before using.

Recurrent yeast infections

If you have diabetes or a weakened immune system, you may get yeast infections over and over again. It’s a condition called recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis (RVVC). If you get yeast infections at least four times a year, your doctor may recommend that you take a weekly fluconazole pill for 6 months to fight them. Oteseconazole (Vivjoa) has been approved for those with recurring problems with infections who do not want to have children (or have more children).

Some studies have shown that eating probiotic yogurt or taking Lactobacillus acidophilus supplements may slow the growth of yeast in the vagina, lowering the risk of infections. More research is needed before a clear connection can be made. Other ways of avoiding a yeast infection include:

  • Wear cotton underwear.
  • Keep your skin dry.
  • Don't douche.
  • Avoid feminine deodorants.
  • Use scent-free tampons or pads.
  • Use water-based sexual lubricants.
  • Keep your blood sugar in check if you have diabetes.

Vaginal yeast infections are common, with symptoms including itchiness, redness, swelling, pain during urination or sex, and a thick, white discharge. Treatments range from over-the-counter antifungal creams or oral medications to prescription options. Infections that continue to come back may require long-term treatment. Probiotics like yogurt or supplements containing Lactobacillus acidophilus might help prevent yeast overgrowth, but more research is needed to confirm how well they work.