It's an itchy feeling you might hardly notice at first. Maybe,you muse, it's just that your jeans are too tight. Actually,tight jeans may have something to do with it. But if the itch keeps getting itchier, even when your jeans have been off for awhile, then there's something else involved.
That something else could very well be a fungus whose technical name is Candida, and which causes what is often called a "yeast" infection. Such infections are most common in teenage girls and women aged 16 to 35, although they can occur in girls as young as 10 or 11 and in older women (and less often, in men and boys as well). You do not have to be sexually active to get a yeast infection.
The Food and Drug Administration now allows medicines that used to be prescription-only to be sold without a prescription to treat vaginal yeast infections that keep coming back. But before you run out and buy one, if you've never been treated for a yeast infection you should see a doctor. Your doctor may advise you to use one of the over-the-counter(OTC) products or may prescribe a drug called Diflucan (fluconazole).The FDA recently approved the drug for clearing up yeast infections with just one dose.
Though itchiness is a main symptom of yeast infections, if you've never had one before, it's hard to be sure just what's causing your discomfort. After a doctor makes a diagnosis of vaginal yeast infection, if you should have one again, you can more easily recognize the symptoms that make it different from similar problems. If you have any doubts, though, you should contact your doctor.
In addition to intense itching, another symptom of a vaginal yeast infection is a white curdy or thick discharge that is mostly odorless. Although some women have discharges midway between their menstrual periods, these are usually not yeast infections, especially if there's no itching.
Other symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include:
- rash on outer lips of the vagina
- burning, especially during urination.
It's important to remember that not all women experience all these symptoms, and if intense itching is not present it's probably something else.
Candida is a fungus often present in the human body. It only causes problems when there's too much of it. Then infections can occur not only in the vagina but in other parts of the body as well -- and in both sexes. Though there are four different types of Candida that can cause these infections, nearly 80 percent are caused by a variety called Candida albicans.
The biggest cause of Candida infections is lowered immunity. This can happen when you get run down from doing too much and not getting enough rest. Or it can happen as a result of illness.
Though not usual, repeated yeast infections, especially if they don't clear up with proper treatment, may sometimes be the first sign that a woman is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
FDA requires that OTC products to treat yeast infections carry the following warning:"If you experience vaginal yeast infections frequently (they recur within a two-month period) or if you have vaginal yeast infections that do not clear up easily with proper treatment, you should see your doctor promptly to determine the cause and receive proper medical care."
Repeated yeast infections can also be caused by other, less serious, illnesses or physical and mental stress. Other causes include:
- use of antibiotics and some other medications, including birth control pills
- significant change in the diet
- poor nutrition
Some women get mild yeast infections towards the end of their menstrual periods, possibly in response to the body's hormonal changes. These mild infections sometimes go away without treatment as the menstrual cycle progresses. Pregnant women are also more prone to develop yeast infections.
Sometimes hot, humid weather can make it easier for yeast infections to develop. And wearing layers of clothing in the winter that make you too warm indoors can also increase the likelihood of infection.