Since many women treat their yeast infections with over-the-counter medications, no data are kept on the number of women who develop one each year. It is estimated that 75% of all women will have a yeast infection at least once in their lives. Yeast is a fungus.
A yeast infection develops when there is an overgrowth of naturally occurring yeast in the vagina. Though not considered a sexually transmitted infection, it can occasionally be passed through sex.
Many factors may induce an overgrowth of yeast. These include the use of birth control pills, antibiotics, too much sugar in the diet, douching, feminine hygiene sprays, bubble baths, sensitivity to some detergents and fabric softeners, nylon underwear, and wearing tight or wet clothing. Some women develop yeast infections every month at the time they begin their periods.
There is no incubation period for a yeast infection. Yeast is always present in the vagina in small amounts.
Yeast infections usually cause a white, cottage cheese-like discharge with intense itching and soreness in the vaginal area. There may also be pain during intercourse or urination. Men may harbor yeast without having any symptoms.
Yeast infections may be treated with over-the-counter anti-fungal creams or suppositories such as Gyne-Lotrimin or Monistat. For persistent yeast, prescription strength creams are available. A prescription oral medication is also available, but it is only about 50% effective. Most one-dose creams are only about 50% effective as well. Women’s Clinic recommends the use of three or seven day treatments.
Having had a yeast infection does not protect a person from getting it again. A woman may have it many times in her life. If a woman has repeat infections in a short period of time, she may have transmitted the yeast to her sexual partner, who is passing it back to her. Treatment of the partner with the same cream should resolve the problem. Men should rub the cream over the tip of the penis, covering the urinary opening, for three to four nights in a row.
Since yeast is naturally occurring, prevention is aimed at the factors that induce an overgrowth. Wear cotton, not nylon, underwear. Decrease the amount of sugar in your diet. Avoid douching, feminine hygiene sprays, and scented tampons and maxi-pads. Take bubble baths in moderation.
If a woman usually develops a yeast infection after taking antibiotics or at the time of her period, beginning treatment before symptoms start can usually prevent them.