What is Vaginal Yeast Infection? Symptoms and Types

Vaginal Candidiasis, more commonly known as vaginal yeast infection is a fungal infection caused by a fungus called Candida. It causes irritation, abnormal discharge and intense itchiness of the vagina and the vulva (the skin at the vaginal opening). It is safe to say that vaginal yeast infection is not considered as a sexually transmitted disease (STD), however the chances of catching one is increased at the time of first sexual activity. 

Evidence shows that 3 out of 4 women have suffered from vaginal yeast infection, and that at least 75% of the world’s female population are more likely to develop yeast infection once in their lifetime. Further, many women experience at least two episodes.

Experts list out uncontrolled diabetes, use of antibiotics, contraceptive sponge, diaphragm, and spermicides, to be associated with more cases of vaginal yeast infection. Women who use birth control pills also run the risk of having more yeast infections. Yeast infections are also common during pregnancy because the high levels of estrogen causes the vagina to produce more glycogen (a sugar) which then feeds the yeast or fungus. 


Because of its common nature, most women resort to self-diagnosing and self-treating with medication from local drug stores. But self-diagnosis may also be misleading according a recent study. About 11% of women accurately diagnosed their yeast infections. While several women were later diagnosed with other types of vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis, having similar symptoms as that of yeast infections.

Symptoms of Vaginal Yeast Infection

There are numerous signs and symptoms of this condition, and the symptoms vary from person to person. 

  • Itchiness and Irritation: This is the most common symptom experienced by women with yeast infection. The degree of irritation may vary , and it serves an uncomfortable nuisance signaling a troubling underlying condition. The itching and irritation persists around the vaginal and vulvar region.
  • Burning sensation, redness and swelling: Women report swelling, redness and a kind of burning tingling sensation around the vagina and the vulva. This burning sensation is also called thrush and it is a primary symptom of yeast infection. The swelling may be caused by use of antibiotics, oral contraceptives, or pregnancy, diabetes. In extreme cases, the swelling may lead to formation of painful sores.
  • Pain while urinating: If the yeast infection has spread further, the urethra (the tube you pee out of) becomes inflamed, hence pain while urinating. The medical term is dysuria.
  • Pain during sex: Similar to dysuria, women with yeast infection experience pain during intercourse because the vaginal wall has become inflamed. Sexual activity can be painful, and extremely uncomfortable. If the labia, or the skin surrounding the vaginal opening is swollen, the friction of skin-to-skin can be unbearable. Friction may be too rough and can rub the skin harshly. It can even make matters worse by aggravating the inflamed tissues, as well as increase swelling and irritation.
  • Abnormal Discharge: Yeast infection can cause white, thick, clumpy (resembling cottage cheese) discharge which is often odourless but can sometimes emit slight odour. Sometimes, there may be a creamy, whitish coating inside and around the vagina. 

Types of Vaginal Infection

Vaginitis or vaginal infection may be a result of several causes. The various conditions that cause inflammation of the vagina are referred to as vaginitis, and the common types are:

  • Bacterial Vaginosis: When the number of good bacteria (lactobactilli) gets too low in the vagina, it can trigger a condition known as Bacterial Vaginosis. It is noticed by inflammation of the vagina caused by overgrowth and accumulation of bad bacteria (Gardnerella). Symptoms include a white, thick or slippery and clear discharge, accompanied by a fishy odour especially during intercourse.
  • Candidiasis: The most common type of vaginitis, and commonly known as yeast infection, caused by fungus “candida”. According to Dr. Krause, there are many species of yeast or candida, candida albicans being the most common. Candida normally lives in small numbers in the body, however, under some conditions candida can overgrow and cause a vaginal infection. Hormone fluctuations caused by pregnancy, birth control pills, or menstruation are a few examples of these conditions. Having chronic high blood sugar and lowered immunity due to medical conditions such as HIV or AIDS are two other factors that increase the risk of vaginal yeast infections. 
  • Chlamydia: It is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) among women who have multiple sex partners. Symptoms include inflammation of the vagina, and discharge. If the infection spreads beyond the vagina and cervix, women may experience bleeding between periods or during intercourse (source: Planned Parenthood). According to Dr. Moore, “Women above 26years who are sexually active should get tested annually for chlamydia because it often comes without symptoms and can linger for long periods and do a fair amount of damage to fertility.”
  • Gonorrhea: It is a highly infectious STI that can cause vaginal discharge, pain during urination, and during intercourse, among other symptoms. It usually co-exists with Chlamydia, so a woman who tests positive for one of these bacterial infections is likely to be treated for the other as well.
  • Trichomoniasis: It is caused by a parasite Trichomonas vaginalis and is sexually transmitted. It is the only common vaginal infection that is passed from person to person through sexual intercourse (Dr. Krause). It increases susceptibility to other infections. Symptoms include burning, irritation, redness, swelling, yellow-grey or greenish vaginal discharge, odour, and occasional pain during urination.
  • Viral vaginitis: It is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a virus. Herpes simplex virus is a common cause of viral vaginosis (Dr. Moore). Symptoms include genital discomfort caused by lesions or sores. The sores on the vulva or vagina can  usually be spotted, but they can also be hidden and only examined by a gynecologist.

Expert Advice

To reduce the risk of developing vaginal yeast infection, experts recommend women to switch to underwear that has a cotton crotch and which is not extremely tight-fitting. It is also recommended to avoid douching as it removes the normal bacteria that helps regulate the pH of the vagina; avoid using scented feminine products like pads, tampons, bubble baths, vaginal sprays, etc.; avoid frequent baths in hot tubs, unnecessary intake of antibiotics; and avoid staying in wet or damp clothes such as swimsuits and workout clothes for long periods at a time.

Avoid daily use of pantyliners as they trap in moisture and restrict airflow. In case you have diabetes, try to regulate and stabilise blood sugar levels. Take antibiotics only when prescribed, because in addition to killing bacteria that cause illness, they also kill the good bacteria present in your vagina. Remember to wipe from front to back after a bowel movement or urination to keep bacteria and fungus away from the vagina.

What experts say regarding lifestyle?

  • Before you take antibiotics, think twice
  • Antibiotics sometimes tip the balance among the vaginal microorganisms, allowing harmful bacteria to take control of the vaginal flora. Antibiotics inhibit the development of protective vaginal bacteria, which have an antifungal effect on the normal course of things. It is a good idea to check with your doctor before heading to the drugstore an over-the-counter medication. 
  • Keep your vagina clean, dry and clear of deodorants and soaps
  • Scented tampons, pads, as well as some soaps and detergents can irritate your vaginal area, causing an imbalance in the natural bacteria. If you must, then use unscented products and cleansers for your intimate area that are gentle on the skin. Powders and sprays should never be used in the genital region. These products alter the acidity balance in the vagina, which can contribute to infection. Since the microorganisms that cause yeast infections thrive in wet, moist conditions, make sure your genital region is completely dry after bathing and before dressing up.
  • Take switching your birth control method into consideration
  • Recurrent yeast infections, according to researchers, can be caused by such birth control methods. By altering vaginal flora and allowing candida to take a stronger grip, spermicidal gels and creams increase a woman’s vulnerability to infection. Oral contraceptives seem to cause the vaginal glands to secrete more glycogen (sugar) which feeds the yeast. Additionally, vaginal sponges and intrauterine devices (IUD) may make you more susceptible to infection, and diaphragms are found to promote candida colonisation. 
  • All vaginal infections can be treated, but it is important to know the type of infection or underlying condition in order to be treated correctly.


  1. https://www.everydayhealth.com/news/vaginal-infection-types/

  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/yeast-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20378999

  3. https://www.healthywomen.org/condition/yeast-infections/treatment

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