Yeast is a fungus present in the vagina along with bacteria. When there is a balance between the yeast and bacteria there is no harm. But when the fungus called candida outgrows in spite of the balancing act of the bacteria it causes vaginal yeast infection (1) or candidiasis.
What is Candidiasis?
Yeast cells and bacteria are present in any healthy vagina and only when the growth of yeast is unbalanced by bacteria, it becomes an infection. This means that appropriate treatment is needed. When the yeast cells multiply beyond the capacity of the bacteria to combat it, yeast infection or candidiasis sets in (2).
When the immune system of the body is not able to effectively counter the infectious agents, the disorder called vaginal yeast infection sets in. Most type of infections, once they surface, have the potential to become transmissible diseases requiring immediate treatment, more particularly in the areas like vagina. Yeast infection is one such serious form of infection which requires urgent attention even at the initial stage.
It must be understood that the infection need not be contacted from outside sources. In fact infection occurs spontaneously since yeast is already present in the vaginal area in small numbers (3). When the numbers multiply on account of other factors like invasion of infectious agents and causes various medical conditions we refer to it as yeast infection.
Yeast infection is caused by the microorganism known as candida albicans. More than three fourth of women are affected by this infection at some point in time.
Is candidiasis contagious?
It normally affects women and the chances of men contacting the infection are very rare. Men sometimes may get affected on account of contacting the infection during sexual intercourse.
While infections by their very nature are contagious some types of infections like vaginal yeast infection is not contagious but is only sexually transmitted. Accordingly no isolation of the patient is required to treat yeast infection as in the case of other contagious types (4).
Causes of vaginal yeast infection
Weakness of the immune system
The yeast grows manifold in the case of a person having HIV positive disorder or any other disorder in the immune system. When the growth of such yeast is not controlled in time, infection sets in (5). Taking medications to address the shortcomings in the immune system could lead to infection.
During pregnancy, particularly during the second trimester thin white discharge with a foul smell occur which confirms yeast infection. Even though the infection does not affect the baby, the discomfort grows. There is no major impact of the infection on the status of pregnancy barring the discomfort due to itching and other symptoms (6). Hormone changes in a pregnant woman leads to increase of sugar in vaginal secretion which cause infection.
Use of sprays or scented feminine products might cause excessive growth of the yeast.
From person to person through sexual contact. This is possible even though yeast infection is not a sexually transmitted disorder.
- Reduced level of bacteria due to medications for treating other medical conditions like urinary tract infection or respiratory issues.
- Multiplication of yeast cells due to consumption of immuno-suppressive medicines.
- Injury to the vagina
- Consumption of oral contraceptives.
- Any form of activity that alters the normal vagina flora could lead to yeast infections.
- In the case of women who are approaching their menopause, certain hormone changes take place in the body which also trigger yeast infection.
- A relatively immobile person or the one who performs only sedentary job might be at the risk of developing yeast infection
Yeast infections are broadly classified into simple infections and complicated infections.
Simple infections can be treated at home by using certain over the counter medicines without consulting a doctor.
If the infection continues even after treating at home, it could be a complicated form of yeast infection. In such a scenario, the affected person experiences itching, redness, rashes, swelling and even tearing around the vagina. In the case of complicated infections, the causes may be due to candida other than albicans, frequent yeast infections at periodic intervals, pregnancy, HIV positive, etc (8). All the causes listed above can be singularly or collectively attacking the person so as to make the infection a complicated one.
Infection of the vaginal area causes inflammation and leads to the broadly classified disorder called vaginitis. Bacteria, yeast and protozoan are the three main causes of vaginitis. When yeast causes the infection, it is vaginal yeast infection.
Symptoms of yeast infection
Swelling, redness, rashes and itching in the vagina, burning sensation or pain during sexual intercourse or even during urination.
White watery or clumpy discharge from the vagina is also a symptom of yeast infection.
The specific type of yeast called candida albicans is responsible for most of the yeast infections which are normally treatable by simple methods. Other than albicans there are other types of yeasts which cause yeast infections requiring better medical care to get rid of them.
Diagnosis of yeast infection is done by conducting appropriate clinical test/s. The doctor examining the person may confirm yeast infection just by observation or physical examination if it is a simple infection. In case of a complicated infection, laboratory tests will be required. Complicated infections are diagnosed by examining the pelvic region and the vaginal walls and areas surrounding them to identify the specific type of albicans.
Both simple and complicated yeast infections are treated under medical supervision, preferably after appropriate laboratory tests by collecting the cells in the area of infection.
Natural ways of treating candidiasis
But there are certain natural ways of treating such infections. Women who prefer to avoid taking oral medicines can try the following naturally available alternatives.
Consumption of yogurt and also inserting yogurt into the vagina. Yogurt is a naturally available probiotic food that contains live bacteria. This is necessary to balance the growth of yeast in the vaginal area (9). Do not add sugar to yogurt as sugar can produce candida fungus and accelerate the growth of yeast.
Oil of oregano made from wild oregano, oregano vulgare (not the normal oregano, oregano marjoram we use as a spice) is effective to cure yeast infections. The oil contains powerful antifungals known as thymol and carvacrol. Based on the quantity consumed the oil can slow down and eventually stop the growth of candidiasis (10). This oil is a blood thinner and should not be used if the person is already consuming any blood thinner for another medical condition.
Probiotic suppositories are also used to cure the disorder. Suppository is a rough conical or cylindrical shaped solid medicinal preparation which is soluble when inserted into the vagina. In the alternate probiotic supplements can also be consumed in order to restore the yeast-bacteria balance throughout the body.
Add some apple cider vinegar to in the bath tub with warm water. Sit in this water for about half an hour to completely eradicate harmful bacteria and cure yeast infection (11).
Note: Application of apple cider vinegar is not advisable in most cases. ACV can wash our both good and bad bacteria leading to recurrence of yeast infection.
Other natural remedies
Boric acid suppositories are also a home remedy which quickly treats the disorder.
Applying pure coconut oil which is antifungal capable of effectively reducing the infection causing fungus. Ensure that coconut oil you use is pure and natural.
Applying tea tree oil or creams made from the oil is another remedy. Dilute tea tree oil with a carrier oil like pure coconut oil before applying in the vaginal area. Do not consume tea tree oil internally – only for external use.
Other than simple infections, in the case of complicated infections, consultation with a medical practitioner must be undertaken. This is necessary to find out the appropriate cause because increase of severity of infection can cause other problems.
Availability of various treatment solutions do not prohibit taking precautions in order to prevent the formation of yeast infections.
How to prevent candidiasis?
Some of the preventive techniques are:
- Intake of balanced diet
- Avoid eating food that contain high level of refined sugars or yeast
- Avoiding usage of tight dresses and using cotton clothes to prevent stagnation of sweat
- Using warm water to wash under garments
- Periodically changing products that you use for your intimate areas
If you suspect an yeast infection, ensure that you keep the vaginal area clean and dry. Yeast breeds quickly and grows manifold in an environment with high moisture. Since some of the undergarments can retain more moisture, they must be avoided and appropriate garments must be used.