Hello, my name is Coco P. and I have had a yeast infection. Thank all things sacred that it has only happened a few times in my short life, but I considered those times to be up there with slow water torture. My first yeast infection came at the tender age of 15 when I had decided to sleep with my then-boyfriend. The young guy in question was only stocked up on flavored condoms (banana, to be exact). The decision, while dumb for many reasons, left me feeling as though I had buried a piece of steel wool, doused in icy hot and sprinkled with the smell of rotting seafood, in my vagina. I was ashamed of myself, and more importantly, I felt like I had permanently damaged my body. I finally broke down to my mother, tearing up with every mentioned symptom. My mother, bless her soul, asked no questions but took me to the store and bought me my first box of Vagistat, a moment I do not think I have thanked her for enough. To this day, the sheer mention of novelty sex products, specifically flavored ones, send chills down my spine.
What exactly is a yeast infection? The short answer: suck personified. The long answer: a yeast infection is an inflammation of the vagina (vaginitis) and vaginal lips (vulvitis) due to one of three types of fungal overdrive: bacterial vaginosis, vaginal candidiasis, and trichomoniasis. Yeast infections prefer the soft, warm environment of the vagina, but they are never picky. It also commonly affects the penis and testicles, mouth, armpits, anal area, throat, and anywhere that is prone to becoming moist.
Vaginal Candidiasis ““ The standard yeast infection, accounting for 90% of all cases in women. A general fungal infection is caused by a shift in pH balance and an overgrowth in candida. Candida, or yeast, grows naturally in and on our bodies and often goes into a state of overgrowth when the quantity of yeast is over-present to the quantity of bacteria. Candida is not considered as STI. It is most commonly found in the vagina and on the vaginal lips, though is not limited to any other moist area. Though not serious, if left untreated in certain cases it can develop into candidemia.
Bacterial Vaginosis ““ The most common cause of a yeast infection. It’s caused by an imbalance of naturally occurring bacteria. BV is referred to as the “honeymooners’ infection,” as it is most commonly caused by new bacteria introduced by sexual activity. Like Candida, it is not an STI. It is most commonly found in the vagina and on the vaginal lips.
Trichomoniasis ““ Ah, trich – the only form of vaginitis to be considered an STI. It is caused by a single-celled parasite that stresses neighboring cells out, kills them, then eats them, essentially colonizing your good bacteria. It’s most commonly found in the urethra and the vagina. Side note: This baby is serious. If you ever suspect that you might have trich, please see your friendly doctor or clinician as to avoid serious side effects.
It’s usually pretty obvious when one is experiencing a yeast infection, but what’s the difference between being able to treat yourself and the need to go see someone?
Vaginal candidiasis and bacterial vaginosis result in common symptoms. Both result in a whitish-gray discharge, most commonly compared in texture to cottage cheese. Lovely. There is also an inflammation of the genitalia with moderate to severe itching, soreness, burning, and all-out irritation. However, the similarities end there, as candidiasis is not usually accompanied by a smell, where as vaginosis is characterized by a “fishy” smell, most common after sex or near menstruation. Candidiasis is also separated by the presence of small, red rashes on the skin surrounding the general infection, especially in cases of more external infections. And our good friend trichomoniasis ? It has similar symptoms, somewhat amplified. There is the itchiness, but even more, discharge, but instead of white, it’s yellow and green and frothy. Unlike VC and BV, the cervix can become inflamed with trich, as well as the urethra, and lower back pain can occur. Discomfort is varied but most often occurs during urination and sexual contact. Trich symptoms usually appear anywhere from 5 to 28 days after exposure in women and can lay dormant in men for years, potentially infecting other partners without even knowing.
So like all things health-related, I like to talk about preventative measures: it’s cheaper, more effective, and qualifies as a grief saver. What are things you can do to prevent yeast infections ? First off, everyone’s body is different – you will always know what works best for your body. Most commonly, yeast infections, especially trich, are triggered by the introduction of new yeast (i.e. a new partner) and unfamiliar bacteria. Your genitals, while excited for what might come, have yet to reconcile with the yeast and bacteria on and in your genitals and can’t help but go a bit into overdrive to help ward off what they consider threatening foreign entities. But sexual activity isn’t the only cause; antibiotics (for all those who have starved a UTI, fed a yeast infection, this one is for you), injured genitalia, chemotherapy, allergic reactions, diet, hormonal influxes, increased heat and moisture, clothing, chemicals present near the genitalia, condoms, hormonal or spermicidal birth control, diabetes, pregnancy, taking cortisone-based medications, having a lowered immune system to due to general sickness or HIV – all of these can result in a yeast infection. With recurring yeast infections, it’s easier to start to pinpoint the exact cause or causes of what might be giving you a yeast infection and thus make it easier to avoid if possible. It might be a combination, it might just be that one obvious thing; whatever it is, pinpoint it and see what you can do from now on out that might cut down on your misery.
Now treatment. No matter what you do sometimes, it still happens. Sometimes it just happens no matter what and there is nothing that can be done other than treatment. Don’t consider it a failure of your body but just something that happens to almost everyone. There are a few ways you can go about fixing your jimmy jazz. For those into a DIY, home remedy cure, there are several great and effective formulas that work on early and mild cases of vaginal candidiasis and bacterial vaginosis.
Yogurt ““ Cool and soothing, and much like a probiotic, yogurt contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, a bacteria that naturally resides in your vagina, eating up most of the yeast, keeping a happy balance. Always use plain, no added sugar (please, no strawberry, fro-yo combos) and the application method, while might not be pretty, can vary on what works best for you. I have used the old tampon applicator formula, though fingers work well, too. Apply twice a day until you feel your symptoms getting better or until they completely clear up.
Garlic ““ Holy shit, I did this once and Moses, Jehovah, and all things sacred, was it an experience. While semi-unpleasant, it works, but not without some discomfort (and thats coming from someone who worships at the altar of garlic). First, find a raw clove of garlic and take off the skin. The next part is up to you; since it has to go into your vagina, you can either get crafty and create a semi tampon out of it or you can just dig it out later if you don’t want to go through the process of making one. Note: just inserting it as a clove does make it a bit harder to fish out. Another important note – make sure not to cut or nick the garlic, as the actual juice will sting like a I-don’t-even-want-to-go-there. Insert one clove a day, removing each previous clove until symptoms get better or clear up.
Other natural cures? Tea tree oil, cranberries, and boric acid (in capsules – please stay away from the bug spray). Similar to the above cures, one inserts them into the vagina, changing out every 12 to 24 hours until symptoms get better. As with everything, please use with caution: as great as it can feel to cure a yeast infection with the help of yogurt or garlic, everyone’s body is different, so they might not work or you might be allergic to garlic or you might be too far along in your infection to have these really help.
Also: do not douche. I repeat, do not douche. This clears out any good bacteria you might have had, causing the infection to get worse.
This brings me to the heavy hitters, the stuff that when the yeast infection calls for a sacrifice, you bring forth one of the over-the-counter medications. These will usually knock whatever you have out in a few days, though all medications are different. These can range from anti-fungal topical creams to pearls that are inserted. Topical creams like Femstat and Monistat, it should be noted, do not help bacteria vaginosis; stick with internal tablet medications like Monistat, Mycelex, or Lotrimin. Often serous cases of vaginitis or vulvitus are treated with oral medications like fluconazole. Our friend, trich? Unfortunately, this sucker is usually treated with an oral medication, like metronidazole, only provided by your friendly doctor or clinician (Planned Parenthood often provides treatment for free). Most oral medications, if needed, are prescribed by health care providers – a rarity for your general infections, but still a possibility. Like all things, know what works best for your body and always see a doctor or clinician if you suspect it’s something more serious.
To experience the yeast infection is to be part of some secret club, much like the Order of the Phoenix or Skull and Bones (sans the Ivy league hookup, Bush, or other nefarious, privileged activities). It is a semi-disaster that once one experiences, one is never the same. After the physical pain and burning and the ever-slightly humiliating drip of medication or the other stuff, there something that intrinsically changes in the perception of one’s body. But, it’s part of it, and when I say it, I mean of being human, being a woman, or just identifying as having a vagina.The unfortunate sticky, drippy, burning, unpleasantness is part of the toll we pay as part of playing the game of life, and the best we can do is just try to avoid it. And if not? Well, there’s always a time to try out putting yogurt on a tampon applicator and hoping for the best.
But a personal tip to everyone that has served me well in my journey against the yeast infection? Lay off the banana-flavored condoms.