Is it a yeast infection or...?

Jake Bissaro
Jake Bissaro
Published Mar 27, 2023
A Filipino woman with short dark hair is standing against a light brown wall staring upwards pensively

Key Points:

  1. In most cases, yeast infections are an annoying—but easily treatable—condition that 3 out of 4 women will experience.
  2. Symptoms like itching, swelling and vaginal discharge aren’t exclusive to yeast infections, which can make diagnosis tricky. Infections like herpes, trichomoniasis or bacterial vaginosis can look similar. 
  3. If you aren’t 100% certain you have a yeast infection, it’s best to speak with a medical provider to access the proper treatment.

What is a yeast infection? 

A yeast infection is a common fungal infection that occurs when Candida—a naturally occurring family of fungi—grows excessively and upsets the natural hormonal balance. While a vaginal yeast infection is the most frequent type, they can also occur on the skin, throat or mouth (also known as thrush) or the male genitalia.

Yeast infections can occur at any time, and don’t always have a specific cause. But certain factors increase the odds, including a weakened immune system, pregnancy, diabetes and use of antibiotic medications or birth control pills.

The most common symptoms of a yeast infection are itching, soreness or redness in the vaginal area or a thick, white vaginal discharge.

Since these are also common side effects of a range of other conditions, diagnosing a yeast infection isn’t always easy. Here’s how to recognize whether your symptoms stem from a yeast infection or something else.

Top yeast infection symptoms

There’s no one yeast infection symptom or set of symptoms. In some cases, you may not experience any symptoms whatsoever.

The most common yeast infection symptoms are:

  • Redness or swelling of the vagina and vulva
  • Soreness or itching
  • A thick, odorless vaginal discharge
  • Pain during urination or sexual activity

A complicated yeast infection occurs when symptoms become more severe, sometimes causing sores. If you’re experiencing symptoms of a complicated yeast infection, it’s best to reach out to your medical provider right away.

Yeast infection vs other conditions

Itching, discomfort and discharge are often symptoms of other vaginal conditions—and misdiagnosis is common. One study found that only about a third of women who self diagnosed a yeast infection actually had one.

Conditions commonly confused with yeast infections include:

  • Certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as herpes, genital warts or trichomoniasis
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
  • An allergic reaction or skin condition
  • Low estrogen levels

If symptoms are interfering with your life, consider talking with a licensed medical provider to help you with a diagnosis.

How to tell the difference between a yeast infection and...

If you’re experiencing itching and vaginal discharge, you may assume you have a yeast infection. But these symptoms can also belong to other vaginal infections.

Here are some tips for distinguishing yeast infections from conditions such as:

  • Bacterial vaginosis: BV is another condition that stems from an overgrowth of bacteria. Unlike with yeast infections, the vaginal discharge from BV is thin and can carry a fishy odor. 
  • Urinary tract infections (UTI): To tell whether it’s a yeast infection versus a UTI, look for pressure in your abdomen or the need to use the bathroom often—common signs of a UTI.
  • Hemorrhoids: Pain and itching due to hemorrhoids are sometimes confused with yeast infection symptoms. Hemorrhoid pain is usually focused on the perianal area outside of the anus, and the condition doesn’t usually result in vaginal discharge.

Is yeast infection a STI?

Because people who aren’t sexually active—or those who have never had sex, like babies and children—can get yeast infections, they aren’t officially considered a sexually transmitted disease. But they can be passed on through sexual activity, and can affect both female and male genitalia (though the latter is less common). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 15% of men who have sex with an infected female partner experience symptoms of a yeast infection.

When considering the risk of transmitting a yeast infection to a partner, keep in mind that the condition can make sex painful. Penetrative sex may worsen inflammation, cause a burning sensation and possibly result in a longer infection time.

Online treatment for yeast infections

Learn more about an affordable Dr. B consultation for a yeast infection.

Sources:

Ferris, D. G., Nyirjesy, P., Sobel, J. D., Soper, D., Pavletic, A., & Litaker, M. S. (2002). Over-the-counter antifungal drug misuse associated with patient-diagnosed vulvovaginal candidiasis. Obstetrics and gynecology, 99(3), 419–425.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. (2021). Vaginal yeast infections.

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