Yeast infection causes, symptoms and treatment

Jake Bissaro
Jake Bissaro
Published Mar 27, 2023
An orange papaya sliced in half sits against a grass green background

What is a yeast infection?

You're not the first person to ask! A yeast infection is a common fungal infection that often affects the vagina and causes itchiness, irritation and thick, white discharge. Also called candidiasis or candidal vaginitis, yeast infections are most common after puberty and before menopause—but anyone can experience one.

According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75% of women will experience at least one yeast infection throughout their lifetime, and 40-45% will experience two or more.

In addition to the vaginal area, yeast infections can occur in the other parts of the body, including:

  • Skin
  • The mouth or tongue, also called “thrush”
  • The esophagus or intestines
  • Male genitalia

What causes yeast infection?

Yeast infections are caused by excessive growth of Candida, a common type of fungi found on the body. It’s estimated that about 200 different species of Candida exist, but the only ones thought to result in infections are C. albicans, C. parapsilosis, C. glabrata, C. krusei. and C. tropicalis.

Most people have small amounts of Candida growing on the skin and inside parts of the body—especially in areas like the mouth, intestines or vagina—with no issues.

When the healthy balance of bacteria and yeast is disrupted, Candida grows rapidly and causes a yeast infection. Other Candida-related fungal infections include athlete's foot, jock itch, nail fungus and diaper rash. Invasive candidiasis, a more serious fungal infection caused by Candida,  can become life-threatening if not managed properly.

Anyone can get a yeast infection, but there are some health-related risk factors that can increase your risk:

  • Pregnancy: Hormonal shifts in the body during pregnancy can increase the risk of yeast infections.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes: High blood sugar levels can aid the development of yeast like Candida.
  • Use of birth control, antibiotics or steroids: Medications that weaken the immune system or kill certain bacteria can allow fungi to reproduce unchecked.
  • Being immunocompromised: Immune disorders like HIV can also reduce the body’s defenses against fungi and bacteria.

Certain lifestyle factors can also increase your risk of a yeast infection, including:

  • Using a vaginal deodorant or scented tampons
  • Not changing a wet bathing suit
  • Leaving on sweaty clothes

Learn more about the possible causes of a yeast infection.

Are yeast infections contagious?

Yeast infections aren’t normally contagious—even if Candida yeast is transferred to another person by touch, that person is unlikely to develop a yeast infection unless they’re already susceptible. Though it’s not considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI), a yeast infection can be spread through sexual activity in some cases.

What does a yeast infection look like?

If you’re experiencing redness or swelling around the vagina or a thick, white vaginal discharge with no odor, it could be a yeast infection. If symptoms don’t resolve in several days or you experience more serious symptoms, seek a consultation with a medical provider.

Other signs of a yeast infection

Yeast infection symptoms can vary person to person, but the most common ones are:

  • An itching, burning sensation in the vaginal area
  • Redness or swelling of the vagina or vulva
  • A thick, white vaginal discharge

Less commonly, yeast infections can cause more serious symptoms like sores, blisters or a rash. If you experience these side effects, it’s best to seek medical attention.

Learn more about yeast infection symptoms.

Is it a yeast infection or something else?

Though vaginal yeast infections are extremely common, it can be frustratingly difficult to tell whether you’re experiencing one. That’s because the most prevalent symptoms—itching, redness, swelling and vaginal discharge—are also symptoms of other infections.

Here are some conditions commonly confused with yeast infections:

  • Sexually transmitted infections: STIs such as chlamydia, trichomoniasis and gonorrhea can cause symptoms like itching, vaginal discharge and vaginitis, or general irritation of the vaginal area.
  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV): Like yeast infections, BV is a common cause of vaginal discharge and stems from an overgrowth of bacteria. How to tell the difference? BV’s discharge usually has a fishy odor. 
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI): To recognize the signs of a UTI vs yeast infection, look for a pressure in your lower abdomen or the need to go to the bathroom frequently without being able to—these are signs of a UTI.
  • Allergies: Your vaginal area can be extremely sensitive to the products you use—soaps, detergents and feminine hygiene products can cause itching and pain. 

If you’re having trouble self-diagnosing and you’re not 100% sure you have a yeast infection, it’s best to talk with a licensed medical provider about your symptoms.

Learn more about properly diagnosing a yeast infection.

Can a yeast infection go away on its own?

A mild yeast infection may clear up on its own, but most require medical treatment. If a yeast infection isn’t properly treated, future infections are more likely to occur.

A yeast infection’s severity often depends on how quickly you seek treatment, and how much the Candida yeast is allowed to multiply. If you’re experiencing symptoms like itching, redness, vaginal discharge or pain during sex—even if they’re mild—it’s best to seek a diagnosis and treatment advice from a medical provider.

How is a yeast infection diagnosed?

If you're experiencing symptoms like itchiness, swelling or redness in the vagina or vulva, it could be a yeast infection. But if you’re not sure, it’s best to confirm with your medical provider, who can recommend the right treatment.

Here are some ways your provider may diagnose a vaginal yeast infection:

  • Pelvic exam: Your provider will examine your external genital area and use a speculum to examine the vagina and cervix. 
  • Culture test: A swab of your vaginal fluid will be sent out to the lab to determine if a fungus is causing the infection.
  • Molecular test: A molecular test can detect small amounts of yeast in the urine. 

There are also some at-home tests designed to diagnose a yeast infection. These tests don’t identify the type of fungus present, but determine whether the pH levels in the vagina are normal.

\ If you’re suffering from frequent yeast infections (more than four per year), it’s a good idea to talk with your medical provider about a possible underlying cause. They may recommend a blood sugar test for diabetes, a test for HIV or examine possible hormonal changes like pregnancy or birth control.

How to treat a yeast infection

Most yeast infections are easily treated with medication. There are a variety of effective yeast infection treatments, commonly applied or taken as a topical cream, oral pill or vaginal suppository. Most yeast infections begin to clear after just a few days with medication, but serious cases can take longer to treat.

Yeast infection treatments are classified as azole antifungal drugs, and all essentially serve the same purpose: restrict the growth of the Candida fungus to restore a healthy balance of bacteria to the vagina.

Some common yeast infection medicines include:

  • Fluconazole (Diflucan)
  • Miconazole (Monistat)
  • Clotrimazole
  • Butoconazole

While some yeast infection medications are available over-the-counter, it’s recommended to seek the opinion of a professional before selecting a treatment—especially if it’s your first infection. The formulation recommended by your medical provider may depend on the severity of symptoms, other medications you’re taking or existing medical conditions. Be sure to carefully follow prescribing instructions.

Learn more about yeast infection treatments.

Yeast infection home remedies

There are a variety of home remedies that may be able to help relieve yeast infection symptoms. But it’s important to remember that the efficacy of these methods is primarily anecdotal, and they are not monitored for safety and quality by the Food and Drug Administration.

The surest way to treat your yeast infection is with an approved medication under the advice of a medical provider.

Here are some home remedies that may be effective for improving yeast infection symptoms:

  • Tea tree oil: Also known as melaleuca oil, this popular essential oil is thought to possess antifungal properties and lower levels of Candida yeast. Tea tree oil is extremely potent, and is usually applied via a vaginal suppository. 
  • Probiotic supplements: Probiotics can help prevent yeast infections by rebalancing healthy levels of bacteria. Look for products specially formulated for reproductive health.
  • Greek yogurt: Greek yogurt is a great source of probiotics, and can expand your gut microbiome. Make sure your yogurt contains live cultures. 
  • Boric acid: A natural compound of boron, oxygen and hydrogen, boric acid is thought to be an effective treatment option for some women who don’t respond to standard azole antifungal treatments.
  • Coconut oil: Coconut oil may work to restrict growth of the Candida albicans yeast. Unlike many other home remedies, it’s safe to apply directly to the vaginal area. 

If you choose to seek out a home remedy, it’s best to do so along with medication.

Online treatment for yeast infections

If you’re struggling with symptoms of a yeast infection—especially a severe one—don’t wait to seek out treatment. Dr. B can connect you with a licensed medical provider from the comfort of your home.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Vulvovaginal Candidiasis (VVC).

Spampinato, C., & Leonardi, D. (2013). Candida infections, causes, targets, and resistance mechanisms: traditional and alternative antifungal agents. BioMed research international, 2013, 204237.

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