Yeast Infection

Is it a yeast infection or...?

An itchy vagina or irregular discharge can cramp your style. Learn how to tell if your symptoms stem from a yeast infection or something else!
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Key Points:

  1. Yeast infections are an annoying (but often easily treatable) condition that 75% of people with vaginas will experience at least once in their lifetime.
  2. Itching, swelling and vaginal discharge aren’t exclusive to yeast infections, making diagnosis tricky. Infections like herpes, trichomoniasis or bacterial vaginosis can look similar. 
  3. If you aren’t 100% certain you have a yeast infection, speak with a medical provider. They can help access the proper medication for a yeast infection. 

If you’re dealing with itching, soreness or redness in the vaginal area or a thick, white vaginal discharge, you may have a vaginal yeast infection. But a range of other conditions can also trigger these uncomfortable symptoms. This can make self-diagnosis tricky.

Here’s how to recognize whether your symptoms stem from a yeast infection or something else. Plus, how Dr. B can help you find the right vaginal yeast infection treatment online with a hassle-free virtual health assessment.

What is a yeast infection?

A yeast infection is a common fungal infection. It happens when Candida—a naturally occurring family of fungi—grows excessively and upsets hormonal balance. Vaginal yeast infections are the most frequent type of yeast infection. But they can also occur on other parts of the skin, throat or mouth and on or around the penis.

What causes a yeast infection?

Yeast infections can occur at any time and are not always triggered by a specific source or event. But certain factors increase the odds. These increased risk factors include having a weakened immune system, pregnancy, diabetes and the use of antibiotic medications or birth control pills.

What are the main yeast infection symptoms?

Not everyone experiences vaginal yeast infection symptoms. But the most common symptoms include:

  • Vaginal redness
  • A swollen vulva or vagina
  • Vaginal itching
  • Vaginal irritation
  • A thick, white discharge from the vagina (usually with no smell)
  • Pain during urination (dysuria)
  • Painful intercourse

Severe symptoms from complicated yeast infections include vaginal soreness or sores in and around the vagina. If you experience these symptoms, you’ll want to treat the yeast infection as soon as possible. So contact a medical provider immediately.

Is a vaginal yeast infection a sexually transmitted illness (STI)?

People who aren’t sexually active can get yeast infections—so they aren’t officially considered a sexually transmitted disease. Symptoms can be confused with those of STIs. (More on that below.) But yeast infection can be passed on or triggered by sexual activity.

Both people with vaginas and people with penises can get yeast infections. The latter is less common. But an estimated 15% of people with penises who have sex with an infected partner will then experience yeast infection symptoms.

On top of this, a yeast infection can cause pain during sex. Penetrative sex may worsen inflammation, cause a burning sensation and potentially increase infection time. So on top of taking a prescribed suppository or pill for yeast infection, consider abstaining from sex until your infection clears.

Yeast infection vs. other conditions

A painful, itchy vagina and thick or thin white discharge are symptoms of several vaginal conditions. This makes misdiagnosis common—only about a third of people who self-diagnose a vaginal yeast infection actually have one.

Conditions commonly confused with yeast infections include:

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

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

You may assume you have a yeast infection if you’re experiencing itching and vaginal discharge. But these symptoms can also belong to other vaginal infections. And they all require different treatment plans.

Trying to figure out which infection you have? Here’s what to look for.

  • Yeast infection vs. BV: Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common condition that results from an overgrowth of bacteria. Unlike yeast infections, the vaginal discharge from BV is thin and can carry a fishy odor. 
  • Yeast infection vs. UTI: Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are another common condition caused by a bacterial imbalance. Common signs of a UTI include lower abdominal pain, burning while peeing, smelly urine and a frequent need to urinate. These are not typical symptoms of yeast infections. You can have a UTI and yeast infection at the same time. So make sure to see a medical provider for treatment.
  • Yeast infection vs. hemorrhoids: Pain and itching are symptoms of both hemorrhoids and yeast infections. But hemorrhoid pain usually focuses on the perianal area outside of the anus. And the condition doesn’t usually include vaginal discharge.
  • Yeast infection vs. chlamydia: Chlamydia is an STI that can cause symptoms in and around the vagina, penis and rectum. These include pain, abnormal discharge and bleeding. But discharge from yeast infections is usually thick and white. Chlamydia is more likely to trigger white, yellowish or green discharge. 
  • Yeast infection vs. herpes: Genital herpes is an STI caused by the herpes simplex virus. It can also cause a vaginal rash, itching around the genital area, burning while peeing and irregular discharge. But it also often includes painful lesions or blisters around the genitals. When debating if you have a yeast infection or herpes, those blisters can help you determine one from the other.

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Ferris, D. G., et al. (2002). Over-the-counter antifungal drug misuse associated with patient-diagnosed vulvovaginal candidiasis. Obstetrics and Gynecology.

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

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Chlamydia fact sheet.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Genital herpes fact sheet.

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