So, What Exactly Is a Yeast Infection?

While many people will happily talk about the yeast needed to bake their fave loaf of sourdough bread, there’s another type of yeast that isn’t spoken about enough or getting the attention it deserves — yeast infections.

Here at TheLatch—, we’re keen to break the stigma related to this all-too-common health concern, and get women talking about treating their vagina with as much self-care as we do other parts of our bodies.

What is a yeast infection?

A yeast infection is more commonly known as ‘thrush’, and more medically known as vaginal candidiasis. It’s not anything to be ashamed about; in fact, almost three in four women will experience a yeast infection at some point in their life, and often more than once.  

Essentially, thrush is a symptom of too much yeast (Candida albicans) in your vagina. While we always have a balance of bacteria and yeast, when something throws that balance out of whack, your vagina creates extra yeast to compensate and, well… throws things even more out of whack. 

What are the symptoms of thrush? 

Thrush feels like intense itching or burning around the vulva, and often comes with a discharge — thick, white and almost cottage cheese-like in consistency (the ‘albicans’ in ‘Candida albicans’ comes from the Latin word for ‘white’).

It shouldn’t hurt when you pee and thrush has no odour, so if you have those symptoms, we recommend having a check up with your GP to ensure there’s no other issue present.

But remember, while your first experience with thrush may have you feeling like it’s associated with something more serious or is a result of something you’ve done — this is not the case.

What causes a yeast infection?

Potential internal causes of thrush include hormone changes, such as falling pregnant, getting your period or going on/off the Pill; a weak immune system caused by illness, poor diet, lack of sleep or stress; and even antibiotics, which can destroy the friendly bacteria that keep your vaginal yeast under control. Sound familiar? Yep, just like we need to care for the bacteria in our gut, so too do we need to care for the bacteria in our vaginas.

Other external causes can include wearing non-breathable synthetic material in the area, such as some lacy underwear or swimsuits; sweat and humidity, such as that caused after a workout; the overuse of chemicals near the vagina, from deodorants or scented body wash; and even a natural reaction to your other half’s genital chemistry. Yes, sometimes when your heart’s a match, your genitals may not be — but not to fear!

Of course, if you’re pregnant, stressed (aren’t we all right now?!) or on antibiotics for another condition, there’s nothing much you can do about it, right? Wrong. Thankfully, thrush is pretty darn easy to treat.

How to treat a yeast infection

If this is your first time experiencing thrush, it may be best to go to the GP for a quick check to understand that a yeast infection is all you have — it will give you peace of mind, and they’ll be able to provide you with some specific tips on how to treat thrush that suit your lifestyle.

There are a range of options available from the pharmacy that can help treat thrush, and with options suited to most lifestyles. Most common are anti-fungal creams like clotrimazole, as they tend to relieve the itchy symptoms more instantly than oral tablets. Creams often come with an applicator that you insert into the vagina (similar to a tampon applicator) which helps the treatment to easily reach the internal, affected area.

Perhaps a less invasive option is an oral tablet (often containing fluconazole), that can be taken with water to stop the growth of the Candida albicans. However, this isn’t a suitable option if you’re pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding.

How to prevent a yeast infection

Some easy ways to help prevent yeast re-occurring — especially if you’re prone to thrush at a certain point during your menstrual cycle or with a particular partner — include creating an environment that lets your vagina breathe.

Simple changes like taking off your gym gear or stockings as soon as you’re finished wearing them; switching to cotton or bamboo underwear, or — even better — sleeping naked; and creating a cool environment where your genitals don’t overheat will help keep thrush at bay.

Also, stay away from douching products or targeted-vaginal washes for regular everyday use. A little warm water in the shower is all you should need — your body does all the cleaning it needs to all by itself, naturally.

With so many women experiencing a yeast infection sometime in their life, why are we so reticent to talk about it? Let’s give it a PR-makeover and start making it cool to talk about — because the more we know, the better we can care for our own sexual and reproductive health.

If you think you may be experiencing a yeast infection or want to find out more information, speak to your local health care professional.