Candida is a yeast (a type of fungus) commonly found on the skin and in the body, including the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina.
In fact, research indicates that Candida yeast colonizes the vagina of at least 20 percent of all women — and 30 percent of all pregnant women — without causing symptoms.
But if Candida yeast (especially Candida albicans) becomes overgrown, a vaginal yeast infection may develop. These infections — also known as candidal vaginitis, vaginal candidiasis, or vulvovaginal candidiasis — typically cause a number of noticeable symptoms, which are the same for nonpregnant and pregnant women.
What Are the Symptoms of a Vaginal Yeast Infection?
Vaginal yeast infection symptoms commonly include:
- Itching in the vaginal area and around the vulva (the opening of the vagina)
- Burning in the vaginal area
- Swelling of the vulva
- White or gray vaginal discharge that may be thick (sometimes described as looking like cottage cheese) but does not have a bad smell
- Greenish or yellowish vaginal discharge that’s also similar to cottage cheese and smells like yeast or bread
- Burning during urination
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Vulvar rash
Most vaginal yeast infections do not produce a strong vaginal odor. Fishy vaginal odors are more common with bacterial vaginosis, a type of bacterial infection of the vagina.
Severe yeast infections may also cause redness and tears or cracks (fissures) in the wall of the vagina.
How Is a Yeast Infection Diagnosed?
As straightforward as it might seem, most doctors will discourage you from diagnosing and treating a yeast infection yourself.
This is because vaginal infections caused by bacteria, as well as some sexually transmitted infections (STI), may have symptoms very similar to those caused by yeast, but they require different treatments. Since yeast infection treatments have become available over the counter (OTC), many women simply visit the closest drugstore and buy an antifungal cream.
But sometimes these products are bought and used by women who don’t actually have a vaginal yeast infection, wasting time and money and potentially worsening the vaginal itchiness and irritation.
This misdiagnosis of vaginal infections is an important issue: Just as some bacteria are becoming resistant to certain antibiotics, yeast that normally lives in the vagina can become resistant to antifungal medication.
If this happens, it can become very difficult to treat a yeast infection when one actually does develop.
If a woman has had a Doctor-diagnosed yeast infection in the past and feels certain that her current symptoms are caused by a yeast infection, it’s reasonable to ask her doctor about self-treatment with an OTC medication.
However, if symptoms don’t improve or they come back again, or if symptoms are different from past yeast infections, an office visit is warranted.
Symptoms of Other Types of Yeast Infections
Though the term “yeast infection” most often refers to those affecting the vulvovaginal area, symptomatic yeast infections can also develop on the skin (cutaneous candidiasis), in the mouth and throat (thrush), in the esophagus (candida esophagitis), and on the penis (balanitis).
Cutaneous candidiasis most often causes intense itching, as well as a pimple-like infection of the hair follicles and a rash on various areas of the skin, including the skin folds, genitals, abdominal region, buttocks, and under the breasts.
Common symptoms of thrush and candida esophagitis include:
- White patches on various parts of the mouth and throat
- Redness or soreness and pain while eating or swallowing
- Feeling like you have cotton in your mouth
- Loss of taste
- Cracking at the corners of the mouth
In men, balanitis can cause:
- Inflamed, red glans (rounded part at the end of the penis)
- Painful urination
- Itching and unpleasant smell
- Foreskin issues, such as a thick and lumpy discharge or a tightness that prevents pulling back the foreskin to its original position