Yeast infections – or vaginal candidiasis if you want to sound fancy – are incredibly common. In fact, the Mayo Clinic estimates that 3 out of 4 women will be affected by a yeast infection in their lifetime. So next time you’re at brunch with three friends, just know that at least two of your friends know your pain, and one of your friends is some sort of magical vagina fairy. Congrats to her.
Yeast infections are so common that many women assume they have one, even if what’s causing them discomfort isn’t actually an excess of yeast. Because symptoms include things like itching, irritation, and discharge, it’s pretty easy to mistake other #vaginaproblems with a yeast infection, which could lead to further irritation, itching, discharge, and just generally wanting to curl into a ball and die.
Here’s some ways you can check that whatever’s going on down there is actually a yeast infection, so you can save your itchy butt the embarrassment of buying Monistat from that cute guy at the pharmacy:
Get a Vaginitis Screen
Before running to your nearest CVS and buying every extra strength cream they have, start with getting a vaginitis screen, either online or from your doctor. Yeast infections can be caused by a variety of different types of yeast, some of which are treated differently. A vaginitis screen will tell you right away whether or not you actually have one, and which treatment to pursue if you do.
However, this is really only recommended for women who have experience with yeast infections and feel confident recognizing the symptoms. The most common cause of yeast infections is a fungus called Candida albicans, but, as we’ll discuss below, nearly identical symptoms can be caused by:
- A rarer species of Candida, such as Candida glabrata or Candida krusei
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Viral vaginitis
- Non-infectious vaginitis
So it’s important to combine any at-home care with a visit to the doctor. Studies show that only 11% of women who have not experienced a yeast infection before diagnose them accurately, and that number only jumps up to 35% in women who have experienced them. Seeing a doctor, in case of confusion, is always best.
Test for Bacterial Vaginosis
If your yeast infection results comes up negative, the next step would be to look for signs of Bacterial Vaginosis, or BV. BV is an infection caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina (hence the “bacterial” and the “vaginosis”). Symptoms are very similar to that of a yeast infection. They include redness, irritation, discharge, and — brace yourself — a fishy odor that you definitely don’t need following you around at your next board meeting. If you suspect you have BV, there’s good news! That same vaginitis screen you found online or at your doctor’s office should screen for BV as well as a yeast infection. Convenient right? Once you confirm it is, in fact, BV, make an appointment with your doctor and they’ll prescribe you a course of treatment that will have you back to normal in no time.
Get an STD Test
Herpes, chlamydia, genital warts, and trichomoniasis (a common STD affecting 2.3 million women aged 14-49 annually) all have symptoms very similar to that of a yeast infection. STDs require different treatment than a yeast infection (duh), usually by a doctor (double duh), so making sure that you’re up-to-date on your tests before springing for any at-home yeast infection treatment is a smart way to make sure you’re not spending unnecessary money and irritating your already very irritating condition.
Do You Have Hemorrhoids?
It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me. But if you’re experiencing itching, you could have a hemorrhoid problem on your hands. Hemorrhoids can occur in the area around the vagina and can be treated with a combination of a warm sitz bath and some witch hazel wipes. If anybody asks what you’re up to, just call it a self-care day and leave it at that. You’re not technically lying.
Make Sure You’re Not Allergic To Something
Did you change your detergent lately or indulge in a new type of bath bomb? You could be experiencing an allergic reaction. This can come from feminine hygiene products, soaps, laundry detergents, and anything that may come in contact with your private parts. A simple allergy test can help suss this one out.
Check Your Estrogen Levels
As you age, your estrogen levels can go down, causing thinner skin. When this occurs around your vaginal area, it can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like itching and discharge. If your doctor finds that you are suffering from lowered estrogen levels, they can prescribe you a small dose of estrogen, or you can buy some good old fashioned lube to help reduce the friction.
So don’t despair if you find out the source of your discomfort is not, in fact, yeast. It could be any one of these very treatable conditions. Talk to your doctor and you’ll be back to normal in no time!