Editor's Note: We at POPSUGAR recognize that people of many genders and identities have vaginas. For this particular story, we interviewed experts who generally referred to people who experience vaginal yeast infections as women.
The itchiness of a vaginal yeast infection is hard to forget — so much so that you remember exactly how many times you've dealt with the health issue. While yeast infections are considered very common, experiencing the condition a certain amount of times within a particular time period could indicate that you're actually dealing with what's considered a recurrent yeast infection.
Ahead, find more information on the definition of a recurrent yeast infection, its causes, and how they're commonly treated.
What Are the Symptoms of a Recurrent Yeast Infection?
According to Somi Javaid, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn and the founder and chief medical officer of HerMD, recurrent yeast infections are defined as yeast infections that occur four or more times per year. She also mentions that "less than five percent of women are diagnosed with recurrent yeast infections."
Amy Roskin, MD, the chief medical officer at The Pill Club, says the symptoms of a recurrent yeast infection are similar to that of regular yeast infections — like itching, burning on the vulva, a swollen vulva, and white, clumpy, odorless discharge. The only difference is the duration and frequency of the symptoms, Dr. Roskin adds.
As for how the issue is diagnosed, Dr. Javaid mentions that this process typically involves your healthcare provider taking a sample of vaginal fluid during a pelvic exam. From there, they can confirm that the infection is caused by yeast. "I have been practicing nearly 20 years and will tell you most of my patients know when they have one, especially if they have experienced an infection in the past," Dr. Javaid notes.
What Causes Recurrent Yeast Infections?
According to Dr. Javaid, yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of fungus (yeast) in the vagina. Certain conditions can make this occurrence more likely. She points to examples like a change in immune status, changes in diet, diabetes, wearing tight clothes that trap moisture and heat, and a recent course of antibiotics.
"The vagina has flora or a microbiome of bacterial colonies that maintain the acidic environment of a healthy vagina. When the flora is disrupted, a woman is more likely to experience a vaginal infection," she mentions. A recurrent yeast infection could also potentially be a sign that it wasn't initially treated properly.
"Sometimes a woman may have a yeast infection caused by a rarer type of candida that may be resistant to the common treatment options that providers may prescribe," Dr. Javaid says. "All of this can be avoided by collecting a vaginal sample and testing it to determine what type of infection and what type of candida is present in the vagina."
She also mentions that not all vaginal infections are caused by yeast. "Sometimes a patient who has a yeast infection may be diagnosed with an STI or BV, bacterial vaginosis. These infections are typically treated with antibiotics."
How Are Recurrent Yeast Infections Treated?
If you think you have a recurrent yeast infection, Dr. Roskin recommends reaching out to a licensed healthcare provider. Dr. Javaid mentions that a prolonged course of antifungal medication may be necessary for treating recurrent yeast infections. However, your doctor or healthcare provider can help you determine the best course of action.
Reaching for over-the-counter medications might not be the right solution for recurrent yeast infections. According to Dr. Javaid, sometimes yeast may be resistant to these over-the-counter treatments, or they might not be potent enough. "Also, a patient needs to be sure of the right diagnosis," she says. "In a pinch, if a patient is miserable I tell my patients to use an OTC treatment until they can get in to see their provider."