Q:  I think I might have a yeast infection, but I'm not sure. Should I go ahead and try one of the over-the-counter preparations to see if my symptoms go away?

A:  Your symptoms may be similar to those of a yeast infection, but if you're not sure, it's best to see your health care professional. Remember not all itching and not all vaginal discharges are the same; you could have a condition that is not related to Candida yeast. In that case, using the over-the-counter medication won't help. Even with the classic cottage-cheese type discharge and itching, the probability that yeast is present may be as low as 50 percent when checked by culture or DNA testing. Symptoms are not completely reliable, but the risk and cost of over-the-counter medicines is low enough to justify a trial. If such medications don't work, however, see your health care provider.

Q:  I'm on the third day of a seven-day treatment, and my symptoms are all gone. Can I stop using the medication?

A:  No, you need to use all of the medication as directed. Your symptoms can disappear before the overgrowth of Candida yeast is gone. If you stop using the medication now, the yeast infection could recur.

Q:  I have vaginal itching and a discharge with a fishy odor. Is this a yeast infection?

A:  No, a discharge with a fishy odor is not a symptom of a yeast infection, but more typically of bacterial vaginosis, another common vaginal condition. This illness is treated completely differently from a yeast infection; be sure to consult your health care professional.

Q:  What is the risk for women who are pregnant or nursing, or those who have diabetes or HIV?

A:  First, women who are pregnant or have diabetes or HIV are at a higher risk for developing a yeast infection. Second, and most important, these woman, as well as nursing mothers, should always see their health care professional if they suspect a yeast infection rather than self-treat.

Q:  If I'm pregnant, can a yeast infection hurt my developing baby?

A:  No, but you do need to see your health care professional for treatment. Also, some treatments currently on the market, such as fluconazole (Diflucan), are not recommended during pregnancy. Be sure your health care professional and pharmacist are both aware that you are or may be pregnant.

Q:  I keep getting recurrent yeast infections. Should my sexual partner be treated?

A:  It's not clear whether vaginal yeast infections can be transferred during sexual intercourse. However, if your sexual partner has the symptoms of Candida — redness, irritation and/or itching at the tip of the penis — he may need to be treated. In some cases, treatment of partners of women with recurrent yeast infections is recommended.

Q:  I thought douching helped keep a woman clean; what is the risk in douching?

A:  The healthy vaginal ecosystem requires just the right balance of bacteria flora. Nearly 95 percent of vaginal mucosa, which protects against pathogens, is made up of healthy bacteria called lactobacillus. These bacteria make hydrogen peroxide that keep unhealthy bacteria from getting out of hand. Too much douching can disrupt the bacterial balance, and lead to infection.

Q:  My health care professional has prescribed antibiotics to treat an unrelated illness. What precautions should I take to avoid getting a yeast infection?

A:  Use a preventive dose of yeast medication and eat yogurt.

Copyright 2003

National Women's Health Resource Center Inc. (NWHRC).