Have you ever been annoyed, itchy, and frantically wondering why your yeast infection won't go away? If that's happening to you right now, you're not alone. Yeast infections can be especially prevalent during the colder months, perhaps due to all the tight, warm extra layers we wear (like tights, leggings, pantyhose, and shapewear). You might be unsure of what to do next, especially if you're struggling with the worst yeast infection symptoms out there — such as vaginal burning, itching, and pain — while you're all bundled up.
You've already tried the creams and Googled the heck out of yeast infection home remedies. Maybe you've even visited a doctor and asked for prescription medications. But whatever you do, you've still got symptoms and you're itching after a yeast infection treatment. So how come your trusty Monistat didn't work? Furthermore, why can't you manage to kick this awful condition to the curb once and for all?
Long story short: If you find yourself asking, "Why is my yeast infection not going away?" you might have a totally different problem.
When a Yeast Infection That Won't Go Away Isn't a Yeast Infection
"Two weeks ago, my vagina became itchy, red, and inflamed, plus I noticed a thick white discharge," a reader wrote to our print magazine. "I figured it was a yeast infection and used an OTC treatment, but that made it worse. What gives?" The answer might surprise you: It may not have been a yeast infection after all.
Instead, this reader might have actually had lactobacillus overgrowth syndrome, a condition often mistaken for a yeast infection. It happens when levels of "good" lactobacilli bacteria in the vagina get too high, possibly due to increases in estrogen. Since lactobacilli produce lactic acid, this overgrowth makes the vagina too acidic, leading to itching, burning, and discharge — awfully similar to yeast infection symptoms. If you have lactobacillus overgrowth syndrome, it makes sense why yeast infection treatments may have worsened your symptoms: Many contain acidic ingredients.
What is a yeast infection, anyway?
A vaginal yeast infection is an infection of the vagina that causes itching and burning of the vulva, which is the outer area around the vagina. Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of a fungus called candida. Girls and women of all ages can get vaginal yeast infections, although they are somewhat rarer before puberty and after menopause. Nearly 75 percent of all women will have a yeast infection at some point in their lives — and even the most mild yeast infection can be intensely annoying.
Yeast Infection Symptoms
The symptoms of yeast infection in women can range from mild to moderate, according to the Mayo Clinic. Although the symptoms can vary from woman to woman, they usually include:
- Itching and irritation in the vagina and the tissues at the vaginal opening
- Burning sensation, especially during intercourse or while urinating
- Redness and swelling of the vulva
- Vaginal pain and soreness
- Vaginal rash
- Thick, white, odor-free vaginal discharge with a cottage-cheese appearance
Overgrowth of Lactobacillus Symptoms
As you may recall, the symptoms of lactobacillus overgrowth syndrome are quite similar to those of a yeast infection. The key ones to remember include the following:
- Severe itching
- Painful or difficult urination
- Difficult or painful sexual intercourse
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
How to Identify and Treat Lactobacillus Overgrowth Syndrome
As you can probably guess, it's extremely difficult for you to confirm lactobacillus overgrowth syndrome at home, which is why you need a medical expert to help you out. Your gynecologist can confirm the diagnosis with a culture. But even if it turns out that you have the condition, you'll be happy to know that the lactobacillus overgrowth treatment is pretty simple: Add two to four Tbsp. of baking soda — alkaline — to your bath and soak for 15 minutes twice a day. This can help raise the vagina’s pH and nix the overgrowth. If your symptoms return about a week before your period when estrogen levels naturally rise, experts suggest repeating the treatment.
A version of this story originally appeared in our print magazine.