The Signs and Symptoms of a Yeast Infection

When does vaginal itching signal a yeast infection? Find out how to tell and when to call your doctor.

It’s common for women to experience some vaginal itching or tingling if they’ve been sweating (like after exercising or on a hot, sticky summer day) or in the first few days after hair-removal techniques like waxing or shaving. “It’s also common in the week just before a period,” says Paige Long-Sharps, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and women's health clinical instructor at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y.
Yeast infection symptoms
But doctors say vaginal itching that’s excessive or lasts longer than a day or two can be a sign that you’ve developed a yeast infection, which occurs when a type of yeast called Candida albicans grows out of control.

Yeast Infection Symptoms
The primary symptom of a vaginal yeast infection is itching of the vagina and vulva, the exterior folds (including the labia and clitoris) that protect the vagina. “Many women also have burning, swelling and redness of the vulva, and a whitish discharge that resembles cottage cheese,” says Saul Weinreb, MD, a gynecologist at Franklin Square Hospital in Baltimore. Some women also experience pain or burning with urination or an uncharacteristic vaginal odor. “The discomfort is usually on the outside, not deep inside the vagina or pelvis,” he adds.
The degree of vaginal itching and other yeast infection symptoms can vary. “Not all women experience all the same yeast infection symptoms,” says Dr. Sharps. “Some women don’t experience the white, cottage cheese-like discharge.” Others don’t notice any vaginal odor.

When Should You Call a Doctor?
Although many women are familiar with yeast infection symptoms, doctors discourage self-diagnosis because the symptoms are similar to the symptoms of some sexually transmitted diseases and other types of infections. Sharps recommends that women with symptoms of a yeast infection contact their doctor, “even if they’re mild symptoms.”

Call your doctor if you have any of these yeast infection symptoms:
  • Itching in or around your vagina that lasts longer than 24 hours or worsens in intensity
  • A white or yellowish lumpy or cottage cheese-like discharge
  • A starchy vaginal odor
  • A vaginal burning sensation
  • Mild redness, soreness, or irritation in or around your vagina

If a yeast infection is left untreated, it can progress into a severe yeast infection, symptoms may worsen, and you may develop swelling in or around your vagina. “Women with severe yeast infections may also experience pain during sex,” says Weinreb.

What Will Your Doctor Advise?
Don’t be alarmed if your doctor tells you to schedule a visit. “Doctors like to see women who have no history of a yeast infection just to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms,” says Weinreb.
Your doctor will ask you for a short history of your symptoms, including when they began and how severe they are. “A pelvic examination may be performed to observe and help analyze the cause of the discharge,” says Weinreb.

If you’re diagnosed with a yeast infection, your doctor may prescribe over-the-counter remedies. However, occasionally doctors prescribe oral drugs and vaginal suppositories to treat acute or chronic yeast infections.
Last Updated: 04/26/2010
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