The symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are familiar to many women: itching, irritation, and usually a thick white discharge. It’s easy to simply reach for the anti-fungal treatments at the first sign of irritation — and usually this does do the trick.
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But if these symptoms come back often (or don’t respond to the usual treatments), it’s time to visit a doctor for a firm diagnosis. That’s because other conditions can mimic yeast, explains Ob/Gyn Salena Zanotti, MD.
Trying to treat another non-yeast-related condition with antifungals will not only be ineffective. It can give you the illusion that you’re treating it while another problem continues to develop.
Conditions that can mimic a yeast infection
Six possible causes of symptoms that may masquerade as yeast infections include:
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Some STIs can cause irritation and present with an itchy discharge and a slight odor. These include trichomoniasis, herpes and genital warts.
- A skin reaction or allergy: Some sanitary products can cause a reaction, as can feminine hygiene products, bath soap, or even a change in laundry soap.
- Lack of estrogen: As women age, lack of estrogen causes the skin to thin, and this sometimes leads to discomfort, itching or discharge. Vaginal lubricants or a small dose of estrogen can help in this case.
- Hemorrhoids: The itching generally associated with hemorrhoids can also cause itching or irritation in the vaginal area.
- Other skin conditions: There are some skin conditions that can cause skin changes, such as whitening and itching. These may require a steroid ointment such as hydrocortisone for treatment.
- Small cuts: Even something as simple as a small cut can itch and feel irritated as it is healing.
“If you aren’t getting relief from the usual measures, or you aren’t quite sure of the diagnosis, it’s worth a trip to the office to get checked out,” says Dr. Zanotti. Call your doctor to be sure you’re addressing any problems with appropriate treatment.