Why do antibiotics cause yeast infections?

Understanding the delicate balance of our body's bacteria and reducing the risk of an infection


If you have ever suffered any sort of infection such as a common cold, strep throat, or the flu at any point in your life, chances are your doctor prescribed you some type of antibiotic (whose name you cannot pronounce) as a first line of defense.

While antibiotics are vital in killing bacteria and fighting infection,  they can also inflict collateral damage on beneficial bacteria that live within your body.  This may cause a disruption of the body's delicate pH balance and lead to a yeast infection.

It is estimated that a vaginal yeast infection will affect 3 out of 4 women at least once in their lifetime, making it the second most common type of infection in the United States after bacterial infection. Though these figures may sound alarming, the good news is that it’s not typically a serious condition and can be effectively treated or prevented with medication and simple lifestyle changes. Read on to learn more about why antibiotics cause yeast infections and what you can do to treat a yeast infection if you develop one. 

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What is a yeast infection?

Yeast, also known as candida, comes in many forms and can be found in different parts of the body, including the skin, gut, mouth, and vagina. It is usually benign thanks to being kept in check by 'good bacteria’.  Good bacteria is part of the normal flora of the body, which serves to maintain a slightly acidic environment. When the balance of  beneficial microorganisms is disturbed, yeast can thrive and lead to an infection. 

Why do yeast infections happen?

Think of the good bacteria as little warriors that protect the body’s internal environment by making sure that all other organisms are kept in line. Now think of antibiotics as a bomb that explodes and throws off your body’s natural flora; while it may kill the bad bacteria causing the original infection, it also wipes out beneficial flora, giving the candida free rein to multiply and cause an infection.  
It is important to note that not everyone who takes antibiotics will develop a yeast infection; however, the longer you take them, the more susceptible you become. Furthermore, if you are already prone to recurring yeast infections, your risk of developing one while taking antibiotics is higher. 

Other factors that increase your susceptibility to a yeast infection include:

  • Hormonal changes resulting from ovulation, menopause, pregnancy, birth control pills, or hormone replacement therapy
  • Underwear that is too tight or made from non-breathable fabric
  • Douching or using perfumed soaps
  • Underlying health issues such as diabetes, HIV, or cancer
  • Steroid use

It is estimated that around 8% of females will experience frequent candida infections, with 5% experiencing them four or more times per year, particularly during their reproductive years. 

What are the symptoms of a yeast infection?

If you are not familiar with the symptoms of a yeast infection, consider yourself lucky as they can be quite uncomfortable. While every woman will experience them in varying degrees, the most common symptoms include:

  • An intense itching sensation in and around the vagina
  • A burning sensation around the vaginal area
  • An increase in vaginal discharge that may appear white, lumpy and odorless (often compared to a cottage cheese-like consistency)
  • Pain or discomfort whilst urinating
  • Painful intercourse

Because the above indicators can be related to several issues, it can become difficult for many women to establish whether they are actually suffering from a yeast infection. Often, the same symptoms may be indicative of other ailments such as a urinary tract infection (UTI), bacterial vaginosis, or something else. If you find that treatment for a yeast infection is not working, it is best to see your doctor to determine if another ailment may be causing your symptoms.

What type of antibiotics can cause a yeast infection?

Not all antibiotics will necessarily trigger a yeast infection; in fact, it is mainly broad-spectrum ones that will likely cause this effect.  Broad-spectrum antibiotics are designed to act against a wide range of disease-causing bacteria, rather than a narrow spectrum.
The most common types of antibiotics include: 

  • Tetracyclines – these are mainly prescribed for acne, UTIs, infections of the gut and eyes, sexually-transmitted diseases, and gum disease. 
  • Quinolones – these are predominantly used to treat more stubborn UTIs, pneumonia, and bacterial prostatitis. 
  • Broad-spectrum Penicillins – such as amoxicillin or ampicillin, used to treat respiratory ailments or infections of the sinuses, ear, mouth, skin, or gums. 
  • Carbapenems – these drugs are usually reserved for treating severe or high-risk bacterial infections that show resistance to other antibiotics and are only avialable in ontevenous form.

How can I treat a yeast infection?

You’ll be glad to know that treating a yeast infection is pretty straightforward, but to make sure you get the right treatment, it is important that you speak with your doctor first to confirm the diagnosis. 

Once the cause of the infection has been confirmed, there are a number of treatment options available:
Your doctor may prescribe an oral anti-fungal pill called fluconazole (Diflucan) which can effectively treat a yeast infection, or act to prevent one when you need to take antiobiotics.

You can also use over-the-counter medications such as antifungal creams or suppositories that are either applied or inserted inside the vagina.

Home remedies have also proven popular in effectively treating a yeast infection including:

  • Natural, unsweetened, and non-flavored yogurt, due to its high content of beneficial bacteria – known as probiotics – can help to restore the healthy balance of bacteria and yeast in the body.
  • Probiotic supplements are clinically-proven to relieve symptoms and may prevent or treat infection when taken long term. 
  • Tea tree oil is well-known for its antifungal properties and has been shown to effectively treat vaginal fungal infections. However, the product should be used with caution as it can cause irritation, especially around sensitive vaginal walls. 
  • Raw, organic coconut oil is another antifungal remedy that can be applied to the vagina either internally or externally to ease the symptoms. It is often recommended to mix coconut oil with a more potent essential oil such as tea tree to realize the combined benefits.  

It is important to note that many of the above treatments are not suitable if you are pregnant, diabetic, have a weakened immune system, or experience recurrent yeast infections (four or more a year), as it can cause further complications; therefore, you must always consult your doctor first. 

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