Yeast infections are a common problem for many women. More than 75 percent of women have suffered from a yeast infection in their lifetimes, and more than half have experienced two or more. In fact, many women suffer from recurring yeast infections and oftentimes don’t know why the infections are occurring or how to prevent them.
Here is what you need to know:
You need a healthy amount of yeast in your vagina. Yeast naturally occurs in our body and on our skin, and we need it to help maintain healthy functioning. However, it’s important to have the right balance: Yeast infections occur when the good-to-bad ratio of bacteria in the vagina is offset. When there are not enough good bacteria, yeast grows unchecked and leads to an infection with symptoms such as painful itching in or around the vagina and itching along the vulva. You might notice an odorous smell or thick, white discharge that is comparable to the consistency of cottage cheese.
Talk to your doctor. Most yeast infections can be cured with over-the-counter medications. However, if you commonly experience yeast infections, you should talk to your doctor to try and find out why. Hormonal birth control pills have been linked to yeast infections, and antibiotics can also cause them (because the medication can kill the good bacteria in the vagina that you need to maintain a healthy balance). Other causes include chemotherapy medications, medications that include cortisone, and diabetes medication. Pregnant women might also be at a greater risk for yeast infections, in addition to women with certain health problems.
Once you identify the cause of your yeast infection, you might be able to reduce the risk or switch to a medication that doesn’t have such side effects. Your doctor can also give you a prescription for fluconazole (Diflucan), which can be taken as soon as you experience the early signs of a yeast infection. Many women need only one pill to stop a yeast infection in its tracks.
Promote a healthy balance in your vagina. If you want to reduce your risk of yeast infections, one of the best things you can do is avoid douching or other unnecessary measures that can change the acidic pH balance of your vagina (which keeps yeast in check). You don’t need to wash yourself with harsh soaps or fragrant body washes. All you need is a little warm water in and around the labia (you never need to wash inside the vagina, it’s self-cleaning!). You should also avoid tight underwear or uncomfortable and ill-fitting thongs. Keep things as cool and dry as possible, and make sure to change out of sweaty clothes or your wet swimsuit as soon as possible after leaving the gym or pool.
Eat yogurt. Yogurt has live cultures including good bacteria that can help to promote a healthy balance inside your body and your vagina. Some women even use yogurt as an at-home remedy to help decrease yeast infections by diluting yogurt with a little warm water and inserting it into the vagina.
Try boric acid. Many women swear that boric acid is an effective and simple yeast-infection remedy. Boric-acid capsules are inserted into the vagina to help decrease symptoms and resolve the infection. (Discuss this option with your doctor before trying it.)
Practice safer sex. Although yeast infections are not a sexually transmitted infection, they can be spread during sex. This means that if you have a yeast infection and have unprotected sex with your partner, he might contract it. Symptoms of a yeast infection in a man are similar to that in a woman and include itching; in a man’s case the itching is in and around the penis tip, and he may also see tiny red dots or white spots on the penis. Transmission isn’t common, but it’s a possibility and something to consider.
Be sure it’s a yeast infection. Sometimes the symptoms of a yeast infection can be confused with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as trichomoniasis or chlamydia. If you have never had a yeast infection before or if you aren’t sure whether your symptoms are those of a yeast infection, make an appointment with your ob-gyn to find out. STIs are most effectively treated when caught early, so don’t delay if you fear that your symptoms might be something other than a yeast infection.