Preventing Vaginal Yeast Infections with Healthy Habits
Among the things that shouldn’t be so taboo to talk about, vaginal health is one of them. For far too long, proper treatment of the vagina has been plagued by misinformation for years due to lack of research and education. Two of the biggest prices to pay for poor “down there health care” are UTIs and vaginal yeast infections, which can prove to be extremely uncomfortable and painful when left untreated.
- Vaginal yeast infections, which are also sometimes referred to as vulvovaginal candidiasis, occur in the body when the healthy yeast that normally lives in the vagina grows out of control.
- Symptoms include soreness, vaginal discharge, redness, swelling, rash, pain during urination and sex, and itching.
- Some causes include pregnancy, hormone imbalance, antibiotics, untreated diabetes, stress and a weak immune system.
While the subject may not be widely discussed, vaginal yeast infections are incredibly common and affect as many as three out of four women at some point in their lives, according to the Mayo Clinic (1). Usually, the length of time your yeast infection is left untreated has a direct impact on how severe your symptoms may become. Due to this, it’s important to break down all the facts behind vaginal yeast infections including symptoms, causes, and treatments so you’re able to catch them early.
What are vaginal yeast infections?
When the vaginal chemistry gets thrown off balance, this can lead to an infection. Vaginal yeast infections, which are also sometimes referred to as vulvovaginal candidiasis, occur in the body when the healthy yeast that normally lives in the vagina grows out of control (2). The medical term for vaginal yeast infections are "candidiasis," because they’re usually caused by a type of yeast called candida.
Yeast infections aren’t considered STIs, but they can still be contagious. You can pass a yeast infection during oral sex, vaginal intercourse, through sharing unclean adult products, or by kissing someone with oral thrush (yeast infection of the mouth).
While bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common form of vaginal yeast infections, its primary causes are bacterial imbalances from douching and sexual activity, so it’s not a fungal infection like typical vaginal yeast infections are (3). BV has similar symptoms as a yeast infection, including discharge, burning, and itching. This can make distinguishing between the two infections difficult, but having vaginal yeast infections doesn’t cause long-term issues, while untreated BV can lead to fertility problems, and premature delivery (if you get infected while pregnant), and a higher risk of contracting STIs.
The causes, signs, and symptoms
Fungal overgrowth often occurs when there is a disruption to the balance of pH or good bacteria in the vagina, which can be due to factors like antibiotic use, high estrogen levels, or even by using scented products to clean the vagina – just to name a few. Vaginal yeast infections have a common set of symptoms, such as:
- vaginal itching
- swelling around the vagina
- burning during urination or sex
- pain during sex
- Whitish-gray and clumpy vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese or also may be watery (4)
Despite how common they are, it’s important to treat vaginal yeast infections early. This way, you can also reduce the chances of the infection becoming more widespread in your body. Unfortunately, recurring vaginal yeast infections are common, especially if you are pregnant, have diabetes, or have a weakened immune system. If you have more than four yeast infections per year, talk to your doctor.
Other common factors not mentioned above that can cause vaginal yeast infections include:
- Antibiotics (which decrease the number of good bacteria in the vagina)
- untreated diabetes
- a weakened immune system
- poor eating habits
- hormonal imbalances
- lack of sleep
Healthy habits and what to prevent
Some things that can lead to changes in your vagina’s environment are:
- Wearing tight or synthetic pants, tights, underwear, or leggings/spandex that are not breathable
- Using feminine deodorant, scented tampons, or scented pads
- Wearing wet clothing for too long, such as bathing suits
- Sitting in hot tubs or taking frequent hot baths
- Being sexually active
- Eating a diet high in sugar (which yeast feeds on)
- Using vaginal sponges or intrauterine devices (IUDs)
- Maintaining poor vaginal hygiene
Healthy habits to take up to avoid vaginal yeast infections are:
- eating a well-balanced diet
- wearing natural fibers such as cotton, linen, or silk
- washing underwear in hot water
- replacing feminine products frequently
- using condoms or other protection methods when having sex with someone who you suspect may have a yeast infection
What to do if you get a yeast infection
Each yeast infection is different. So, to best meet your body’s needs, your doctor will suggest a treatment that’s best for you. Treatments are generally determined based on the severity of your symptoms.
As a word of advice, if this is your first suspected vaginal yeast infection, it’s vital to have a proper diagnosis from a doctor to make sure that your symptoms are really a yeast infection and not another condition like BV. To make the diagnosis, your doctor will conduct a pelvic exam, ask you about your symptoms, and will possibly also order a vaginal fluid test. The fluid test involves sending a sample to a lab, so once your doctor has determined the cause, or if the infection is actually a yeast infection, then they will prescribe the correct type of treatment based on the severity of your case (5).
For simple vaginal yeast infections, your doctor will usually prescribe a 1-to-3-day regimen of an antifungal cream, ointment, tablet, or suppository (6). These medications can be in either a prescription or over-the-counter form. One of the most common medications is known as Monistat.
However, in the case of treating severe cases of vaginal yeast infections, possible treatments include: 14-day cream, ointment, tablet, or suppository vaginal treatment, prescription medication, or use of a topical antifungal medication over a long period of time (6).
Written by Selena Ponton