Yeast Infections: What You Need to Know to Protect Your Health
A full 75 percent of women experience a yeast infection at some point in their lives. While the symptoms are certainly uncomfortable and can interfere with your daily activities, yeast infections are usually very easy to treat. Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of candida, and women commonly experience vaginal yeast infections; however, it is also possible to have get a skin or oral yeast infection (thrush).
Who is more likely to get a yeast infection?
While anyone, including children and men, can get yeast infections, they are most common in women, and you may be at a higher risk if you:
- Are pregnant or on hormonal birth control. Hormone changes can create a better environment for yeast to grow.
- Use douches or vaginal sprays. These products interfere with the natural chemistry of the vagina and make it easier for yeast to grow unchecked.
- Are diabetic or experience other blood sugar issues. Yeast and sugar levels are strongly related, and high blood sugar levels mean a better environment for yeast.
- Are taking antibiotics. Antibiotics are designed to kill the bacteria responsible for making you sick, but they also sometimes wipe out the good bacteria your body needs to fight yeast and other organisms.
- Have a weakened immune system. Immunotherapy treatments and autoimmune diseases can deplete your body of the goods cells that it uses to destroy yeast.
What are the symptoms of a yeast infection?
The most common symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are itching and a thick white discharge often compared to the texture of cottage cheese. You may also experience burning or stinging during sex or urination, redness and swelling, and a speckled pin prick rash that is characteristic of yeast overgrowth.
It's important to note that these can also be similar to the symptoms of other issues such as bacterial vaginosis and some STD/STIs. If you have never had a yeast infection before, you should see your health care practitioner to be officially diagnosed and rule out any other possible conditions.
Yeast infections can usually be treated with over-the-counter medicines, but your doctor may also prescribe an oral medication.
How can you prevent yeast infections?
Sometimes yeast infections happen despite your best efforts, and they are not usually related to any kind of hygiene problem, but there are some things you can do to decrease your risk if you are prone to yeast infections.
- Wear loose, breathable undergarments. If your underwear is too tight or doesn't allow your skin to breathe it can create a more warm, moist environment that is perfect for yeast growth.
- Don't take hot baths or use hot tubs. This is for the same reasons as above. It encourages that warm, moist environment.
- Practice good hygiene: Always wipe front to back and don't use douches or feminine sprays that can alter the natural chemistry of the vagina.
- Watch your sugar intake. Even if you aren't diabetic, eating a lot of sugar can encourage yeast growth. This includes carbohydrates and “healthy” sugars like fruits.
If you experience ongoing or frequent yeast infections — more than 2-3 a year — it's a good idea to talk to your gynecologist about other possible causes or a stronger treatment regimen.