Let’s talk about something that no one wants to talk about: yeast infections. Despite the yuck factor, this condition is more common than you might realize. Three out of four women will experience at least one yeast infection in their life; half will have two or more infections.
First of all, what is it? A vaginal yeast infection produces a white, lumpy discharge, causes the vulva to itch and burn, and causes pain during sex.
Okay, so what causes a yeast infection?
Infections are caused by a fungus called Candida. And it lives everywhere. It’s on our skin, in our environment, and can be cultured from any place. In fact, Candida exists in many women’s vaginal area without symptoms. In fact, a healthy vagina naturally has a small number of yeast cells; however, certain things can upset the balance – a change in diet or a change in sexual activity – can cause too much yeast to grow, causing those itchy burning symptoms.
Some women do have greater risk factors. According to the CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), some antibiotics, which fight bacteria, can also kill bacteria that leads to more yeast in the vaginal area.
Hormonal contraceptives, such as a vaginal ring, birth control pill, or the patch, can also increase the risk of infection. Even vaginal sponges, diaphragms and intrauterine devices also heighten risk for some women. However, newer forms of birth control are less likely to cause a vaginal yeast infection because they contain progesterone rather than increasing the levels of estrogen. Pregnancy, which elevates levels of estrogen, increases the risk, as does diabetes, since increased blood sugars encourages yeast growth.
How can you prevent a yeast infection?
First, avoid douching and overusing topical treatments. Often, women mistakenly self-diagnose a skin irritation – perhaps from using scented soap – and upset their body’s natural defense against yeast. Douching and over applying topical treatments can reduce the good bacteria and mucus that your body needs to defend against sexually transmitted diseases and infections.
Many health care providers recommend a diet low in sugar to reduce your risks, although talk to your physician before changing your diet or taking supplements. Some women take boric acid and yogurt, but they have not been proven to protect against yeast infections in clinical studies.
Treatment and Diagnosing
Going to the doctor might seem like a pain, but self-diagnosing isn’t very accurate, and an STI or simple irritation can be mistaken for a yeast infection. When you visit a doctor, you’ll experience something like a Pap smear, where the doctor will use a cotton swab to collect a sample of the discharge. If you have a yeast infection, he or she will give you antifungal prescription like fluconazole, told to purchase a cream or ointment, or a suppository that’s inserted into the vagina. Usually a one-dose treatment kills the infection.