July 19th, 2010
Womanhood has its benefits (a longer life expectancy, skirts on hot summer days) and its drawbacks (childbirth, menstruation, centuries of social inequality). Yeast infections, I'm sure you'll agree, fall squarely into the second category. Combine an itchy crotch with social mores that deem crotch-scratching unladylike, then mix in vaginal discharge that really does resemble cottage cheese, and what do you get? A disgusting and uniquely feminine form of torture. Because male genitalia don't generally provide the conditions preferred by Candida albicans—the yeastie beasties that cause women so much grief—men almost never experience what happens when Candida reproduces with reckless abandon in that most sensitive of bodily regions. Lucky them.
The Candida of vaginal yeast infection fame is the very same yeast that causes thrush and fungal diaper rashes, but it's not an inherently bad thing. In fact, Candida lives in and on all of our bodies, all the time. Problems occur when, for one reason or another, the yeast manages to establish a larger-than-usual colony. Maybe conditions are especially good for growth (warm and damp) or the other microorganisms that keep yeast growth in check (usually bacteria) are weakened or diminished. If you're wondering what you might have done wrong, some specific causes of yeast infections can be found at the bottom of this page. If you're just here for a yeast infection cure, the next section is for you.
Treat and Prevent Yeast Infections
The most reliable way to get yeast infection relief is with antifungal medication. Over the counter yeast infection treatments are easy to come by, but if this is the first time you've had these symptoms, you should see a doctor before trying to treat yourself. Yeast infections are just one of several types of vaginitis that can cause vaginal itching, and they're the only type that will respond to antifungal treatment. A doctor can make a positive diagnosis, and may even prescribe an oral treatment such as Diflucan if you'd rather not use the sometimes-messy vaginal creams that you usually get with over-the-counter remedies like Monistat and Vagistat.
To help cure a yeast infection now and prevent recurrences in the future, keep your genital area clean. This doesn't require any complicated rituals: simply wash your labia and the surrounding real estate with water and a gentle, preferably unscented soap. One cleaning a day is usually plenty, but if you get sweaty during a walk or a workout, or if you have sex, it won't hurt to wash again. To keep things clean between showers, wipe thoroughly after you use the toilet, going from front to back to avoid transferring anal stuff into your considerably more delicate vaginal stuff.
In your efforts to maintain a clean vagina, avoid products that can cause irritation or disrupt your body's natural balance. Above all, don't douche. The inside of the vagina cleans itself naturally, and women who try to involve themselves in the process usually do more harm than good. That's because douching flushes everything out of the vagina, including healthy microorganisms. Introducing douche into the vagina can also disrupt delicately balanced pH levels. Of course, you are responsible for cleaning your vulva (the outside of your vagina), but don't overdo it. Stay away from heavily scented soaps and vaginal sprays; your vagina doesn't have to smell fruity to be clean, and scented products usually contain chemicals that can irritate your skin or have unwanted effects on your vagina's natural chemistry. Remember: a chemically or biologically unbalanced vagina is a yeast infection-prone vagina.
Wear breathable fabrics to relieve and prevent yeast infections. Yeast thrives in warm, moist environments, and while a completely dry vagina would have its own set of issues, you can minimize both heat and damp by wearing underwear made of cotton instead of synthetic materials that trap air and moisture against your skin. If you're comfortable with it, ditching the bottoms completely at night can make your vagina an altogether airier place—and therefore less hospitable to yeast. You may also find that your outerwear choices affect the relative swampiness of your nether regions: skirts or loose-fitting cotton pants may mean better prevention and a faster healing time for vaginal yeast infections.
Prevent yeast infections by taking care of yourself—your whole self. Yeast infections may happen in your vagina, but they're often caused by what's going on in other parts of your body. Stress is a common contributing factor in yeast infections, so controlling your stress levels and getting enough rest can help keep them at bay. It also helps to eat a healthy diet and avoid excessive amounts of sugar, since yeast gets the energy it needs to grow and reproduce from sugar. Limiting your sugar intake is especially important if you have diabetes, which in itself increases your risk of recurrent yeast infections. In fact, illness in general stresses your body and can lead to imbalances like yeast infections, which are even more likely if you end up with a prescription for antibiotics. So wash your hands regularly, keep your fingers out of your mouth and eyes, and exercise regularly to give your immune system a boost.
What Causes Yeast Infections?
There are a lot of risk factors for yeast infections; essentially, any circumstance that can cause a change in your body's chemistry can cause the balance of yeast to go out of whack. That is to say: almost anything can cause a yeast infection. Here are some of the most common culprits:
- antibiotic use
- poor diet
- hormone replacement therapy
- HIV infection
- the use of corticosteroids like prednisone