Many folks with vulvas find that summer is the most common season for yeast infections, but knowing how to prevent a yeast infection is a good skill all year round. Dodging yeast infections can be a breeze once you've got the basics down. It's all about locking in the right daily routines and weekly habits; that way, you're practicing prevention regularly and it doesn't even feel like you're doing anything extra.
Let's begin with a refresher on what a yeast infection is before we get into how to prevent them. First of all, yeast is a fungus that is naturally present in your vagina, and it's not harmful in and of itself. But as soon as there are too many yeast cells in the area — and anything from from high estrogen levels to antibiotics to pregnancy can cause your yeast cell levels to rise — you risk an infection. A yeast called Candida albicans is the most common culprit behind yeast infections.
"It’s important to try and identify the cause of the yeast infection, especially if it’s recurrent," Dr. Sherry Ross M.D., an OB-GYN, tells Bustle. "Understanding the long list of culprits helps you understand potential causes."
Tell-tale signs of a yeast infection are itchiness and soreness in the vagina and vulva, as well as a burning sensation when you're peeing or having sex. You might also see some discharge that is white or colorless, and resembles cottage cheese. If you haven't had a yeast infection before, consult with your doctor before treating — these symptoms can also be signs of certain STIs. These symptoms may sound unpleasant, but yeast infections are very common among people with vaginas and can be taken care of fairly easily.
Read up on the eight ways you can prevent yeast infections.
1. Consume More Probiotics
Ah, so many health issues seem to come back to those magical probiotics. According to many, they're a remarkable way to ward off yeast infections. For example, some yogurt contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, a type of bacteria that is your friend; it's known to maintain a healthy pH balance in your vagina and encourage the growth of other friendly bacteria. (Always eat probiotic-enriched yogurt. Don't put it in your vagina.)
Antibiotics can cause yeast infections, Dr. Felice Gersh M.D., an OB-GYN and author of PCOS SOS Fertility Fast Track, tells Bustle. In some people, antibiotic consumption kills off healthy bacteria as well as infections, and creates yeast overgrowth. It's worth talking to your doctor about how to support the good bacteria in your system while your antibiotics work to take out the bad.
2. Switch To A Birth Control That Doesn't Contain Estrogen
Extra estrogen in the body can lead to the production of more yeast, according to Dr. Linda Speer, M.D., at Healthy Women. That's why Dr. Gersh suggests considering not using hormonal contraceptives, which contain estrogen. "They can alter the important vaginal microbial population," which, if you're particularly prone to yeast infections, isn't great news. It's worthwhile for yeast infection-prone people to consider birth control options out there that don't contain estrogen, such as the copper IUD or progesterone-only pills.
Of course, you should speak with your OB-GYN before you just decide to make the switch on your own — they'll have more specific insight into the unique functioning of your body.
3. Wear Cotton Underwear
You want to keep your vulva as dry as possible, free from warmth and moisture, because yeast thrives in humid environments. One way to do this is to stick to underwear made from natural fabrics, such as cotton and silk; they absorb dampness, leaving your vagina as healthily dry as possible. Synthetic stuff like nylon and blended materials cling to your body too closely, making you a prime target for infection. "Avoid tight, occlusive clothing, and choose natural, breathable fabrics," Dr. Gersh says.
If you often wear leggings, gym pants or pantyhose without any underwear underneath, consider investing in some comfy cotton undies. Your crotch will thank you for it — going commando in tight-fitting clothes made out of those kinds of synthetic fibers results in a lot of heat and moisture build-up, which paves the way for a big yeast gathering.
4. Stay Away From Scented Feminine Hygiene Products And Soaps
Scented hygiene products do not belong in your vagina, Dr. Gersh says. "Try to avoid chemicals used within the vagina — lubricants, spermicides, and so on," she says. Perfumes and dyes irritate the inside of your vagina and increase the risk of a yeast infection. And the same goes for scented soaps and anything else that comes in contact with your goods. "Choose wisely, and use only what is truly needed," Dr. Gersh says.
5. Clean Your Vagina Often
Don't do anything too rough to clean yourself, like douching, as that will cause irritation and might wreck the balances in your vagina. But do wash your zone — regular water will do the trick. If you're prone to yeast infections, Dr. Gersh says, "think about every product touching the skin — lotions, soaps, lubricants, scents, sanitary pads, detergents, fabric softeners, and fabrics." Part of your general body-cleaning routine might be causing an issue.
6. Maintain Good Hygiene
Keeping good hygiene practices around your vulva is a good way to avoid yeast infections. Change out of your swimsuit immediately after you're done in the sauna or swimming pool to avoid moist genitals. This also applies to wet workout clothes, according to Dr. Jessica Shepherd M.D., an OB-GYN, who tells Bustle that sweat can promote bacterial vaginal overgrowth. On the toilet bowl, wipe front to back to keep bad bacteria out of the sensitive areas.
7. Sleep More
Your immune system plays an important role in keeping yeast infections away, and if you're not catching enough Zzz's every night, it won't be able to properly function. Stress from sleep deprivation can increase the risk of yeast infections, according to Harvard Health. Even if you're planted in bed for eight hours a night, if you're tossing and turning, you're not getting the sleep you truly need. So prioritize getting enough restful shut-eye.
8. Consider Changing Your Diet
Yeast thrives off of sugar, especially processed and simple sugars, as well as grains and other glutinous foods. There's even a fully comprehensive program to inhibit yeast growth called the Candida Diet. Scientific American reported in 2018 that changing diet likely affects yeast infections by changing the content of your urine. Rachel Stone, MSN MPH, Pill Club’s Director of Triage, tells Bustle that sugar can be a major culprit in recurrent yeast infections as it can affect the pH balance in your vagina.
A study in mice published in American Society Of Microbiology mSphere in 2015 showed that there may be a link between diet and yeast infections, but Harvard Health points out that people who are eating poorly may also be placing their bodies under stress, impacting their immune system. If you're interested in trying a dietary change to help your yeast infections, consult with your doctor to see if it would make sense for you.
Dr. Felice Gersh, M.D.
Dr. Sherry Ross, M.D.
Dr. Jessica Shepherd, M.D.
Rachel Stone, MSN MPH
Gunsalus, K. T., Tornberg-Belanger, S. N., Matthan, N. R., Lichtenstein, A. H., & Kumamoto, C. A. (2015). Manipulation of Host Diet To Reduce Gastrointestinal Colonization by the Opportunistic Pathogen Candida albicans. mSphere, 1(1), e00020-15. https://doi.org/10.1128/mSphere.00020-15
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