What is a yeast infection?
Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of the fungus, generally the candida albicans. This yeast is found naturally in the vagina in small amounts, but certain triggers can cause this fungus to grow unchecked, causing discomfort. Frequent repeated infections can be a sign of larger health issues, or a generally weakened immune system. These infections can be diagnosed with simple vaginal swabs in a doctor’s office, or can often be self-diagnosed by women who have already experienced yeast infections in the past. They are generally treated with over-the-counter medications. If medication does not work, you should seek medical attention, as it may be a sign that there is a larger issue requiring treatment.
What are the symptoms of yeast infections?
Yeast infections can have a series of benign yet uncomfortable symptoms. The most common symptoms are redness and itchiness, which are often the result of mild vaginal rashes; and thick, white vaginal discharge that often has a strong, unpleasant smell. Other side effects include pain and soreness during sex, and pain during urination. The symptoms of a yeast infection can vary in severity, depending on the woman and individual infection.
If there are complications related to the yeast infection, additional symptoms can include sores or tears in the vulva caused by more extreme rashes. Complications are more likely if a woman has diabetes, HIV, or is pregnant. Women who experience this type of severe symptom, or are at higher risk for complications, should consult a doctor for treatment.
How do I treat a yeast infection?
The most common treatment for a yeast infection is an over-the-counter antifungal cream, like Vagisil. These come in creams and medicated wipes, and are a great way to treat early symptoms of a yeast infection. Some women opt instead to use suppository capsules, like Monistat, which are inserted into the vagina. In certain cases, a doctor may prescribe a dose of an oral antifungal medication. Any of these methods should treat a yeast infection fully within a day or two. If your problem persists, consult your doctor to see if there is something more serious going on down there that requires additional treatment.
How can I prevent a yeast infection?
Preventing a yeast infection requires the same general guidelines as preventing any other type of vaginal infection, including wiping from front to back to avoid the spread of bacteria, wearing cotton underwear to prevent moisture from building up, and never douching to maintain the proper pH balance in the vagina. All of this will help keep bacteria at the proper level and avoid discomfort. However, there are a couple of interesting practices that are supposed to help prevent (and some say even help treat) yeast infections.
- Eat plenty of yogurt. Yogurt has the bacteria L. acidophilus that is also naturally found in the vagina. One of its jobs in our bodies is to stop the buildup of candida albicans, the bacteria that causes most yeast infections. Although studies on the link between yogurt intake and yeast infections has been limited, it suggests a positive trend that tells us that this bacteria may in fact make its way into the vagina and prevent yeast buildups, or help stop them once they have started. Despite the relatively small body of research, it seems that eating a cup of yogurt a day can’t hurt.
- Drink cranberry juice. Fresh cranberry juice, meaning the unsweetened, natural kind, helps regulate our urinary tracts by flushing out bacteria that normally cling to the mucus in our bodies. This has made cranberry juice a good, holistic treatment for UTIs, and now there is a growing link between cranberries and protection from yeast infections. This could be because the cranberry juice actually acidifies vaginal secretions, making it harder for the yeast to survive. For women who don’t like the taste of cranberry juice, cranberry pills are also available at most drug stores and have the same effect.
- Stay hydrated. It may seem obvious, but most women overlook hydration when they are dealing with infections. Especially with recurring yeast infections, an underlying cause could be a generally weakened immune system, which is only made worse by dehydration. Drinking plenty of water, in your day-to-day life and when you have signs of a yeast infection, can help combat the infection and even prevent it from happening because your body will be better prepared to handle the imbalance.
Like most vaginal infections, yeast infections are easy to treat and generally benign, especially if they are caught early. Always be sure to talk to your doctor if you have never had a yeast infection before, or if your symptoms have not subsided after treatment. If you have recurring yeast infections, try the holistic, preventative treatments to strengthen your immune system and keep yourself happy and healthy.