When it comes to taking care of your health, asking questions never hurts. But is it always worth a visit to your doctor? We’re asking experts to weigh in on your burning questions—from feminine to general health and everything in between—so you can get advice from a pro before you go. The doctor will see you now.
The dreaded yeast infection. You don’t want to think about it or talk about it, but more than anything, you don’t want to deal with it.
A healthy vagina has many bacteria and a small number of yeast cells, and discharge down there is a normal part of a healthy monthly cycle. But if it seems like something’s not right, trust your gut and get your doctor’s opinion.
All yeast infections are a type of vaginal inflammation caused by the fungus candida (don’t Google it). Dr. John Fejes, MD, FACOG, and an OB-GYN at the Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula, explains that the environment down there “is a perfect setup of temperature and microbial/fungal colonization to trigger an imbalance and therefore an overgrowth of one or the other flora.”
Like urinary tract infections, warm weather can increase yeast infections and the discomfort that can come with them. Other common causes are stress, medication change, certain types of fabric or clothing detergents, an unhealthy weight, not eating properly, oral contraceptives, and a compromised immune system.
For some, yeast infection is chronic and will return several times a year. The majority of women will have a yeast infection at least once in their life. With proper hygiene and Dr. Fejes’ tips below, it doesn’t have to happen more times than that.
01. Don’t douche.
Dr. Fejes says, “When a woman douches she removes microbial and fungal elements crucial to vaginal balance and pH balance.” He urges it should be largely avoided; most of the time, it isn’t necessary because the vagina's acidity level controls bacteria naturally. Warm water and mild, unscented soap should be enough to clean the area.
If your provider does recommend douching, Dr. Fejes suggests discussing options for natural techniques rather than drugstore products. These may involve “clean water, apple cider vinegar, calendula herb, rosemary, and salts,” but again, should be used only under the care of a medical professional.
02. If there’s an odor, see your doctor.
“Burning, itching, discharge, vaginal discomfort” are typical symptoms of a yeast infection, says Dr. Fejes. Every woman may experience some variations, and those with “underlying issues, like diabetes, and other immunosuppressive states” may experience mixed symptoms, like severe swelling or itching, split skin, or sores. “Some women seek help when the infection is resolving and the body has already fought the issue,” says Dr. Fejes.
Normal cervical fluids should be clear, white, or off-white with a mild scent or no scent at all. It is yellowish when it dries. To differentiate between this and a yeast infection, look for a thick white clumpy discharge (similar to cottage cheese) that is odorless or has a yeasty smell (like bread or beer). But if a foamy, grayish discharge and bad odor (strong, fishy) are present, the cause is likely bacterial. He recommends seeking medical help in this situation, as an over-the-counter antifungal won't treat the problem.
03. There’s a reason summer is prime time for UTIs and yeast infections.
“With UTI being prevalent seasonally, treatment of those infections with antibiotics can lead to increases in yeast infections,” says Dr. Fejes. If your provider prescribes antibiotics for a UTI or any other condition, Dr. Fejes recommends asking for antifungals, too. “The provider will tell you if that particular antibiotic needs antifungal coverage,” he says.
04. Think twice about your underwear.
To decrease your risk of developing a yeast infection, wear the right clothing and underwear this season. Dr. Fejes recommends “loose-fitting clothing, cotton underwear—no silk, no thongs.” The fewer opportunities you allow for fungus or bacteria to thrive, the less likely you are to develop a yeast infection.
Hang up your soaked suit and switch into a light and airy style so that you can enjoy all the summer fun—without the fungus.
Photo Credit: Horn Photography