Yeast infections can be extremely uncomfortable, and can also be emotionally distressing for the women who suffer from them. It is important we understand how to treat them with care, sensitivity and effectiveness.
It is also important that women understand that yeast infections are common and should in no way be thought of as having any stigma. Treatments are readily available, and yeast infections are not permanent.
Symptoms of Yeast Infections
Itching or burning sensation
The most significant and frustrating symptom of yeast infections is an itching and burning sensation around or in the vulva area.
The most immediate way to treat a yeast infection is with an antifungal cream, which will help to kill off the infection, but, as we will see, there are other ways in which the symptoms can be alleviated.
Important to remember is that different people respond differently to medication, so you will need to be aware that some treatments that work for others may not be the best treatment for you.
In most cases, yeast infections respond well to over the counter treatments (OTCs), but if the infection persists, see a doctor.
A thick, white discharge
A notable symptom of a yeast infection is a discharge from your genitals. It will usually be thick and white. In most cases this discharge will mean you have a yeast infection, and this is among the commonest identifiers.
Rash or soreness around the vulva
Irritability around the vulva in the form of a rash or some itchy distress is also a common symptom.
In some cases, of course, the rash may be caused by an irritation from tight clothing or new laundry detergent, and it is worth checking your routines to see if that is plausible. If that’s the case, modifying your habits can help reduce the rash or itchiness.
More distressingly, there are occasions when this kind of rash or itch is a symptom not of a yeast infection but of a more serious ailment. In some cases, this itch and soreness will be due to bacterial vaginosis or a sexually transmitted infection (STI). In those cases, it’s very important to see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment and/or to head to a sexual health clinic.
In no way should you fear discussing these symptoms with any doctor. Do not let any embarrassment or social factor limit or hold back necessary medical diagnosis and treatment.
Pain during sex
Pain during sex can be a clear symptom of a possible yeast infection.
The causes of this are relatively complex but can be summarized as follows.
- Firstly, the pain could be on account of the fact that yeast naturally feeds on sugar, and when it’s present in the vaginal area it can cause soreness and irritation. During sex, this rash or soreness can be exacerbated.
- Secondly, the infection-causing fungi can sometimes grow quickly and block the natural lubrication that your genitals produce to support pleasure and comfort during sex. The reduction in lubrication caused by the yeast infection then leads to dryness and discomfort during intercourse.
If you have any such symptoms, see your doctor or visit your STI Clinic.
It’s important that you treat the infection to ensure you can return to enjoying a healthy and pleasurable sex life again.
Treating Yeast Infections
Over-the-counter antifungal creams
This is probably the most common way of treating a yeast infection. Antifungal creams contain active ingredients that work to kill off the fungus responsible for your infection. They are generally considered safe, relatively affordable, and can be used without a prescription.
In spite of their general wide levels of applicability and suitability, in some cases some creams won’t work for everyone, as the nature of particular yeast infections and the effectiveness of the application of the creams can vary.
In those circumstances, be prepared to be frank with your doctor or pharmacist to ensure that you get the right treatment or cream for you, or the one with the best method of application.
Prescription antifungal medications
In the case of more serious or sustained infections, prescription antifungal medications are perhaps better, as they are often stronger and more potent than over-the-counter treatments.
However, with that potency comes a slightly greater degree of risk, so ensure you are frank with your doctor so that they can diagnose you the correct prescription option.
Generally speaking, prescription antifungal medications are only recommended in cases where over-the-counter treatments have failed or infections are severe.
Natural remedies such as yogurt and garlic
It may not sound convincing, but there is strong evidence that diet can help control the likelihood of vaginal yeast infections. Yogurt, in particular, is packed with healthy bacteria that can help fight off the growth of yeast. You can apply it topically around the vaginal area, or, of course, enjoy it in your diet.
It is a similar story with garlic, whose antifungal properties are renowned. Crushing garlic into a paste and applying it to the affected area can also help reduce inflammation and provide relief. Be aware, of course, that garlic has a strong smell that may prove socially embarrassing in some circumstances, so be sure to take that into account as you determine the best option.
In addition, generally speaking it is best to wear loose clothing during any period of yeast infections, so bear that in mind prior to using garlic.
Home remedies such as apple cider vinegar
This remedy is another traditional one using a highly effective anti-bacterial and anti-fungal ingredient. Apple cider vinegar’s properties can help reduce the symptoms of a yeast infection if used well. As a food stuff, it also helps to balance out the acidity level in the body, which is important for keeping the yeast at bay.
To use it, as with yogurt and garlic, it is effective incorporated into your diet.
You can also, however, add it to bathwater, where it will circulate effectively.
Home remedies like these tend to take more time than other treatments, but they can be excellent as complementary therapies and as preventative approaches for any further infections, as discussed below.
Preventing Yeast Infections
Wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing
Tight clothing naturally brings heat to the body and can trap in bacteria and moisture, which allows yeast to grow and potentially lead to infections. The skin, and the genital areas in particular, need to have air around them as much as is reasonably possible, as this assists in their hygiene.
If you’re prone to yeast infections, monitor your clothing choices. Try to wear cotton and linen as much as possible. Avoid synthetic fabrics like lycra and polyester, as these are less breathable and may be more likely to aggravate the infection.
In addition, change out of sweaty or wet clothes. After a workout, do not remain in your gym gear if you have worked up a sweat. Unfortunately, many of the clothes we enjoy wearing today are tight-fitting, so we need to monitor our behavior in relation to that.
Avoid scented products
You may love a scented product, but be aware that many products, such as perfumes, body sprays, and scented body washes contain chemicals that can irritate sensitive skin and increase the risk of a yeast infection.
The science behind this is quite interesting. Usually, yeast infections occur when the normally-harmless candida organisms on your skin grow in number, which can be triggered by an imbalance in PH levels. Scented products can disrupt the delicate PH balance on your skin and lead to an infection.
Unscented products are therefore the safer option, as they will interfere less with your PH levels and are unlikely to stimulate yeast growth.
Wipe from front to back
Anal wiping may not come immediately to mind when we think of vaginal yeast infections, but this is a very useful tip.
How you wipe your bottom after a poo can impact the possibility of vaginal yeast infections.
So wipe from front to back to ensure that there is much less risk of any germs from the anus spreading to the genitals or urethra.
Many people also suggest that you use separate toilet roll for your private parts and your anus. This is a healthy preventative habit to get into, as it further minimizes the possibility of bacterial infections in the genitalia that come from anal bacteria.
All treatments for yeast infections benefit from a clean in the affected areas beforehand. Use warm water and an unscented soap or cleanser to clean the outside of your genitals before you apply any topical treatment.
Given the way moisture supports yeast growth, it’s also a good idea to try to keep your genital area as dry as possible.
You can do this by avoiding tight clothing, pantyhose or tights, and synthetic fabrics. Far better is to choose an undergarment that is made from cotton or linen or lace, which are much airier and more natural.
Avoid hot tubs and swimming pools
During an infection, it is essential you avoid these environments. These are environments that are full of bacteria and in spite of their reputations for health they are breeding grounds for many infections.
Avoid them completely until your infection is completely gone!
This is not an instant solution, as probiotics are not like antibiotics, in that they take time to work on the body. That said, if you have a yeast infection, it can be a very good idea to start building up the body’s overall resilience and defenses by adding probiotics to your diet. Their great ability is to balance out the good and bad bacteria in the body and there have been studies that have shown that those women with a healthy gut and good levels of probiotics in their diet have a smaller risk of contracting a yeast infection.
Related to the above point on probiotics, eating yogurt can be a wise move during a yeast infection. Yogurt is full of probiotics, which, as we said, can restore the balance of good and bad bacteria in your digestive system and reduce your chances of developing a yeast infection.
Best of all is to eat plain yogurt or an unsugared greek yogurt. Too much sugar can lead to yeast growth in our bodies, the very opposite of what we want!
Change out of wet clothing quickly
This is an essential part of overall common sense hygiene at all times, but especially when you have a yeast infection.
When your skin absorbs sweat or moisture from bathing, it can create an environment that is conducive to yeast growth. In addition, wet clothes cling, and therefore act as irritants to the most sensitive areas of the body.
You might think douching is healthy, but it can in fact be very counterproductive.
This is because your genitalia naturally produces a protective mucus that helps keep everything balanced. Douching interrupts this balance, as it washes away the protective layer and leaves the female genitals vulnerable to infections, including STIs as well as yeast infections, due to the loss of good bacteria in the labia.
This is a form of cleanliness that can, in fact, be counterproductive.