Statistics state that most women will get at least one dreaded yeast infection in their lifetime; 50% will get two or more. So what is this annoying fungus that causes so much vaginal misery?
Most yeast infections are caused by Candida albicans. This fungus is normally found in the vagina in small quantities (along with other bacteria that are present in a healthy vagina). However, when the vaginal environment is disturbed, these yeast cells can overgrow, resulting in an infection. Symptoms can include itching, soreness of the vagina, burning when urinating and pain during sexual activity. In many cases women notice a thick, whitish discharge. Women today are used to taking charge, and when symptoms occur, will often buy an over-the-counter cure. The problem is that 2 out of 5 women actually misdiagnose their symptoms which can lead to serious health problems. What they may miss is the fact that the infection was caused by a combination of yeast and bacteria – which requires a different treatment. Another possibility is that the infection may be caused by less common fungi for which the best known over-the-counter brands are not targeted to treat and so they won’t be effective. The symptoms may be similar, but if you’re not completely sure, please see a doctor for correct diagnosis.
What are the primary causes of yeast infections and can they be prevented?
Antibiotics are probably the major culprit. They literally kill the good bacteria present in the vagina, thus upsetting the balance of its healthy environment and allowing yeast fungi to proliferate. As a result, yeast infections are quite common following a round of antibiotics. Taking a good quality probiotic or eating yogurt with probiotic cultures is a good way to repopulate the good bacteria and keep yeast infections at bay.
The third largest reason why women visit a doctor (after the common cold and flu) is for vaginal infections, which are mainly due to the use of inappropriate products in the intimate area. Soaps, body washes, bubble baths, bath salts, feminine deodorant sprays, douches and, above all, vaginal lubricants are loaded with ingredients that should not be used in the vaginal area. Why? Many hazardous ingredients, such as chemical fragrances, coloring, dyes, harmful anti-bacterial agents, flavoring, and allergens, are added to make a product look more appealing. They are especially risky if the product is used intra-vaginally – which lubricants must be if they’re to be effective. All intra-vaginal products must be FDA approved; however, few are. Without going through required FDA tests, they are unsafe and actually illegal if they are for sold for intra-vaginal use. Rely on FDA approved, pH balanced, non-allergenic products for healthy choices.
Other ways to avoid infections: Yeast lives in your underwear so cotton panties are best for limiting yeast overgrowth. Synthetics and tight garments like activewear need thorough washing with fragrance-free laundry soaps. Removing damp garments quickly is another protective measure. If you already have a yeast infection, use panty liners and toss them often. Avoid using the same towel to dry yourself to avoid re-infection. To cleanse the intimate area, use a pH-balanced, non-allergenic wash (don’t use soap, especially deodorant soaps or vaginal deodorant spray). Condoms can promote yeast infections, especially if they’re treated with spermicide and other chemicals for killing the HIV virus.
As we age and our vaginal environment changes from acidic to alkaline, the chances for infection increases. You’re careful with products you use on your face; your intimate area requires equal care. Spending a little more for the right product is often your best choice.