Dr. Allison Giles sheds some light on what causes this common summertime ailment – and what you can do about it.
It’s hot girl summer! Nothing like getting ready to go do hot girl…stuff, only to feel the telltale signs of…a yeast infection! Guaranteed to ruin your fun faster than another quarantine. This is the time of year when we see a lot of patients with yeast infections, so I thought I would share some information about this hot topic.
Let’s take a look at how to know if you have one, what you can do for treatment, and ways to prevent future infections – so you can get back to enjoying your hot girl summer!
How common are yeast infections and what causes them?
Yeast infections are common!! In fact, they are the second most common cause of vaginal infections behind bacterial vaginitis. Approximately one-third of all vaginal infections are yeast infections.
Yeast is an organism that thrives in a warm, damp environment. This is why we see more of these infections in the summer (think wet bathing suits). However, with more of us literally living in yoga pants, infections have been up year-round since the pandemic.
Are there any risk factors?
Most of the time, yeast infections are random. However, there are certain risk factors that do predispose a person to getting one. Poorly controlled diabetes, for instance, can cause recurrent yeast infections. Recently finishing a course of antibiotics can also cause a yeast infection because it wipes out the normal bacteria in the vagina that would normally protect you from getting one.
Increased estrogen levels, such as those seen during pregnancy (as if you needed one more thing to make you uncomfortable!) and postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy can also make you more prone to an infection. Another cause of yeast infections is immunosuppression—seen in those patients who are taking longer courses of steroids, have HIV, or are on immunosuppressive medications.
What are the signs and symptoms of a yeast infection?
So how do you know if you have one? The number one symptom of a yeast infection is itching! Internal and external itching in the vulvar area is usually significant if there’s an infection. The vagina and vulva appear red, even swollen.
A yeast infection can cause a variety of symptoms, so how do you know you have a yeast infection? The Mayo Clinic says you should watch for:
- Itching, burning, and soreness in the affected area.
- Redness and swelling in the affected area.
- White, thick discharge that may resemble cottage cheese in texture and appearance, especially in women.
- Painful urination or sex.
- Rash or bumps on the skin, often accompanied by itching.
It is important to note that not everyone with a yeast infection experiences all of these symptoms, and some people may have no symptoms at all. If you suspect that you have a yeast infection, it is best to see a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.The classic vaginal discharge description for yeast infection is cottage cheese (super sexy, I know). However, this discharge is not always present, which may make it hard to self-diagnose. You also probably won’t notice a smell: yeast infections cause minimal odor and do not change the pH of the vagina.
What should you do if you think you have a yeast infection?
Ok, so you know you have something going on down there, but how do you know for sure that it’s a yeast infection? Come on into the office!
We are happy to see you, (usually the same day!) for diagnosis and treatment. We will do a pelvic exam (yay! I know!) and usually be able to differentiate a yeast infection from a bacterial infection by running some tests in the office.
Sometimes, we will send a swab of the discharge to a lab that can give us more detailed results. (Side note: yeast infections are not sexually transmitted, but whenever you’re in our office is a good time for STI testing.)
This visit with your doctor is also a good opportunity to discuss what could have caused the infection so you can possibly prevent it in the future.
Why am I getting recurrent yeast infections?
If you find yourself in our office for this problem four or more times in one year, this is the definition of recurrent yeast infections. A more thorough workup will be done to determine if there is an underlying medical problem (such as diabetes) that may be the root cause. Recurrent yeast infections may require longer-term treatment and lifestyle changes.
How are yeast infections treated?
Skip the at-home yeast infection treatment you read about on social media and call your healthcare provider for treatment. Home remedies for yeast infections, things like oil of oregano or apple cider vinegar, are less effective than what your provider will prescribe.
Treating vaginal yeast infections can be as easy as taking one pill, called Diflucan, one time, and using some cream externally to help alleviate symptoms. Your provider can write you the Diflucan prescription and recommend an antifungal medication like a treatment cream.
Can you do anything to prevent yeast infections?
Yes! To prevent these obnoxious infections, try some of the following:
- Change out of your wet swimsuit as soon as you can. If you’re sweating in your workout leggings, change them – don’t spend all day working in them (something we’ve seen a lot over the past year!).
- When you bathe, use an unscented hypoallergenic soap to cleanse the vulvar area. NEVER wash inside the vagina because, like taking antibiotics, this will wash away the protective bacteria and allow yeast and infective bacteria to take over.
- Sleep without underwear. You heard me! During the day, wear breathable cotton underwear. Stay away from harsh laundry detergents.
- If over-the-counter yeast infection treatments are not providing substantial relief, you may have a less common type of yeast infection; or it may not be a yeast infection at all. The fastest way to figure it out, get it treated, and get on with your hot girl summer is to come to see us.