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 for 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 quite 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 symptoms of a yeast infection?
So how do you know if you have one? The number one symptom 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.
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 STD 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. 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) which may be the root cause.
How are yeast infections treated?
Treating 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 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 see us.