Symptoms of yeast infections are unmissable (hello, itchiness and discharge). The issue is one of the more frustrating realities of living with a vagina.
Yeast infections are very common (at least 80 percent of women will experience one in their lifetime, according to Kimberly Langdon, a retired OB/GYN who currently serves as a medical advisor at health services company Medzino Health. But some may be more prone to yeast infections than others. And if you find yourself plagued with recurring infections, there may be some specific factors to blame.
Here are a few of the most common reasons you may be getting yeast infections plus advice from medical experts on how to deal with them:
It might not be a yeast infection.
If you’re self-diagnosing, your guess might be off. According to Mary Jane Minkin, an OB/GYN and clinical professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine, “about a third of the time, a woman will indeed have a yeast infection if she is self-diagnosing. About a third of the time, she will have another type of infection, like a bacterial infection. And another third of the time, the woman will have some irritation from an allergen, like bubble bath, soap, a new detergent), which comes in contact with her vulva which mimics the itchiness and irritation of yeast.”
Minkin said that if you suspect you’re having recurring yeast infections, it’s important to get a professional opinion. “See your OB/GYN care provider for a culture and an exam, as you may indeed have something very different,” she said.
It could be your medication.
If your doctor prescribed you a course of antibiotics to fight off an infection, the pills may have also wiped out some of the “good bacteria” in your body in the process. Langdon said that this bacteria, known as lactobacillus, is crucial in maintaining the normal acidic pH of the vagina. Thus, having antibiotics kill it off can lead to a yeast infection.
If you have to take the medication, Minkin suggested also popping a probiotic to introduce more good bacteria into your body. And pay attention to other medications, too: Birth control and steroids may also contribute to yeast infections, added Natasha Bhuyan, a physician at the primary care network One Medical in Phoenix.
You’re using the wrong over-the-counter treatment.
Your local pharmacy sells many products designed to treat yeast infections ― but they might not always be beneficial in treating your specific infection.
“Over-the-counter antifungal medications may not work for every strain of yeast,” said Craig Salcido, an OB/GYN at Mission Hospital in Orange County, California. If the Monistat isn’t cutting it, for instance, Salcido said you may need a prescription to treat your yeast infection. “If your yeast infection keeps coming back, then it’s time to see a doctor,” he said.
Salcido added that it’s important to complete the full course of treatment in order to properly wipe out the infection, even if your symptoms go away. “Incomplete treatment may not reduce the yeast down to a level the body can handle,” he said.
Blame it on outside factors, like condoms or soap.
Yeast infections are primarily caused by anything that changes your typical vaginal flora, like spermicide, certain types of condoms or sperm itself, Bhuyan added that even soaps ― especially scented ones ― or douching can cause yeast infections, not prevent them, as some may be led to believe. “Which is why I advise patients to avoid douching … vaginas have their own natural cleansing system,” she said.
You’re stressed out.
Salcido agreed, noting that stress can cause fluctuations in estrogen, which can trigger a yeast infection. Changes in estrogen levels from birth control, pregnancy or perimenopause can also lead to the growth of yeast, he said.
If you notice that you get more yeast infections when you are feeling high-strung, try addressing the underlying stressors, said Diana Ramos, an OB/GYN and chair of the National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative (PCHHC), public-private partnership of 100+ organizations working to improve the health and wellness of young adults and advance quality women-centered health care. “And make sure you are eating well, sleeping and exercising to decrease your stress,” she added.
You’re living in dirty workout clothes
Do you find yourself hitting the gym hard and then lingering in your sweaty clothes afterwards? That could be leading to your discomfort. “A warm, wet and dark environment is the perfect breeding ground for yeast,” Salcido said. “This includes workout clothes and swimsuits.”
To prevent yeast infections, he suggested wearing loose-fitting cotton clothing at the gym or making sure to change out of tight yoga pants right after class.
You’ve got an underlying medical condition.
In more rare instances, yeast infections can be caused by an illness or disease. “Anything that lowers immunity such as HIV infection, chemotherapy, severe underlying illness or diabetes will leave one prone to fungus infections,” said Laurence Gerlis, founder of SameDayDoctor, a branch of medical clinics in the United Kingdom.
Ultimately, make sure to get a doctor’s opinion on anything if you’re ever unsure. Yeast infections ― whether they’re recurring or a one-time situation ― can be easily diagnosed and treated by a physician.