Recurring Yeast Infections

A vaginal yeast infection is a fungal infection that causes irritation, increased discharge, strong odors, and an intense itchiness of the vulva, and vagina. It's a type of vaginitis, or inflammation of the vagina, and infections occur when there are too many bacteria and yeast. If you have the infections, four or more within a year, you might need a maintenance plan and a longer treatment course.

Why Do You Have Recurring Yeast Infections?

1.    The Genetic Link

Candida albicans is a fungal pathogen, and it is the fungus most responsible for vaginal yeast infections. The immune response in healthy individuals will usually clear up infections, but a compromised immune system causes a significant increase in the risk for Candida infections. Genetic mutations might make some women more susceptible to Candida albicans because these genetic defects can’t create key proteins to make that defense possible.

2.    Balanitis

Balanitis (yeast infection in men) is an inflammation of the foreskin and head of the penis. Balanitis generally affects uncircumcised males, and the foreskin and head become red and inflamed. The condition is often the result of Candida albicans, the same organism that causes women vaginal yeast infections. Even when a woman’s yeast infection clears up, her partner can re-infect her.

3.    Are You Pregnant?

It is believed that higher glycogen and higher estrogen levels in vaginal secretions during pregnancy increase a woman’s risk of developing a yeast infection. As a result of these hormonal changes, the vaginal secretions of pregnant women contain more glucose, which can feed the Candida albicans and create an overabundant growth of yeast cells. The higher amounts of hormones can kill off more of the good bacteria that keep yeast infections in check.

4.    Panty Liners Make It Worse

The use of skin-occlusive products such as panty liners, especially scented liners, is known to raise skin pH and is associated with skin infections of Candida albicans. Women who are prone to recurring yeast infections shouldn’t use panty liners because they can prevent air flow and trap moisture, creating the kind of conditions that will promote yeast cell growth and make it worse.

5.    Your Immune System

A weakened immune system resulting from disease, or use of corticosteroids that suppress the immune system might make you more susceptible to yeast infections. Women taking antibiotics might develop a yeast infection because the antibiotics kill the good bacteria then allow Candida albicans to grow unabated. Steroids can also make it difficult for your immune system to fight against a yeast infection, because they counteract the inflammation that is a necessary for an immune response.

6.    Approaching Menopause?

Vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina that can result in discharge, itching and pain, and vaginitis can result from reduced estrogen levels during the years leading up to and including menopause. Reduced estrogen levels may cause an imbalance in your vaginal bacteria, which may encourage Candida growth. However, if you’re past menopause, the irritation and itch that feel like a yeast infection might be a symptom of something more serious.

What Can You Do to Treat It?

Treatment of a recurring yeast infection is typically with the help of antifungal medications called azoles. These medications can be purchased over-the-counter or by prescription in higher concentrations through your health care provider, and come in various forms, such as suppositories, medicated tampons, and vaginal creams. The medications might include:

  • Monistat (miconazole)
  • Terazol (terconazole)
  • Gyne-Lotrimin (clotrimazole)
  • Gynazole (butoconazole)
  • Vagistat (tioconazole)

The vaginal therapy lasts one to seven days, depending on the product. These treatments are effective if your yeast infections are caused by C. albicans. However, some infections are caused by other Candida species, such as C. glabrata, which may require treatment with a Mycostatin (nystatin) tablet or vaginal cream, a vaginal gel containing flucytosine and the antifungal amphotericin B, or other treatment.

How to Prevent the Recurring Yeast Infections

1.   Mind Your Underwear

Avoid synthetic underwear and wear cotton instead, or underwear that has a cotton lining in the crotch. Cotton increases air flow, decreases moisture buildup, and allows more air to reach your genital area and try not wearing underwear at night when you sleep.

2.   Avoid Douching and Hot Tubs

Douching may worsen yeast infection symptoms because it removes healthy bacteria that line the vagina and helps protect against infection. Hot tubs can also remove healthy bacteria and contribute to yeast infections in the genital area by encouraging Candida species growth.

3.   Avoid Nonoxynol-9

Products containing nonoxynol-9 are used as vaginal spermicides, and are a widely used in condoms. Some medical studies have linked it to an increase in recurring yeast infections. So read your package and throw away all your latex condoms.

4.   Avoid Scented Products

Avoid using fragrances, hygiene sprays, or powders in the genital area, and not tampons while you have an infection. Scented products, such as tampons or pads, can also lead to problems with yeast infections. They can upset the balance of your vaginal flora and cause irritation, both of which could lead to a yeast infection.

5.   Wipe from Front to Back

Always practice good hygiene when you clean or wipe your vaginal area, it's always best to do it from front to back. Otherwise, you may introduce more bacteria and fungus into your vaginal area, and remember to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.

6.   Keep Dry and Loose

Moisture is your enemy as it relates to yeast infections, because it encourages fungal growth. Therefore, be sure to keep dry and change out of wet bathing suits or sweaty clothes as soon as possible. Tight-fitting clothing is no friend either, because it keeps moisture close to your body. Try to pick clothing that is loose-fitting and allows for air-flow.

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