So, you survive another period just to be confronted with the itch and burn of a yeast infection. (Dun, dun dun…)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a vaginal yeast infection is an overgrowth of Candida, a fungus that normally exists in your genital area without much cause for concern.
Yeast infections are common. According to a research review, they affect 70% to 75% of vagina owners at some point in their lives. The vast majority of yeast infections are caused by Candida, but other fungus strains can grow too much and cause infection.
Typical vaginal bacteria usually keep yeast in check. But when something disrupts that balance (hello, period), you could end up in an itchy situation. If you have four or more yeast infections in a year, it’s officially a case of recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis.
There are many factors that can lead to a vaginal yeast infection. For example, when you take a course of antibiotics, the population of bacteria in your vagina dies down and the little yeasties can grow wild.
The same research review above showed that hormone fluctuations can also disrupt the delicate balance of your vaginal microbiome. That’s why some folks are at a higher risk for yeast infections. Some factors that raise your risk, include:
- taking hormonal birth control with higher estrogen
- receiving postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy
Cyclical yeast infections occur when estrogen surges between ovulation and menstruation. Then, the symptoms resolve when the period starts. But people have their unique microbiomes, and hormonal imbalance could be a perfect environment for yeast overgrowth following your period.
FYI — Recurrent yeast infections are associated with yeast strains that are resistant to common antifungals (aka “super fungi”).
A general practitioner or OB-GYN can diagnose a yeast infection (or other vaginal ailments). Prepare to give them a rundown of your symptoms.
They’ll evaluate your medical history. Some conditions can increase your risk for yeast infections, like diabetes or illnesses that weaken your immune system.
They may also perform a pelvic exam to look for symptoms of irritation and discharge that are common with a yeast infection. Lastly, they might take a “swab” sample from your vagina to look at under a microscope.
Your friend at yoga, the hippie lady at the vitamin store, a random message board on Reddit… they all probably have ideas about how to treat your yeast the holistic way.
They’re not necessarily off base. But here’s a sampling of home remedies you can try for relief:
- One small study indicated that probiotics containing Lactobacillus will inhibit overgrowth of Candida.
- Another small study showed that applying a yogurt/honey mixture could relieve symptoms.
- According to Harvard Health Publishing, you can safely use coconut oil, petroleum jelly, or olive oil on your vulva to soothe irritation.
- Tea tree oil and apple cider vinegar are sometimes recommended as antimicrobials for yeast infections, but be wary because they can burn and irritate.
Over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medications are a great first to a more balanced biome. External antifungal creams can soothe the itch. Medication inserted into your vagina will kill the overgrown yeast if your symptoms are caused by an actual yeast infection and if it’s an overgrowth of Candida.
Infections from strains of Candida (or other types of fungal infections) can’t be treated effectively until the source of the infection is confirmed by a lab test. Your doctor can prescribe a combo of medications including antifungal cream, suppositories, or oral medication to knock out that yeast infection.
These are instances when it’s best to get a professional opinion about your itchy crotch instead of suffering in silence:
- If it’s your first time with an infection like this, it’s better for a doctor to confirm your suspicion that it’s yeast.
- If home remedies and OTC treatments aren’t helping, you may need a different (or stronger) medication.
- If you have recurrent yeast infections, your doctor can set you up with long-term treatment.
- If you have diabetes, HIV, or a condition that suppresses your immune system, infections are nothing to mess with.
Another good reason to call a doctor is to be sure you don’t have a more serious type of infection. According to the Office on Women’s Health, symptoms of a yeast infection are often the same as bacterial vaginosis or some sexually transmitted illnesses.
Warning: Overuse of antifungal treatments can lead to growing a colony of treatment-resistant fungi. You don’t want to pick a fight with them.
Try these tips to lower your chances of getting a yeast infection in the first place:
- Change pads, tampons, and panty liners often.
- Take probiotics to support a healthy microbiome.
- Wear cotton underwear and loose pants.
- Skip soap and douches (your vagina cleans itself).
- Avoid scented products because they can cause irritation.
- Wash your genitals with water only.
- If you have diabetes, tighter blood sugar management will reduce your risk of yeast infections.
Your period sucks enough without an encore yeast infection. Yeast infections can recur around your period because of hormonal fluctuations that alter the balance of microbes that coexist in a healthy vagina.
If you get repeated yeast infections, definitely call a doctor to be sure you get the right treatment for your situation.