While the vagina normally contains some yeast, an overgrowth can cause an infection. "There's a very delicate balance between the yeast and the good bacteria," gastroenterologist Dr. Roshini Raj says. "If anything throws off that balance — and often it's something like antibiotics, or if they're taking a medication like steroids — then the yeast has a chance to really overgrow."
Yeast infections can be itchy and painful. If they occur frequently, make sure to see a doctor. It could be a sign of an immune deficiency.
Other causes for yeast infections can include an increase in estrogen levels and douching. While some women may feel douching cleans them up "down there," it actually may change the acidity of the vagina and promote the growth of bacteria and yeast infections. It may even increase sexually transmitted diseases by disrupting the vagina's natural defense system.
"The vagina is a self-cleaning oven," OB-GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson explains. "You do not, absolutely do not, need to douche." In addition to douching, women should avoid perfume-scented tampons, because they contain chemicals that can upset the natural balance of the vagina.
• Vaginal irritation
• Intense itchiness
• A white, curd-like discharge
Over-the-counter antifungal creams can be used to alleviate symptoms. Additionally, your doctor can prescribe a one-time, single dose oral medication. See your doctor if symptoms do not go away, or if they return within two months of treatment.
• Eat yogurt that contains live cultures of lactobacillus acidophilus, a natural, "friendly" bacteria.
• Wear breathable, cotton underwear. No thongs!
• Avoid wearing tight-fitting pants and shorts, and nylon pantyhose.
• Change out of wet workout gear or swimwear immediately after activity, because damp environments are ideal places for a yeast infection to grow.
• Avoid douching, scented powders and/or scented tampons.
"No spaghetti-strap kind of underwear," Dr. Lisa says. "You need to wear cotton-crotch underwear, so no nylon. They need to have a good fit, and if you can, go commando at night."
Oral Yeast Infection
Is it possible to get an oral yeast infection, or thrush, from engaging in oral sex?
"It absolutely is," Dr. Lisa says. "You can transfer sexually transmitted diseases and yeast infections orally."
Thrush can cause redness, soreness or white patches that may bleed in the mouth or on the tongue. You may be at higher risk of contracting thrush if you are taking certain antibiotics, have diabetes, if your immune system is compromised, or if you engage in oral sex with someone who has a yeast infection.
If you suffer from frequent thrush infections, be sure to see your doctor. It can be treated with anti-fungal mouth rinses or lozenges, and probiotics.
"And often, women and men can pass their yeast infections back and forth," Dr. Lisa says. "Oral sex is not safe sex as far as STDs [are concerned]."
Dr. Lisa cautions that although sex can be healthy, too much of it can cause an unbalance of bacteria in the vagina, which can lead to yeast infections or urinary tract infections. To help prevent these conditions, women should have the man wear a condom, urinate after sex and take a birth control pill, which will heighten a woman’s estrogen levels and help regulate the pH balance in her vagina.