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, because 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," Dr. Lisa 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.
Yeast Infection Prevention Tips:
• Eat yogurt that contains live cultures of lactobacillus acidophilus, a natural, "friendly" bacteria.
• Wear breathable, cotton underwear.
• 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.
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.
Are Thongs Wrong?
Wearing thongs may eliminate panty lines, but they can also bring about other, more harmful problems. By exclusively wearing thongs, women put themselves at risk for urinary tract and yeast infections because bacteria can travel up the string of the thong into the urethra and vagina, "which is really the source of what the problems are,” urologist and sexual health expert Dr. Jennifer Berman says.
Dr. Lisa advises wearing cotton underwear that breathes, because it will help keep the vagina at a healthy pH balance. “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.”
Edible underwear can be fun for your sex life, but beware: it can cause yeast infections. If edible underwear is your idea of fun, be sure to wash down below immediately after wearing them to avoid infection.