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Yeast infections: Causes and treatments

Over 70 percent of women develop at least one yeast infection during their life and many women get more than one. A yeast infection is caused by an overgrowth of a fungi called Candida that can affect the vagina, vulva and surrounding area. Yeast is normally present in the vagina, but an infection can occur when the yeast multiplies resulting in a change in bacterial growth. There are four types of Candida that can cause yeast infections, but the majority of infections are caused by Candida albicans. Yeast infections may also occur in other areas of the body including the mouth (oral thrush), tongue and, if it progresses, the stomach. Want to learn how to beat Candida? Keep reading for the causes, treatments, and ways to prevent a yeast infection.

Woman and Pelvis

Is it an itch or an infection?

Itching in the genital area can be caused from an allergy, sensitivity to fabric, scented feminine hygiene products or a yeast infection, making it initially difficult to tell the difference. However, a yeast infection is characterized by persistent and/or worsening itching and burning around the vaginal area, and is commonly accompanied by vaginal discharge (which usually resembles cottage cheese), and painful urination and sex.

Causes of a yeast infection

A yeast infection can be caused by many factors including pregnancy, oral contraceptives, antibiotics, medications such as cortisone, and some medical conditions, such as diabetes or cancer. Cancer patients being treated with chemotherapy may experience oral thrush or a yeast infection.Diet may also play a role in yeast infections. Sugary foods and alcohol can cause the vaginal infection. Other causes include: frequent sexual intercourse in a short period of time, hot weather and non-ventilated clothing (increased moisture and warmth can foster a fungal infection), stress and a depressed immune system. Even though yeast infections occur primarily in women and are not considered a sexually transmitted disease, they can be passed on to your sexual partner.

Treatments for a yeast infection

There are many over the counter products to treat a yeast infection including vaginal tablets, caplets, ointments, creams, and suppositories that contain miconazole or clotrimazole. Your pharmacist can help you choose the product that is right for you. If you are uncertain as to what kind of infection you have or if it is your first apparent yeast infection, see your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.Although there is no clinical proof of their effectiveness, some popular alternative remedies include tea tree oil or yogurt introduced into the vagina via a tampon, garlic or honey applied to the area, or a soak in a tub of vinegar and water. If you are considering an alternative treatment, consult with a naturopath or another holistic health professional.

How to prevent yeast infections

Here are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of getting a yeast infection.1. Wipe from front to back. After urination or a bowel movement, wiping from back to front increases your risk of introducing bacteria from the rectum to the vagina or urethra.2. Avoid douching. Contrary to popular belief, douching should be avoided because it interrupts the bacteria balance in the vagina, reducing the amount of good bacteria and making way for an increase in the level of yeast.3. Use unscented feminine and/or laundry products. Scented feminine products, bubble bath, laundry detergent and fabric softeners can inflame the delicate skin in the genital area and contribute to the onset of a yeast infection.4. Air it out. Ditch the pantyhose and nylon underwear and choose cotton panties, which allow your body to breathe. Also, avoid tight-fitting pants or shorts.5. Dry off. Sitting around in wet clothing fosters a breeding ground for a yeast infection; be sure to dry yourself after swimming, bathing and exercising.6. Change your diet. Reduce your consumption of sugary foods and alcohol, and increase your intake of low-sugar or sugar-free yogurt that contains active bacteria (Lactobacillus acidophilus), which can help keep the levels of yeast in your body balanced.7. Get enough sleep. Inadequate sleep can negatively impact your immune system. Aim for eight solid hours a night.Although yeast infections are not fatal, they can be uncomfortable, difficult to get rid of, and recurring. Talk to your doctor if you frequently develop yeast infections to rule out another medical condition. And keep in mind that your best defense against Candida is prevention.

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