Yeast infections are like wool blankets in two ways: They are usually excruciatingly itchy, and summer is the best time to think about ditching them. Summer is a time when we want to be active and live our best bikini-laden lives — which is why it’s unfortunate that this is a time when we’re more likely to develop a yeast infection, according to Dr. Diane Young, an OB/GYN at Cleveland Clinic.
“A small amount of yeast can live in the vagina,” Young says. “But when the yeast overgrows there, that becomes a yeast infection, which can cause vaginal discharge more like cottage cheese. It can be clumpy, white liquid. There’s usually itching and no odor.”
It may not be a fun topic to think about, but it’s an important one to know about for the sake of your general and vaginal health. Chronic yeast infections can mean there are larger issues, such as diabetes, Young says, so it's important to care for them as soon as they occur.
Why are yeast infections more common in summer?
“A yeast infection is fungal, and fungal infections stereotypically like to grow in areas that are moist and dark,” Young says. “In the summer, there’s more sweating and moisture in general. And with summer humidity, it can be more common.”
So, this is something to be wary of as you do summer workouts, swim, and just sweat more in general.
What causes yeast infections?
There’s not just one thing that causes a yeast infection, Young says. It could be your body reacting to something specific, or it could be a larger issue within your system. People with diabetes, HIV, or who are pregnant, and those who are overweight are more likely to develop them, according to Young. But it can also be a reaction to staying in a moist swimming suit all day or a scented bath soap that reacts poorly with your system.
Young says taking antibiotics can also cause infection because it can kill the healthy bacteria in your vagina called Lactobacilli, which keeps your pH levels normal. Similarly, taking birth control with high levels of estrogen can also throw off the your “vaginal flora” (the bacteria that lives in your vagina), Young explains.
Does it matter what you wear down there?
Young recommends wearing white, cotton underwear, especially in the summer. This fabric is breathable, and it has no dyes that could irritate you. If you work out, you should change immediately after, because staying in moist clothing can cause issues. Remember: Yeast loves to grow where it's dark and moist.
June Gupta, NP, associate director of medical standards at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, says it’s a good idea to avoid wearing tight, synthetic undergarments, such as nylon and spandex, which don't allow the area to breathe, trapping heat and moisture.
Can swimming give you a yeast infection?
If you’re worried about yeast infections, think about taking care of your vagina after a swim the way you think about applying sunscreen before one. “We tend to keep bathing suits on too long after swimming, and the same goes for hot tubs and jacuzzis," Young says. “Take off swimming suits, shower, and get into some dry clothing after a swim,”
She says it’s also important to be mindful of where you’re swimming, especially if it's in a lake with more bacteria and microorganisms floating around. You never know what’s in the water and what could be disruptive to your vaginal flora. Tread carefully.
I love scented bath bombs and body wash...
Gupta says using a new body wash or laundry detergent, especially one with fragrance, can disturb the pH of your vagina and may lead to irritation or a yeast infection. "That’s why it’s a good idea to avoid anything that can alter your bacteria levels and change the natural balance of your vagina," she says. " It’s best not to over-clean your vagina. To stay clean and healthy, rinsing around the vulva with warm water and mild or fragrance-free soap — or no soap at all — while you’re showering is enough."
Does having sex cause yeast infections?
Young says normal intercourse usually doesn’t. However, you’re more likely to get a yeast infection from oral or anal sex — or from using an unclean vibrator.
“Yeast can live normally in the vaginal area, in the gastrointestinal tract, and in the mouth," Young says. "So while intercourse typically may not cause a yeast infection, you’ve got to think about sexual acts that can increase oral and anal contact.”
This is risky because you can be adding more bacteria and more yeast to your vaginal flora. If you don't wash your vibrator after using it, that bacteria just sits. “You’re adding more yeast and making that environment work harder by disrupting the flora,” Young says.
DO NOT DOUCHE
Young adds that you should never douche. “Women used to do this a long time ago as a way to clean out their vagina,” Young says. “Women don’t realize that the vagina is designed to clean itself, and douching can cause adverse effects. You have a good chance of rinsing away good bacteria, and leaving the bad bacteria behind to overgrow.”
You could be wiping your vagina wrong. Really. After all these years!
Wipe front to back, to avoid moving bacteria from your bum into your vagina and disrupting your flora.
What to do if you feel a yeast infection coming on.
Young recommends a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, but notes that some studies show there are foods you can eat that may help if you feel a yeast infection is nigh. For example, some yogurts with live cultures called lactobacillus acidophilus, a common probiotic, can help. “You can also take probiotics in the form of supplement or a pill,” she says.
I’m itchy and miserable. How do I treat this?
Luckily, these wretched infections are treatable. Young says that if you find out you have a yeast infection, a doctor can prescribe a cream or a pill to treat it. You can also pick up over the counter medications, such as Monistat. But if you’ve never had a yeast infection before, Young says it’s not a good idea to treat it at home without consulting a doctor. This is because women can misdiagnose themselves. Doctors can rule out larger issues that OTC mediations can't fix. However, if you’ve had a yeast infection before, Monistat, a true OTC gift to women, may provide relief.