By Marisa Cohen
A healthy vag is a happy vag
What exactly is a vaginal yeast infection? Yeast live in the vagina all the time in small harmless numbers. But when these fungi grow out of control, the resulting itchiness, burning, and redness are extremely uncomfortable. In some cases, a thick, white odourless discharge, resembling cottage cheese, also appears. Lactobacillus bacteria (a healthy type) normally keep the vagina’s PH and yeast levels in check.
But the balance can be tipped by antibiotics, corticosteroids, uncontrolled diabetes, or raised estrogen levels from birth control or pregnancy. Yet, in many cases, there’s no easily identified culprit for the pesty yeast infection. And FYI – this is the reason you’ll get a yeast infection this winter (they’re more common in the cold), so you might want to take notes on the below.
For 5 percent of women, vaginal yeast infections are chronic, returning at least four times a year. In a study at Wayne University School of Medicine, women with a history of recurrent episodes took the oral antifungal fluconazole (Diflucan) weekly for six months; during that time, the rate of recurring infection dropped 90 percent.
Six months afterward, 43 percent were considered cured, compared with 22 percent of those taking a placebo. (Maintenance therapy with OTC creams, although messier than pills, has also been found effective.)
Many yogurts contain the same type of probiotics that keeps the vagina healthy, yet studies have not been able to prove effectively that eating a daily cup offers any benefit for vaginal yeast infection treatment. But in a recent Italian study, women with chronic yeast infections who placed a probiotic tablet directly in the vagina (once a night for seven nights, then every three nights for three weeks, and then once a week) saw their rates of yeast infection drop by 87 percent.
Laurie Cullen, a naturopathic physician and a professor at Bastyr University, suggest treating an infection with a conventional therapy first, and then trying a Lactobacillus pill (such as Jarrow Fem-Dophilus, which can be found at drug and health-food stores) to maintain a healthy vaginal environment.
While women often self-diagnose a vaginal yeast infection, in many cases. Urinary tract infections also have overlapping symptoms (pain and burning, though not discharge), but they, too, require different medications. A home vaginal swab that measures pH levels, taken with an OTC test such as the Vagisil Screening Kit, can confirm a yeast infection diagnosis. But health experts recommend that women with complicating factors, such as pregnancy or recurrent infections, schedule a doctor visit.
Tea Tree Oil
The essential oil derived from tea tree leaves has been shown in several lab and animal studies to act as an antifungal against yeast. While more studies need to be done to prove the oil’s efficacy, some women report that they get yeast infection relief from inserting a tampon doused in tea tree oil at night. Try this with caution, as the vagina is very sensitive, so I would hesitate to put something that might be irritating in an already irritated environment.
Boric Acid Suppository
“For uncomplicated yeast infections, my top-shelf treatment is boric acid”, says Cullen. The substance is a natural antifungal and antiseptic, and studies have shown that it inhibits the growth of Candida albicans, the strain of yeast behind most cases of the infection, as well as other kinds, such as Candid glabrata, an increasingly common cause of infection that tends to be more resistant to other treatments. The powder, an irritant, should never be applied directly; look for a suppository capsule that contains it, such as Vitanica Yeast Arrest, and use for only five to seven days.
Cotton Underwear (OR NONE)
A warm, moist environment may push a yeasty infection colony into overdrive, so the age-old advice- wear cotton lined underwear, avoid panty hose and tight jeans, and change out of wet swimsuits and gym clothes right away- still stands. Or, if you’re up for it, go commando. “I’m a big fan of wearing long skirts with no underwear to let air get to the perineal area for women who have a history of chronic infections,” says Jill Rabin, M.D., head of urogynecology at Long Island Jewish Medical Centre and the author of Mind Over Bladder.
Antifungals from the chemist
The gold- standard treatment for most vaginal yeast infection cases is any one of the creams of suppositories lining pharmacy shelves. These products use drugs called azoles, antifungals that have been proven to clear up 80 to 90 percent of yeast infections.
One other factor: if you’re particularly itchy, you may prefer a soothing cream. Women with recurrent infections, which are harder to treat, should choose the seven-day option, says Reinhold. If the infection doesn’t abate, make an appointment: A doctor can determine whether it is yeast at all, then match the strain to the most effective medication.
Certain vaginal yeast infections may require a more aggressive treatment than a cream. Your doctor can prescribe one to three doses of the oral antifungal fluconazole, which has a success rate of up to 90 percent, according to the CDC. If your infection is chronic, “your doctor can give you a standing prescription,” says Reinhold. Having a prescription at the ready may also be worthwhile when starting a course of antibiotics if on previous occasions the drugs prompted a yeast infection.
Ok, so maybe you don’t have a yeast infection but you’re still itchy ‘down there’. What gives? Here are 7 common reasons why your vagina is itchy beyond belief!
This article originally appeared on www.womenshealthmag.com