Yeast infections are horrible. They’re itchy, embarrassing, and make everything you do uncomfortable.

I’ve always said to my daughters that I’d rather be nauseous and throwing up all day than be itchy–I seriously hate it. And itchiness “down there” is even worse.

Reader Question: How do I prevent frequent yeast infections?Every Monday I like to post a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. Here’s one that I get rather frequently:

Do you have any tips for clearing up yeast infections? I had a terribly frustrating time this month with a heavy period followed by a yeast infection (and to add insult to injury, a cold sore). My husband was having a stressful time at work, but I just wasn’t able to offer him much-needed physical intimacy, especially with the 7-day cream.

This is something we need to talk about because they are relatively easy to prevent and treat! So I sent my daughter Rebecca on a research trip to come up with some ideas. Here are some tips to help you prevent and some ways to treat yeast infections, brought to you by both of us after scouring the research:

Yeast Infections: How to prevent constant or recurring yeast infections--some practical help!

Preventing Yeast Infections

When it comes to yeast infections, prevention really boils down to having good hygiene and health habits mixed with understanding what causes yeast infections. In your body, your vagina is at a certain acidity level. This monitors how much yeast is able to grow. When you do things that change the acidity level, yeast may be able to grow much more easily, causing a yeast infection. (Oversimplified, but that’s in general what happens.) If you make changes to your lifestyle to keep everything in balance, it’s less likely you’ll have an infection.

There are three general things you can do to help prevent yeast infections:

1. Change what you wear

A lot of the “comfort clothes” we love so much may be a part of the problem. Synthetic materials found in yoga pants, leggings, and other workout clothes often allow for limited airflow, and can trap in moisture. This can cause the infection to grow. Try to avoid tight clothing such as tights, leggings, or even tight jeans if this is a recurring issue. Instead of sitting around in sweaty workout clothes or wearing tight pants, look for clothing made from natural fibers such as cotton, which allows your body to breathe. At night time, sleep in a flowing nightgown–without any underwear!

2. Balance out your diet

One reason you may be experiencing continual yeast infections could be your diet. Eating a lot of sugar-heavy foods can actually act as fuel for yeast infections, since yeast feeds off of sugar. Try to limit sugar-high foods or foods that contain yeast, such as breads or some alcoholic drinks (beer, for instance). Instead, eating a balanced diet of including many fruits and veggies can help your body find a natural balance.

3. Monitor your hygiene practices

A lot of this can come down to how you’re cleaning yourself “down there.” Some women are simply more prone to yeast infections than others, so it may not be that you’re unhygienic as much as it is that your body requires extra care.

Here are some things to try if you have had yeast infections in the past:

  • Change your underwear multiple times a day. You want to keep the area dry, so if you notice you tend to become musky down there halfway through the day, start changing your underwear more often. If yeast infections are a recurring issue, perhaps try to change twice or three times a day instead of only once. Changing frequently makes it easier to keep everything clean and fresh.
  • Do not use a douche. Many women use a douche to cleanse after having sex or after their period, but this is actually quite counter-productive for yeast infections. Your body contains all sorts of bacteria–good bacteria and bad bacteria. A douche doesn’t discriminate between the two, and just gets rid of it all, which means you actually become more likely to get a yeast infection.
  • Take special care to wash yourself. While you’re in the shower, don’t just skip over your vaginal area. Take a mild soap and make sure to clean out not just the general area but in all the folds, as well, as that is normally where bacteria will gather. Rinse well and dry well when you exit the shower.
  • Cut down on scented products. If you’ve been using a heavily scented soap in the shower, throw it away! Find a milder, unscented version that will cause less agitation. Same rule applies for any hygiene product that will come near your vagina (e.g., bubble baths, scented sprays). This also includes any pads or tampons you use–if they are dyed or scented, throw them away for non-dyed, unscented versions.
  • Don’t wear to underwear to bed if you can avoid it. Wearing a nightgown? Go commando! Let your vagina breathe.
  • Use natural menstrual products. Many women get yeast infections right after their period, and this could be caused by chemicals in pads and tampons (even bleach). Femallay sells natural cotton reusable pads, as well as cups and sea sponges that can replace tampons. Check them out!

Treating Yeast Infections

If you have a yeast infection, there are definitely ways to treat it. Once you start treatment, it should clear up pretty quickly. If it doesn’t, see a doctor.

Here are the general two ways to go about treating it:

See a medical professional

Especially if this is your first yeast infection, this is just generally a good idea. Itchiness in the vaginal area can be caused by more than just yeast infections, and so it’s good to get those ruled out so that you don’t use any creams on something that isn’t actually a yeast infection. Most doctors will prescribe a yeast infection cream that you can get at a local pharmacy, and some are even available over the counter. So medicated ointments and creams is an option.

Try Some Yeast Infection Home Remedies

There are many home remedies that are posited to work such as tea-tree oil and garlic, but the one that seems to have the most science behind it is simply adding more probiotics into your diet, either through supplements (making sure there are live bacterial agents in them) or through yogurt that contains probiotics. Not all yogurts are created equal, so make sure you’re getting one with live culture.

In general, however, treatment follows the same guidelines as prevention. Make sure you’re staying clean, dry, and well-ventilated; have a healthy diet that limits sugars/yeast products and provides you with great “good” bacteria; and follow any recommendations that your doctor gives.

When Yeast Infections Are More Likely to Flare Up

Okay, that’s the general information. Now what about some specific scenarios?

Be Aware of the Antibiotic-Yeast Infection Connection

Antibiotics often trigger yeast infections. That’s because it’s “good” bacteria in your vaginal area that keeps yeast at the proper level. Antibiotics, though, are non-discriminatory. They don’t just kill bad bacteria; they kill the good stuff, too. So then the yeast has a party and multiplies like crazy.

Some women are far more prone to yeast infections when on antibiotics than others. If it always triggers a yeast infection in you, it’s a good idea to ask the doctor for some preventative medication beforehand. And then, of course, take all of these precautions, too!

What About Yeast Infections Every Time You Have Sex?

I have several friends that find that yeast infections are chronic, and sex makes them worse. It’s like every time they make love they trigger an infection! So after reading some of the OBY/GYN literature, here’s what I’ve managed to come up with.

It could be that you have a chronic yeast infection that has never cleared up

It may not be that sex is causing the yeast infection; it may be that you have the infection all the time and you feel it more after sex, because of the aggravation and friction. Talk to your doctor about this and go on some serious treatment for a time. Meanwhile, take lots of probiotics and supplements.

It could be that you are passing it back and forth

While some literature claims that yeast infections aren’t like STDs and aren’t passed from each other, anecdotal evidence seems to say the exact opposite. So have your husband up his yogurt intake, too–and maybe even some supplements! Wear a condom for a time. See if that can help.

It could be an untreated STD

It may not even be a yeast infection. Itchiness and aggravation isn’t always a yeast infection, though that’s what we often assume. If it’s almost constant, or gets worse after sex, just go to see your doctor and make sure it isn’t something else.

You may need to start a real cleanse

The people that I have read about who had this as a chronic problem who finally got over it almost all did some sort of radical cleanse. They had been seeing doctors who kept giving them medication which never really fixed the problem. And it makes sense, really, because if you’re getting them all the time, then it’s a sign that your body’s balance is seriously out of whack. And medication can’t fix that. It may temporarily fix the symptoms, but it’s going to keep happening.

In that case, what you may need to do is first get rid of as many chemicals as possible in what you use to wash yourself and your clothes. Go to natural soaps. Avoid parabens and even glycerines. Whatever you do, don’t use anything with alcohol to clean your vaginal area.

Then you may need to radically change your diet. Consult a dietician or naturopath about going on a major sugar purge and even gluten purge. For some women, a few months of that can reset everything, deal with possible adrenal fatigue which could be making it worse, and then get your pH balance set right again.

To be totally honest, doctors aren’t the best help with this (and I speak as the wife of an awesome physician). They’re not always the best at chronic problems that need major diet and environmental changes to cure; they’re better at acute problems that need help here and now. So if you’re getting nowhere with drugstore help, then maybe it’s time to start a real cleanse.

Okay, that’s what we came up with! Now, anyone else have experience with treating chronic yeast infections? What worked for you? Let’s talk in the comments!

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