Don’t be alarmed: There’s yeast in your vagina. It’s composed of the fungus Candida albicans along with other bacteria, and it’s healthy and normal. Yeast infections mostly occur when there’s an overproduction of Candida, which is very common in women.
Thus, the key to preventing yeast infections is keeping healthy levels of yeast in the vagina and avoiding anything that can throw off its chemical balance. The vagina is sensitive, and its chemistry can be completely skewed by something as simple as wearing tight or damp clothing for too long or even from having sex with a new partner.
Though we may have some control in preventing yeast infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests some women are more susceptible to these infections. For example, women who are pregnant, use birth control that contains hormones, have diabetes or a weak immune system, or are taking antibiotics are more prone to getting yeast infections.
Symptoms of a yeast infection may include itching, irritation of the vagina or vulva, or white or watery discharge resembling cottage cheese.
While women can do many things to avoid a yeast infection, we’ve collected five do’s and don’ts that are under their control.
Rethink your underwear
The CDC—along with many other medical professionals—encourages women to wear loose and breathable clothing to prevent yeast infections. One option can be cotton underwear, as it will create a more breathable environment and prevent fungi from growing out of control in the vagina. It’s also a good idea to avoid tight-fitting underwear and pantyhose.
Practice good hygiene
An excellent way to prevent overgrowth of yeast is by maintaining good hygiene. To avoid getting bacteria from the anus into the vagina, always wipe front to back after using the restroom. It’s also important to wash the vulva every time you shower. A little goes a long way with the vulva, and mild, non-deodorant, moisturizing soap and water will do the trick. Do not douche, because you will remove much-needed natural bacteria that protects you from a yeast infection.
Don’t use scented products
Though you may not be thrilled with the natural smells coming from the vagina, don’t use perfumed products to cover them. Odor is normal. The vagina will cleanse itself. You don’t need to douche or use scented products to clean it. When you clean the vulva, use mild and unscented soap with water. It’s also good to avoid scented tampons, pads and vaginal deodorants.
Keep it dry
A simple way to prevent yeast infections is by keeping the genital area as dry as possible. It’s important to avoid wearing wet or damp clothing for long periods of time. Keeping the vagina dry will generally deny fungi the chance to grow.
Taking oral probiotic supplements, as well as eating yogurt and foods that contain beneficial bacteria, can help prevent yeast infections. Probiotics may help replenish healthy bacteria strains that prevent overgrowth of yeast in the vagina. Acidophilus or lactobacillus tablets, taken twice daily, contain the healthy bacteria that populate the vagina and prevent overgrowth of yeast and yeast infections, though studies suggest more research of the subject is needed.
So, don’t worry about a little yeast; do worry about too much Candida. Vaginal yeast infections are common and easily preventable. If you take the right hygiene steps and make other minor changes, you may be able to avoid yeast infections altogether in the future.