Causes and Risk Factors of Vaginal Yeast Infections
[updated July 2019]
If you’ve been suffering from persistent vaginal irritation, pain, or abnormal discharge, you may have a vaginal yeast infection. Yeast overgrowth can also cause symptoms like a burning sensation during urination, vulvar swelling, and vaginal rash. If these symptoms apply to you, consider visiting a doctor specializing in candida overgrowth and chronic yeast infections. This type of specialist can explain the causes and risk factors of vaginal yeast infections and discuss your holistic treatment options.
What is a Yeast Infection?
Yeast is a fungus found on your skin, in your digestive system and if you’re a woman in your vaginal area. Yeast infections aren’t an STD. They aren’t contagious, and can’t spread to another person during sex. But sexual contact sometimes leads to yeast infections.
When too much yeast grows on your skin or in other areas it can cause an infection. This infection or overgrowth of yeast is called candidiasis. Vaginal yeast infections are the most discussed type of yeast overgrowth and this fungal infection causes irritation, discharge and intense itchiness of the vagina and vulva – the tissues at the vaginal opening.
What Causes Vaginal Yeast Infections?
There are several factors that cause yeast infections including:
- Anti-biotics (these decrease the number of good bacteria in the vagina)
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Weak immune system
- Poor eating habits including a lot of sugary foods
- Hormonal imbalance near your menstrual cycle
- Lack of sleep
- Certain medications such as birth control
- Douches and vaginal sprays
- Clothing (such as tight clothing which locks in body heat and moisture in the vagina thereby allowing the yeast to grow)
There are many factors that can disrupt the balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina. These include certain medications. For example, birth control pills increase a woman’s level of estrogen and increase the risk of Candida overgrowth. Women who frequently experience vaginal yeast infections due to birth control pills might consider non-hormonal methods of birth control such as the copper IUD. Another commonly prescribed class of medicine that causes yeast overgrowth is antibiotics. Broad-spectrum antibiotics not only kill the bacteria for which they are prescribed, but they also kill the beneficial bacteria that are necessary to keep yeast in check.
Some medical conditions can increase a woman’s risk of developing vaginal yeast infections. This includes poorly controlled diabetes since this condition is associated with high blood glucose levels.
The underlying cause of vaginal yeast infections is an overgrowth of a fungus called Candida albicans. Candida typically lives in the body (in places such as the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina) and on the skin without any problems. But sometimes it can multiply and cause an infection in your body. Candidiasis in the vagina is commonly called a “vaginal yeast infection.” Vaginal candidiasis is common. In the United States, it is the second most common type of vaginal infection after bacterial vaginal infections.
Less commonly, some women develop yeast infections from other types of Candida fungi. The vaginal naturally have a microbiome composed of a balance of bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms. In an overall healthy woman, the bacteria and yeast keep each other in check. If something disrupts this delicate balance, the lower levels of beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus can allow the amount of yeast to greatly increase. It is this yeast overgrowth that causes uncomfortable symptoms of vaginal yeast infections.
The Link Between Clothing Choices and Chronic Yeast Infections
If you find that your go-to yeast infection treatment only works temporarily and that your infections always seem to return, one contributing factor you may be overlooking is your clothing.
For a yeast overgrowth from candida to occur, a moist and warm environment is necessary. When you wear tight clothing, you trap moisture and warmth in the vagina, creating the perfect breeding ground for candida. Although a yeast infection treatment ointment may temporarily resolve the infection, continuing to wear restrictive clothing increases the risk that the infection will recur.
If you experience more than four yeast infections in a year, you could have chronic vaginitis caused by yeast infections that should be treated by a candida specialist. Your specialist can help with holistic treatments, from dietary recommendations to sublingual immunotherapy, to help you break the cycle of infection for good.
What to Do If You Have a Vaginal Yeast Infection?
Book an appointment with your doctor if you think you have a vaginal yeast infection. The signs and symptoms of a yeast infection are a lot like symptoms of other more serious infections, such as STIs and bacterial vaginosis (BV).
For more severe infections, infections that don’t get better, or keep coming back after getting better, other treatments might be needed. If you get recurring vaginal yeast infections and doctor-prescribed treatments are not eliminating the issue contact a candida specialist in your area. Most doctors do not specialize and some don’t even acknowledge candida overgrowth to be a true threat to a person’s health. If you continue to suffer from recurring vaginal yeast infections schedule an appointment with someone who specializes in treating yeast overgrowth.
– Dr. Dean Mitchell, M.D.
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC
About the Author – Dr. Dean Mitchell, M.D.
Dr. Dean Mitchell, M.D. is a Board Certified Allergist and Immunologist based out of NYC. He graduated from the Sackler School of Medicine and completed training at the Robert Cooke Allergy Institute in New York City. He is also a Clinical Assistant Professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, a fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, and the author of Dr. Dean Mitchell’s Allergy and Asthma Solution: The Ultimate Program for Reversing Your Symptoms One Drop at a Time. Dr. Dean Mitchell, M.D. has also been featured in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Fitness Magazine, Dr. Oz and News NY 1. Dr. Mitchell also hosts the podcast The Smartest Doctor in the Room – a combination of a lively, personal and in-depth interview with top healthcare specialists.
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