Causes And Prevention Of Vaginal Yeast Infections

Causes of vaginal yeast infections are a common. This health problem is preventative.

Candida albicans is the scientific name for this annoying disease--health care providers often simply call it "Candida" (pronounced "Can-dee-duh"). It's caused by a microscopic plant similar to the yeast plants that make bread rise and grapes turn into wine. There are tiny yeast spores of various kinds living harmlessly nearly everywhere, including in our bodies. They only become a problem when they grow out of control.

SYMPTOMS INCLUDE:

* ITCHING (a lot) (real bad) between the legs. It affects the vulva (the outside "female parts" that Mr. Rogers fails to notice when he sings "girls are fancy on the inside"), the vagina (the inside sexual organ leading to the uterus), and sometimes the opening to the rectum. These tender areas quickly become reddened and irritated, even if you can resist the urge to rub the itch. It can drive you nuts.

The itching caused by a yeast infection is fairly continual, and, untreated, usually gets worse. There's sometimes a bit of relief after urinating because the irritating little yeast plants are washed and wiped away--until more grow.

If you notice itching between your legs only at night and mostly toward the back, it's more likely pinworms in the rectum causing the problem.

* WHITE DISCHARGE from the vagina (sometimes a lot of discharge) that is has little bits of solid material--like little teeny clumps of wet cotton is typical of vaginal yeast infection.

* ODOR, Usually there's not a really awful "infected" smell to yeast infections, but it smells quite different from normal "woman smell." This is often described as a "yeasty odor," but I fail to identify the smell of a yeast infection with fresh-baked bread or nicely-aged wine.

SIMILAR PROBLEMS THAT AREN'T YEAST INFECTIONS

Other microscopic organisms can cause vaginal itching, irritation and discharge. These are less common than simple yeast infections, but it's useful to recognize the differences.

If you have a vaginal discharge that is yellowish-green and slimy, it isn't a yeast infection--it could well be a disease called Trichomonas vaginalis (or "Trich"--pronounced "trick") that is usually (though not always) sexually transmitted.

It's caused by a one-celled microscopic creature (a protozoa) that commonly lives in our rectums--that's one reason little girls should always be taught to wipe from front to back when they use the toilet.

I once got a "Trich infection" after a severe bout of diarrhea--apparently a tiny bit of fecal matter splashed into the wrong area, and infected my vagina. It was nasty. A doctor gave me antibiotics, which quickly cleared it up. I don't know what long-term effect the antibiotics had on my health, though. That was years ago, and it didn't occur to me to seek other more natural solutions.

Vaginal infections caused by bacteria--like the common sexually- transmitted disease Gardnerella--can cause some itching and irritation of the vulva & surrounding area but usually have a nasty smelling discharge too.

Sometimes bacterial infections in the uterus or in tiny glands in the vulva may cause irritation and a foul-smelling discharge.

As a general rule, if your vaginal discharge develops a foul odor, you should see a family nurse practicioner or doctor. If you have a fever and/or pain in the pelvic region, you need to see someone quickly. If you have recently given birth or had a miscarriage or abortion and have a fever plus bad-smelling discharge, see a health care provider immediately. Annoying bacterial infections in the vaginal area can become serious, even life-threatening infections if they migrate up into the uterus or into the bladder.

WHAT CAUSES VAGINAL YEAST INFECTIONS?

Normally, as mentioned, there are a few little yeast plants hanging around harmlessly in our bodies. It becomes a yeast infection when they grow and multiply excessively.

Three things can make women especially susceptable to vaginal yeast infections:



#1. PREGNANCY--The internal sexual organs of women are usually moist and mildly acid (like orange juice). The excessive growth of yeast organisms is normally suppressed in an acid environment. During pregnancy, our bodies tend to be less acidic--to be more alkaline (like baking soda). This is probably good for the growing embryo/fetus/baby (the amniotic fluid or "waters" surrounding the unborn baby are very alkaline), but it can cause a problem for the pregnant woman who finds that she is now more susceptable to yeast infections.

#2. TAKING ANTIBIOTICS--As previously noted, normally a few yeast organisms live harmlessly in our bodies. There are also bacteria that normally live in our bodies--some are simply harmless, and others are actually essential to our health.

These little yeasts and bacterias live in the same territory of our bodies, generally in balance with one another. When antibiotics kill off the bacteria, the yeast may then take over, causing a yeast infection.

#3. SEXUAL INTERCOURSE--Semen is usually much more alkaline than vaginal fluids, favoring the growth of yeast. Too, the rubbing on internal tissues during sex may cause irritated spots that are vulnerable to infection. Birth control devices with spermicide (diaphrams, sponges, suppositories, foam) can cause irritation, and some prophylactics ("rubbers") are coated with potentially irritating substances.

6 WAYS TO PREVENT VAGINAL YEAST INFECTIONS

1. Wear cotton underwear or panties with an absorbent cotton crotch. Better yet, wear skirts with no underwear, at least around the house--letting the area between your legs stay "aired-out" helps prevent yeast growth.

2. Don't use fabric softener on underwear--use a cup of vinegar in the rinse cycle instead. Fabric softener "dryer sheets" should also be avoided.

3. Use unscented toilet paper--The added scent can cause irritation, and it doesn't make you smell any better.

4. Clean yourself after intercourse. Douching is NOT recommended--it can cause dangerous infections by washing bacteria up into the uterus.

The easiest, safest way to clean alkaline semen out of the vagina is to use home-made vinegar swabs. Simply wrap a bit of toilet paper, paper towel, or thin cloth around a finger. Dip this swab into a solution of 1 Tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice and 1/2 cup of water. Insert your wrapped finger into the vagina as deeply as you can and wipe the inside with a circular motion.

If you are using a diaphram or sponge for birth control, be careful not to dislodge it. Don't use a vaginal swab if you're depending on foam or suppositories for birth control.

5. If you must take antibiotics, plain yogurt can help keep your vaginal tissues healthy. Twice a day take about 1/2 teaspoon of unflavored yogurt on your fingertip and slide it up into your vagina. It's best to lie down for a few minutes afterwards to let the yogurt settle and spread around some. Be sure to get yogurt that says "active cultures" on the label. These are living cells that help prevent excessive yeast growth. When you are done taking antibiotics, eat at least a cup of yogurt with active cultures every day for a week to help your body recover its natural balance.

6. Avoid sugars--white sugar, brown sugar, dextrose, sucrose, lactose, fructose, etc. Yeast thrives and multiplies on sugar.

Learn to read labels--it's amazing how many processed foods contain sugar. For instance, most canned chili has added sugar. Catsup is mostly sugar. There's sugar in most salad dressings, tomato soup, pizza, spaghetti sauces and even in Spam.

Honey, blackstrap molasses and other unrefined sugars are generally better for you than refined sugars, but yeast plants love any kind of sugar. Too much sweet fruit or juice can even make your body sweet enough to encourage the growth of yeast.

If you take the above precautions and still get frequent yeast infections, have your doctor or family nurse practicioner check you for diabetes. Diabetic people are often prone to yeast infections.

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