Vaginal yeast infections are common. Around 75% of all women develop a yeast infection at least once during their lifetime. For some women, unfortunately, this can be a recurring issue. They develop vaginal yeast infection before or after their period. In addition to cramping, bloating, and mood swings, they may also have to deal with the itching, burning, and cottage cheese-like clumping linked to the yeast infection.
Read on to learn more about vaginal yeast infections, why they occur around periods, and ways to prevent and treat them.
What are vaginal yeast infections?
We all have small amounts of yeast in our vagina, mouth, digestive system, and other moist parts of our body. The problem occurs when this yeast grows out of control.
What causes vaginal yeast infection before the period?
A vagina is designed to keep itself clean with natural secretions. The vagina contains a balance of yeast and bacteria. When this balance becomes unbalanced and there is an overgrowth of fungus in the vagina, it causes vaginal yeast infection.
The hormonal changes that occur in the body before menstruation can also cause changes in the yeast bacteria balance and cause a yeast infection. In the time leading up to the menstruation, your hormones, vaginal pH, and bacteria levels can all fluctuate, which makes it easier for the yeast to overgrow. This resulting yeast overgrowth can lead to recurring yeast infection before periods.
Some of the other causes of vaginal yeast infection include –
- Weak immune system
- Oral contraceptives
- Wearing tight underwear
- Douches and vaginal sprays
Causes of recurring yeast infections?
Some women have to deal with yeast infections again and again. Here are a few reasons why some women have to deal with recurring yeast infections.
1. Sexual activity
While yeast infection is not a sexually transmitted disease, it is possible for sexual partners to pass this infection to each other. Avoid having sex with your partner when one of you has a yeast infection. Use condoms, and take a shower after sex to avoid yeast infections.
2. The original infection was not completely over
Sometimes symptoms disappear before the infection is completely treated. So, in such cases, if you stop the treatment, the symptoms will come back.
3. Drug-resistant strain
Some strains of yeast are drug-resistant. It is harder to get rid of this infection as compared to others.
4. You don’t have a yeast infection
The symptoms of bacterial vaginosis and STIs are quite similar to those of vaginal yeast infection. So, your infection will not clear up with over-the-counter medication for yeast infection. If your infection does not clear up, consult your doctor to know what you are suffering from.
5. Impaired immune system
If you have an impaired immune system, you are more vulnerable to recurring yeast infections.
Symptoms of vaginal yeast infection
All vaginal yeast infections lead to itching around the vagina. The longer you have the infection, the worse are the symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of vaginal yeast infection are –
- Itching and irritation in the vagina and vulva (outer part of the female genitals)
- Redness and swelling in the vagina and vulva
- A burning sensation when you urinate
- Pain during sex
- A thick, white discharge which is similar to cottage cheese
If you develop a more serious infection due to uncontrolled diabetes, weakened immune system or recurring infection, your symptoms may include –
- Extreme swelling
- Itching and redness that results in cracks, tears, and sores
When should you consult a doctor?
In most cases, you can treat a vaginal yeast infection with an over-the-counter cream or lotion. However, in some cases, you must consult your doctor for treatment. These include –
- This is the first time you have had a yeast infection.
- You are not sure if you have a yeast infection or something more serious like UTI or STI.
- You are pregnant. You should never take any over-the-counter drugs without consulting your doctor when you are pregnant.
- If you have had more than four vaginal yeast infections in a year. In this case, you may need to take antifungal medication for six months.
- Consult your doctor if your symptoms are not relieved after taking over-the-counter creams or suppositories.
- Visit your doctor if you are in pain
- Visit your doctor if your symptom is getting worse
- You develop new symptoms that you haven’t seen in the past
A certain factor can increase your risk of developing a yeast infection. These include –
Women who take antibiotics are more prone to developing vaginal yeast infections. The antibiotics kill a range of bacteria, including the bacteria in your vagina, which can lead to overgrowth of yeast.
2. High estrogen levels
Pregnant women, women taking estrogen birth control pills, or estrogen hormone therapy have a higher risk of developing yeast infections.
3. Poorly controlled diabetes
Women who have poorly controlled blood sugar are at a higher risk of developing yeast infections.
4. Weak immune system
Women, who have a weak immune system due to HIV infection or corticosteroid therapy, are prone to developing yeast infections.
Often when women notice itching and discharge from the vaginal area, women assume they have a vaginal yeast infection and treat themselves with over-the-counter medication. According to a 2002 study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, many women who self-diagnose and use an over-the-counter product for the treatment of presumed vaginal yeast infection do not have vaginal yeast infections (1). Diagnosing and treating yourself can make your symptoms worse and can also waste money and time. You must visit your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. During the visit, your doctor may –
- Ask you questions about your medical history. He/she may ask you if you have had vaginal infections or any sexually transmitted infections in the past.
- During the pelvic exam, your doctor will examine your genitals for signs of infection. He/she may also examine your vagina and cervix internally for any signs of infection.
- Your doctor will take a small sample of vaginal discharge and send it to the laboratory for fungal culture. This will help to identify the fungus that is causing the infection and thus provide more effective treatment.
Ways to treat vaginal yeast infections
The treatment of vaginal yeast infection depends on the severity of the infection. For women who have mild to moderate infections, the doctor will prescribe –
1. Short-course vaginal therapy
Taking antifungal medication for three to seven days can help clear up this infection. These medications like miconazole, and terconazole, are available as creams, tablets, and suppositories.
2. Single-dose oral medication
In some cases, doctors prescribe a single oral dose of fluconazole (Diflucan) to clear a yeast infection. This medication is not recommended for pregnant women.
For women who have severe or recurring infections, your doctor may prescribe –
3. Long-course vaginal therapy
This treatment involves taking antifungal medication for up to two weeks and then to be taken once a week for six months.
4. Multidose oral medication
Your doctor may prescribe two or three oral doses of fluconazole (Diflucan) to clear the yeast infection. This medication is not recommended for pregnant women.
5. Azole resistant therapy
When yeast infections do not respond to antifungal medications, your doctor will recommend inserting a boric acid capsule into the vagina. This medication can be fatal if taken orally.
Home remedies for the treatment of vaginal yeast infection
You must visit your doctor for the diagnosis and treatment of vaginal yeast infection. These home remedies, when taken along with the doctor’s treatment, can provide relief from the symptoms of vaginal yeast infection
Natural, unsweetened yogurt contains beneficial bacteria. These bacteria help to restore the balance of yeast and bacteria in the body that may have been destroyed by prolonged use of antibiotics. According to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, certain probiotics can combat yeast that leads to infections in women (2).
2. Probiotic supplements
Probiotics supplements, commonly available at pharmacies, can provide a solution to yeast infections. These specially formulated products can restore the imbalance of yeast and bacteria in the vagina.
According to a 2012 study, when women with chronic vaginal yeast infections inserted a specially formulated probiotic pill in their vagina, the reported improvements in their symptoms (3). Another study showed that probiotic lactobacilli when taken along with fluconazole, can increase the effectiveness of the treatment for yeast infection (4).
3. Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is known for its antifungal and antibacterial properties. According to a 2015 study, vaginal suppositories containing tee tree oil are quite effective in the treatment of vaginal fungal infections (5).
Tee tree oil is an essential oil and cannot be used directly on the skin especially vaginal skin which is very delicate. You need to dilute it with a carrier oil to use it. Pregnant women should avoid using tee tree oil. Don’t use this oil more than once a week.
4. Coconut oil
Coconut oil is also known for its antifungal properties (6). A 2007 study found that concentrated coconut oil was highly effective against candida albicans (7). Apply a small amount of pure and organic coconut oil to the affected area.
Warmed coconut oil can also be used as a carrier oil for tea tree oil and oil of oregano for the treatment of vaginal infections.
5. Oil of oregano
Oil of oregano is different from oregano oil. It is made from wild oregano and contains thymol and carvacrol. Studies have shown that using oil of oregano can inhibit the growth of Candida albicans (8).
According to a 2001 study, oil of oregano can halt or inhibit the growth of Candida albicans (9). You can use vaginal suppositories containing oil of oregano to soothe the symptoms of vaginal yeast infections.
You can also mix three drops of oregano essential oil in one ounce of warmed coconut oil and apply it on the affected area. You should always do a patch test on your forearm with oil of oregano before you use it on your vagina.
6. Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps to boost your immunity and strengthen your immune system. Your body is then able to fight off infections like vaginal yeast infections better. You can strengthen your immunity by eating vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables like oranges, guava, kiwi, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
How to prevent vaginal yeast infections?
The best way to prevent vaginal yeast infections is to practice good vaginal hygiene. Some general prevention tips include –
1. Wear cotton underwear
Candida grows best in a warm and moist environment. Cotton can absorb the moisture and perspiration and keep infection away.
2. Avoid tight clothes
Tight-fitting underwear, pantyhose, or jeans can trap heat and moisture around your genitals and cause infections.
3. Keep yourself dry and clean
Change out of your wet bathing suit quickly. Change your sweaty underwear and workout clothes after a workout.
4. Avoid deodorant sprays, scented tampons, and vaginal douches
These products can alter the delicate balance of yeast and bacteria in the vagina and cause yeast overgrowth.
5. Practice good personal hygiene
Always wipe yourself from back to front after using the toilet to prevent infections. Change your tampons and pads often.
Vaginal yeast infections are common before periods. In the time leading up to the menstruation, your hormones, vaginal pH, and bacteria levels can all fluctuate, which makes it easier for the yeast to overgrow.
The symptoms of vaginal yeast infection include itching, redness, and swelling, burning during urination, and pain during intercourse. Women who are taking antibiotics have high estrogen levels, poorly controlled diabetes, and a weak immune system is more prone to develop this infection.
The treatment includes short course vaginal therapy, single-dose oral medication, long-course vaginal therapy, multidose oral medication, and azole-resistant therapy. Wearing loose cotton clothes, maintaining personal and vaginal hygiene can help prevent vaginal yeast infection.