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How to Steer Clear of Yeast Infections

HEALTHTRACK - JUL/AUG 97
A SUPPLEMENT TO THE PHYSICIAN AND SPORTSMEDICINE FOR THE WAITING ROOM


A yeast infection can put a bummer on your summer. But simple strategies can help keep you feeling fresh and comfortable.

You're stuck in traffic, as the asphalt radiates wrap-around heat. You're sweltering in your panty hose, and to make matters worse, you have an almost unbearable vaginal itch that began the previous night. Misery is the word, not just from the heat but also from this condition.

What Should I Do?

If you have a white cottage- cheeselike discharge, you probably have a yeast infection or candidiasis, a common vaginal infection caused by a fungus called Candida albicans. This organism flourishes in the vagina's dark, warm, moist environment when the natural, healthy bacterial balance is upset. Disruption of the bacterial balance can follow a recent course of antibiotics, use of oral contraceptives, pregnancy, diabetes, and possibly eating too much sugar, artificial sweeteners, or even milk products.

Other factors can contribute to disruption, too. Tampons and intrauterine devices can irritate the vagina and make it more susceptible to infection, as can feminine hygiene sprays, bubble baths, and excessive douching. Clothing that traps moisture, such as nylon underpants, panty hose, and tight jeans, may contribute to infection. Although candidiasis is not a sexually transmitted disease, sexual activity can precipitate this condition or encourage recurrence.

What Should I Do?

A woman does not necessarily have to consult a doctor to treat a yeast infection. One common home remedy is douching twice a day for 2 or 3 days with a mixture of 1 tablespoon of vinegar in 1 pint of water. In addition, drug stores sell numerous over-the-counter preparations trusted by both patients and physicians. These are usually antifungal ointments used from 3 days to 1 week. Some physicians prescribe oral medications for patients who have yeast infections. Whatever the remedy, avoid intercourse until your symptoms have disappeared, because sexual contact can prolong your infection.

If your vaginal discharge and itching do not improve with self-directed measures, or if you have abdominal pain and cramping or fever and chills, you should consult a physician. An evaluation is important when you have these additional problems because they may mean you have another type of vaginal infection. Your physician can identify your problem more specifically through laboratory tests, such as a microscopic evaluation of vaginal discharge.

Two other vaginal infections are bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis, which both produce an unpleasant-smelling, usually gray discharge, but tend to cause less itching than a yeast infection. Your physician will be able to prescribe medications to control the organisms that cause these conditions.

Simple Measures

Some simple measures can help you avoid another infection:

  • Take all medication as directed for as long as the doctor recommends, even if the infection seems to be gone.
  • Avoid frequent douching. If you douche, do so only once a week and use gentle preparations such as 1 tablespoon of vinegar with 1 pint of water.
  • Avoid feminine sprays and powders as well as perfumed soaps and bubble baths.
  • Wear loose-fitting cotton underwear. Avoid tight-fitting girdles, panty hose, and slacks.
  • Use nondeodorized sanitary pads rather than tampons.
  • Change out of sweaty underwear or workout clothes and wet bathing suits promptly.

Such minor changes in habits can help head off a yeast infection, so it doesn't add to the discomfort of a sweltering summer.


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