During warmer months yeast infections become more common, but causes and effective treatments may differ from what you may read on the Internet, say experts at Baylor College of Medicine.

“Many women already have yeast in their vaginal tracts and there is often no underlying health problem that leads to a yeast infection,” said Dr. Anuja Vyas, assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor. “Yeast infections in the vagina can be caused by a host of factors including medications, injury to the genital tract or weakening of the immune system.”

What is a Yeast Infection?

Yeast is a naturally occurring organism. An infection occurs when there is an overgrowth of this organism which can have a number of causes. This type of infection is one of the most common reasons women see a gynecologist, said  Vyas, also co-director of Baylor’s Pelvic Health and Wellness Program at Texas Children’s Hospital. 

Typical symptoms include:

  • External itching, burning
  • Painful urination
  • Thin, clear, copious discharge
  • White, curd-like discharge
  • Redness of outside skin
  • Inflammation
  • Minimal odor or “sour” odor

Causes

Usually the vaginal pH, or chemical makeup, doesn’t fluctuate during a yeast infection. It’s a change in the women’s environment that causes the overgrowth of yeast, she said.

Women with a suppressed immune system – those with diabetes or who take chronic steroids – are at a higher risk of developing yeast infections. The increase in hormones during pregnancy and having intercourse with a new partner without a condom can also cause yeast infections.

Although there are no direct, or only weak, links between certain fabrics or tight clothing and incidence of yeast infections, yeast thrives in warm, moist environments. Women are advised to not stay in certain clothing, like wet swimsuits and sweaty clothes, for prolonged periods of time.

Prevention and Treatment

Gynecologists are focusing more on nutrition and how it can affect the vaginal tract. Diets that are low in sugar and simple carbohydrates are beneficial in general. Drinking plenty of water also will help flush out toxins, which keeps the gut and vagina healthy, she said.

“The Internet also is teeming with numerous homeopathic therapies that claim they help with prevention or treatment of yeast infections,” Vyas said. “Things like tea tree oil and garlic are listed as remedies but these really don’t work as well as the medications we can offer patients.”

“Many women will self-diagnose themselves as having a yeast infection, but it’s important to remember that this can lead to a delay in the correct diagnosis and treatment,” she said. “Over-the-counter medications are varied with one day, three day and seven day intravaginal options. In general, a longer course of treatment is more beneficial, as women typically won’t get adequate relief with one day treatments.”

Women with symptoms of reoccurring yeast infections should see a gynecologist to rule out an atypical strain of yeast. An atypical infection won’t necessarily have different symptoms, which is why it’s important to consult a physician, Vyas said.