By Nayla Lee
“[It feels] like a hundred bees are stinging your vag at once. Very uncomfortable,” is the way Isa Hunscher, a first-year student, describes the feeling of a vaginal yeast infection (referred to medically as vulvovaginal candidiasis). According to the CDC, about 75 percent of people with vaginas will experience at least one yeast infection in their lifetime, and about 40 percent will experience two or more. Fewer than five percent of people have Recurrent Vulvovalginal Candidiasis, which is usually defined as four or more episodes of symptomatic genital yeast infections within one year.
Often caused by an overproduction of Candida albicans, yeast infections occur when the natural fungus is not properly regulated by the natural bacteria, Lactobacillus acidophilus, which is in charge of keeping levels in check. The yeast itself is a single-celled eukaryotic fugus which reproduces asexually.
There are factors that can affect an individual’s risk of yeast infections. Poor genital hygiene can be a factor: this can include using scented pads and tampons, which introduce unfamiliar and potentially harmful elements into the ecosystem. Tight-fitting and non-breathable fabric, such as ill-fitting pants and underwear made of synthetic fabrics are also perpetrators, so going cottononly or commando can be helpful.
Less preventable factors include HIV, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders that affect the body’s ability to fight disease. Hormone levels and pregnancy are similarly connected to the contraction of the infection. Climate is a factor too; hot, muggy summer weather isn’t great when it comes to keeping genitals from being warm and wet, which are ideal fungus-growing conditions. In super cold weather, extra layers can also create a very inviting environment for fungus growth. Another unfortunate cause of extra yeast? Antibiotic use. Unfortunately, some people experience UTI-yeast infection cycles when the antibiotics that are prescribed to treat UTIs kill off the Lactobacillus acidophilus (AKA the good bacteria).
It’s also possible for yeast infections to occur outside of vagina; skin folds, armpits, the foreskin and the anus are also prime spots for the greedy little fungi to blossom. These infections also come from excess amounts of candida, and is called cutaneous candidiasis. Symptoms include rashes and redness. It is also known to occur in babies, in both diaper rash and thrush, an oral infection that can spread through breast feeding.
Aside from the hundred-bees feeling described above, symptoms include intense itching, burning, swelling, soreness, redness, rashes, painful intercourse, and unusual (especially cottage-cheese-like) discharge. If you have never been diagnosed with a yeast infection before, it is highly recommended to visit a gynecologist to get the correct treatment. However, the medicine is available over-the-counter in the form of creams and suppositories for those who know what they’re dealing with and don’t have time to squeeze in a visit to the gyno. And now for the fun part: I poked around online to find out some of the more holistic methods of treating yeast infections. From garlic to tea tree oil to yogurt, there is no shortage of advice. Most people agree on a few for relieving the pain, however: cut down on sugar, let the affected area breathe, and consume probiotics. I asked Isa how she’d dealt with hers. “I used a prescription to help it but I also ate lots of yogurt and drank juices. Some people let it heal naturally … It was too painful not to use medication. It only lasted like three days, thank god, but I still took a day off from school and just hung out,” she said. She didn’t freeze a condom of plain yogurt or douche with apple cider vinegar (which are things that people on health blogs swore by). Ultimately, the decision to leave a potassium sorbate-soaked tampon in overnight should be left up to individuals and healthcare professionals.
I can’t say I recommend any of these from personal experience, but if anyone has any home remedy experience that they want to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear about it.