By: David Spero
Vaginal yeast infections are annoying, not dangerous, but they can seriously hamper your sex life, especially if you have diabetes. What’s the connection, and what can you do to prevent and treat yeast infections?
According to Chris Illiades, MD, on the website Everyday Health, “Normally, Candida albicans, the fungus that causes yeast infection, lives in balance with the other microorganisms in your body…. But anything that upsets this normal balance can lead to an overgrowth of yeast and can cause a yeast infection.”
Diabetes is one of the things that can upset the normal balance because yeast love to eat sugar, especially glucose. In fact, they help make beer by eating sugar and turning it into alcohol, and they are crucial in bread-making because after eating sugar, they produce a gas that makes dough rise.
When there’s extra sugar in your blood, there is likely to be more in your vagina and other tissues, so yeast grow better there. Yeast irritating the inside of your vagina is called “vaginitis.” In the tissues around the vagina – the vulva – such irritation is called “vulvitis.” Both are far more common in women with diabetes.
There are many causes of yeast infections. One is the use of antibiotics, which can change the balance in the vagina by killing bacteria, thus allowing yeast to grow unchecked. A common pattern is for a woman to treat a bladder infection with antibiotics, only to wind up with a yeast infection that is just as annoying.
According to Dr. Illiades, other causes of vaginitis include stress, illness, menstrual periods, pregnancy, and other medications. Diabetes Health writer Linda von Wartburg wrote that menopause may also increase the risk of vaginitis.
Preventing Yeast Infections
You can reduce your risk of vaginitis by making the vaginal environment less yeast-friendly. Yeast like warm, moist environments, so avoid wearing tight-fitting pants, spending time in a wet bathing suit, or soaking too long in a hot tub. Wash your vagina regularly to get rid of yeast, and make sure to dry carefully. It’s OK to use a blow dryer on low to get the area really dry. Because extra glucose in your blood will seep into your vagina and feed yeast, keep your blood glucose as close to the normal range as possible.
Bacteria help control yeast infections, so it’s often a good idea to increase your supply of good bacteria by eating yogurt regularly. Some women apply yogurt directly to their vagina when they have a yeast infection. Although there isn’t much scientific evidence for this, the website Your Yeast Infection says it “is the most common remedy” for yeast infections. The yogurt must not be sweetened because sugar will cancel out the benefits. It must also contain cultures of “acidophilus,” “bulgaricus,” or another live culture of bacteria to be effective. Not all yogurts have these, so consult the label.
You can also take these good bacteria in capsules called probiotics, (the opposite of antibiotics), which are available at most nutrition and health stores. They may help your body’s balance in other ways, especially if you take antibiotics often.
Anemia and lack of sleep also contribute to yeast infections. If you let yourself get run down, you will be at risk.
Douching is thought to contribute to yeast infections, so you might want to avoid it. Scented soaps and bubble baths, which can irritate the vagina, may also make it easier for an infection to get going. The same goes for scented tampons, sanitary pads, feminine sprays, and toilet tissue. “A good rule of thumb is to avoid using anything around the vagina that is scented or dyed or has print on it,” says gynecologist Samantha Dunham, MD, assistant professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine.
Treating Yeast Infections
A number of over-the-counter medicines kill yeast infections. You may have heard of Monistat and Gyne-Lotrimin. Other brand names are Femstat, Vagistat, Lotrisone, and Terazol. The active ingredients in these products are similar, but differ slightly.
You should take all the prevention steps even if you already have an infection. Wear loose-fitting clothes made of natural fibers because they keep you dryer. For the same reason, change your clothes often, especially your underwear.
It is considered safe to have sex with a yeast infection, but perhaps not desirable. The Monistat website says, “Vaginal yeast infections are usually not spread by having sex. However, if you have a yeast infection, you may want to avoid sexual activity until the infection is gone. Sexual intercourse can be painful and increase vaginal burning and inflammation.”
Although yeast infections aren’t usually spread by sexual contact, 10 to 15 percent of men may get an uncomfortable rash on their penis after unprotected sex with a woman who has a yeast infection. Condoms will prevent this, but on the other hand, condoms sometimes irritate a yeast infection. It might be better to engage in other forms of sex until the infection clears.
It’s important to avoid jumping to the conclusion that you have a yeast infection. Monistat.com says, “‘Vaginal yeast infections do not cause fever, chills, lower abdominal, back, or shoulder pain, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, or a missed period. These may be signs of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or a tubal pregnancy. If you have these symptoms, call your doctor right away.”
Preventing vaginal yeast infections is a lot like diabetes foot care or gum care. Good glucose control is the best preventive measure, but protecting the specific area is also important. You can get more information on the government website PubMed Health, at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002480