Does Everything That Itches Equal Yeast? Vaginal Infections

When anything feels off down there, our mind usually goes to one place: yeast infection. No matter what the actual symptoms are, any discomfort seems to signal yeast. For whatever reason, for most of us vaginal discomfort reflexively equals yeast. And while some of us will call our GYN to get their take on what’s going on down there, most of us simply head over to the local Duane Reade or CVS for some sort of topical relief.

Whether you pick the one-day, the three-day, or the extended seven-day course, you leave with something to stop the itch, the burn, and the overall discomfort. It isn’t until your symptoms outlast the one-, three-, or seven-day regimen that you pick up the phone and call your doctor. It is usually here that you find out that not all burning, discharge, or itching is yeast—a.k.a. Monistat works, just not on a bacterial or urinary tract infection.

Here are some tips on how to know if yeast is really the culprit…

  1. Discharge: While most of us associate vaginal discharge with some sort of problem or infection, news flash: a healthy vagina also secretes vaginal discharge. However, the latter is usually odorless, fairly clear, and doesn’t make you think or wipe twice! An infection, be it yeast, bacteria, or something else, will cause the discharge to change color, content, and quantity. While yeast is routinely associated with white, clumped (cottage cheese-like) discharge, discharge that is green or yellow is more commonly seen in bacterial infections (e.g., bacterial vaginosis or Trichomoniasis). And taking it one step further, urinary tract infections (which are often misdiagnosed as a yeast infection) will likely cause no change in the quantity or quality of the vaginal discharge. Bottom line, what the discharge looks like may “color” our diagnosis of what is causing your vaginal discomfort.
  2. Odor: Nobody wants to smell bad…especially down there! So, when something smells off, it should signal you that something is not right. However, that “not right” does not mean a yeast infection. Here’s the deal. A normal vaginal pH is about 3.8 to 4.5. Infections can alter the pH and change the vaginal odor. Select bacteria (think bacterial vaginosis, a.k.a. BV) can result in foul-smelling vaginal discharge. And although yeast can alter the pH, it doesn’t usually have a significant impact on vaginal odor. Therefore, when the odor seems way off you are likely dealing with something else.
  3. Itching: Vaginal itching and yeast infections sort of go hand in hand. In fact, this is the symptom that sends most of us straight to the drugstore. But while yeast is the infection that is most likely to cause an itching sensation, the vaginal mucosa, just like your skin, is sensitive to changes in body washes, soaps, and detergents. The same sort of itching that can occur on your arms, legs, stomach, and face when you change detergent or add a new skin care product can happen to your vagina. Before prescribing yourself Monistat, think about what has changed in your hygiene routine, and make sure that it is not what’s making you itch!
  4. Abdominal Pain: Most vaginal infections are limited to the vulva and the vagina. They rarely make their way to the cervix, the uterus, the tubes, and into the pelvis/abdomen. However, some sexually transmitted diseases (think chlamydia and gonorrhea) can move. They are frequent trespassers in the pelvis and pelvic organs. Therefore, when abdominal pain is accompanying your vaginal discharge the culprit is more likely to be a bug that can do damage on the inside as well as the outside rather than your garden-variety yeast. However, the pathogens that can move can do some major damage (e.g., infertility) if they are not treated.
  5. Fever: While most vaginal infections are super annoying, that won’t make you super sick. Therefore, when a woman reports a fever as well as vaginal discharge we start to think of things like gonorrhea, chlamydia, and even an infection in the kidneys. If your temperature goes up, you should get up and go right to your doctor!
  6. Pain with Urination: Although vaginal discomfort can make urinating super uncomfortable, pain with urination is usually the tell-tale sign of a urinary tract infection. Add to that urinary frequency and urgency (a.k.a. I have to go right now!), and urinary discomfort is more likely to be from a urinary tract infection rather than a vaginal infection.

So, while we all love to play Dr. Google not everything can be solved without a visit to a doctor. Not everything that itches, burns, or makes you feel uncomfortable is a yeast infection. Make sure you take note of everything that you are feeling. If your discharge comes with any one of the above, Monistat is not going to make it go away. Go and see your GYN!


How Does Food Affect Your Vagina?

While your diet and vagina may seem unrelated, what you ingest can make a difference in your vagina’s health. Vaginal odor, vaginal secretions, and overall vaginal health can be impacted by what you eat and what you drink. Here’s why….

You were probably unaware that your vagina is home to lots of good bacteria. And while you may never see them or even feel them, these bacteria are far from lazy houseguests. They are working around the clock to keep the vagina healthy, balanced, and acidic. Believe it or not, your vagina (just like your Secret deodorant!) is pH balanced. A normal, healthy vagina, in large part due to good bacteria, is acidic. This acidic environment helps to keep infection and the resultant nagging symptoms at bay. Therefore, when this balance is interrupted, your vagina can go a bit haywire. Here are some tips on what you can eat to keep your vagina in “tip-top” shape!

  1. Sugar: Sugar in many ways is public enemy #1 when it comes to your vagina. It increases your vaginal pH (a.k.a. makes things more basic), making you more prone to yeast infections. And while yeast infections are known for that annoying itchy sensation, they are not only uncomfortable but can also change the vagina’s odor.
  1. Salt: Although we, too, love a bag of potato chips, popping one open before you hop into bed may not be the best idea. Salty foods can decrease blood flow to the vagina—decreased blood flow can lead to decreased sex drive and the decreased ability to orgasm.
  1. Probiotics: There may be no better friend of the vagina than yogurt and probiotics. These items are super important to maintaining the healthy vaginal flora (a.k.a. bacteria) and that acidic pH. Yogurt, kimchi, and probiotics are chockfull of good bacteria. They serve as reinforcements to your own fleet of good bacteria and are essential to maintaining vaginal health.
  1. Vitamin C: Hello, sunshine state! Foods high in vitamin C (think oranges, lemons, and grapefruits!) help reduce inflammation and infection throughout the body (your vagina included). By increasing your vitamin C intake, you will not only ward off that cold circulating around your office, but you will also help protect your vagina from unwelcome guests.
  1. Phytoestrogens: Phytoestrogens are structurally very similar to estrogens. Therefore, they can cause very similar effects throughout bodies. Take that one step further, and eating foods high in phytoestrogens (flax seeds, tofu) can increase vaginal lubrication.
  1. Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Start making your way over to the seafood shop because foods like salmon and tuna, which are teeming with omega-3 fatty acids, are super important for circulation. And increased blood flow is not only good for the heart and the brain but also the vagina. It can help improve sex drive. They also come with the bonus of decreased inflammation, which can translate into decreased menstrual cramps!
  1. Magnesium: And if fish isn’t your speed, make a sharp left for your veggie aisle. Foods high in magnesium, spinach, avocado, and leafy green vegetables also improve circulation and blood flow.  
  1. Oysters: Oysters are no strangers to the vaginal health list. The high zinc content in oysters has been demonstrated to increase sex drive.
  1. Green Tea: While we all know that cranberry juice can help fight urinary tract infections, it is also loaded with sugar (public enemy #1 for the vagina). So if you are looking to ward of those pesky UTIs but not overload on sugar, try green tea. Data shows that green tea may possess the properties needed to fight off UTIs.

   10. Water: Last, we all know that water does a body good, but it also can do your vagina good.        Staying well-hydrated improves vaginal lubrication and maintains proper vaginal pH balance. So keep on chugging that water. Your entire body will thank you!