Q&A: How to prevent chronic vaginal yeast infections

Q: I keep getting vaginal yeast infections. What am I doing wrong?

A: Up to 75 percent of women will have a vaginal yeast infection in their lifetime, and half will have more than one. About 5 percent of women suffer from chronic or recurring vaginal yeast infections, which are defined as having more than four a year.

A healthy vagina has yeast present. However, infections occur when yeast overgrows due to changes in the environment of the vagina. These changes may be caused by antibiotics, pregnancy, or hormonal changes; conditions affecting the immune system, such as stress; or chronic conditions like HIV, uncontrolled diabetes, or obesity. Even your anatomy can play a role in vaginal yeast infections: Women with a short perineum — the area between your vagina and anus — are more susceptible.

So, what can you do to prevent them?

Change your diet. Dietary items such as barley, corn, and refined flours and sugars can exacerbate fungal overgrowth. Eliminating these items from your diet, as well as limiting alcohol consumption, can help you avoid yeast infections. Conversely, consider adding cinnamon, garlic, and coconut oil to your diet, as they have antifungal properties that inhibit yeast overgrowth.

Stay dry. Wear cotton underwear, and loose, non-restrictive clothing whenever possible. Maintain a healthy exercise regimen, but be sure to keep yourself cool and dry after workouts, as yeast loves warm, moist areas.

Relax. Try yoga or meditation to minimize stress levels.

Practice good hygiene. Wiping front to back and showering after intercourse can help lower your risk of yeast infections. Avoid douching or sprays, as they can upset the vaginal environment and encourage yeast overgrowth.

If you have been prescribed antibiotics, talk to your doctor about yeast prevention, as they are known to kill the good bacteria that help maintain a healthy environment in your vagina.

If you experience symptoms of a yeast infection, there are several over-the-counter medications and prescriptions available. Be sure to avoid intercourse during treatment.

Above all, discuss the issue with your health-care provider — only that person knows your full health history, and can come up with a treatment plan that’s right for you.

Joanne Kakaty-Monzo, D.O., is chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.