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Some women are plagued by this again and again, and they will try anything to assign chronic yeast infections of the genital area to the past. Furthermore, the topic is subject to the shame of various taboos, so that dealing openly with these burdensome symptoms, which are easy to treat, is made unnecessarily difficult. We want to draw attention to this topic once again, in an open, plain and respectful way.
In this article, you can read everything you need to know about chronic yeast infections of the female genital area, why myths have been stubbornly perpetuated over many years, and what is actually scientifically and medically proven.
We talk of a chronic vaginal yeast infection when it occurs more than four times per year and a fungal culture confirms the diagnosis. Another specialist term for vaginal yeast infection is candidal vulvovaginitis, as it affects both the vulva (outer female genital area) and the vagina. In most cases, the fungal infection is caused by the candida albicans yeast fungus. This fungal disease is commonly referred to as a “disease of the diseased”. This means that people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes mellitus or psoriasis, or with a weakened immune system, are more likely to suffer from recurrent fungal conditions. This is why it is so important that thorough medical checks are carried out to identify any potentially undiagnosed underlying causes.
Many characteristic symptoms such as itching, burning and redness of the outer genital areas suggest a yeast infection. The area may feel raw and be swollen. Furthermore, there is, as a rule, a white, crumbly but odourless discharge. There may also be problems when passing urine and during sexual intercourse.
For many patients, receiving this diagnosis from a gynaecologist is very unpleasant. The shame and anxiety about discussing it with their partner is too great. We want to take this opportunity to encourage all affected women to deal with these complaints openly and confidently, armed with the necessary knowledge. As a matter of principle, a visit to the doctor is recommended. This is the only way to clarify the situation. So-called mixed infections are common, when the yeast infection is accompanied by other pathogens. This requires a detailed medical check to ensure appropriate treatment.
The pathology of chronic vaginal thrush is not yet fully understood. It is thought that the immune system and other factors interact, resulting in the recurrence of candidal vulvovaginitis for some women. Possible causes of chronic vaginal yeast infection include a weakening of the immune system, allergic and inflammatory components and chronic illnesses including thyroid disorders and diabetes mellitus. Changes to the hormone system, for example during pregnancy, and the use of certain medications such as antibiotics, can also make it easier for a yeast infection to occur. Scientific studies have shown that stress is another substantial factor in the development of vaginal yeast. Experts also suspect a genetic, or hereditary, disposition. Yeast fungal infections primarily occur for women of childbearing age. This arises from the fact that candida albicans is acidophilic and is strengthened by the female hormone, oestrogen. This means that the pathogen is especially at home in the acidic vaginal flora, which is rich in lactobacilli.
Should there be a change within the woman’s body, the yeast can multiply to the extent that the typical symptoms of a yeast infection develop. From a medical perspective, this can be particularly attributed to immunological and allergy-related components. This also explains why some women are repeatedly affected. As a rule, the immune system is weakened, allowing the yeast to multiply. For many people, candida albicans is part of the gut flora. In most cases, a yeast infection is an endogenous disorder. This means that the yeast mostly spreads from the woman’s anal area to the genital area. Alongside the body’s own weakened immune system, for example, excessive hygiene can reduce the barrier and protective characteristics of the skin, smoothing the way for the yeast to grow. Women who use aggressive cleaning products or vaginal douches unwittingly interfere in their own body’s protection, weakening the vaginal defences, so that irritation, infection and disruption of the environment may result.
Vaginal yeast from antibiotics?
Many women suffer from yeast infections in the genital area after taking antibiotics.
This is due, amongst other things, to the fact that antibiotics limit the growth of bacteria and actually kill bacteria. This is good when it affects germs responsible for diseases, but antibiotics do not differentiate between “good” and “bad” bacteria. Our body is home to many microorganisms, and in a state of balance, they protect us from damaging influences. In particular, the female genital flora actually needs lactobacilli, protective lactic acid bacteria. They are often joined by other bacteria and by yeasts such as candida albicans. When the ratios are balanced, this is not a cause for concern. After a course of antibiotics, though, these useful bacteria are often significantly depleted or even completely destroyed, so that other microorganisms can quickly spread, leading to infection.
Regeneration of the vaginal and gut flora may be indicated after antibiotics or after recurrent urinary tract infections. It has been shown that the replenishment of physiological balance in the vaginal environment with protective lactobacilli is justified.
Many complaints can be alleviated with healthy vaginal flora, and diseases such as bacterial vaginosis can even be prevented. Furthermore, demonstrably better healing of bacterial vaginosis can be achieved with the simultaneous local application of lactobacilli. The good lactobacilli, also known as Döderlein bacteria, keep the pH level of the vaginal flora acidic and protect the genital area from germs. If there are enough lactobacilli and the pH level is maintained below 4.4, it is more difficult for pathogenic microorganisms to become established and to spread. Scientific studies confirm how important protective lactobacilli are for a healthy vaginal environment.
Whilst acute vaginal thrush can be reliably treated locally with vaginal tablets inserted into the vagina and cream for external areas, recurrent yeast infections are normally treated systemically, i.e. with tablets over a longer period. The tablets are taken orally and function via the blood circulatory system. Medical studies have shown that long-term therapy over several months results in more effective healing. Nevertheless, the rate of recurrence remains high.
As well as treating any potential underlying illness, tests on the immune system should be considered in the case of long-term chronic vaginal thrush. For some women, special immune-stimulating vaccinations have achieved positive results. It is also important to ensure that it is candida albicans, because other, less common fungal infections will not respond to the same medication and therefore cannot be effectively treated.
How do you get vaginal yeast? Myths and facts about chronic vaginal yeast infection
The myth of uncleanliness
A chronic yeast infection does not normally indicate a lack of cleanliness. It is more likely that excessive cleaning has upset the balance of the vaginal environment. Soap-free lotions and special cleansers targeted at the genital area and with the right pH level are recommended. Underwear and daily genital hygiene should allow the body to breathe, not be too tight, and be free of preservatives and perfumes.
The myth of contagiousness
Many women think they have caught a yeast infection from somewhere. They are therefore ashamed or avoid telling their partner. In fact, the possibility of infecting someone else is very minimal. It is far more likely that the skin was already damaged or the immune system already weakened, and the illness has then broken out as a consequence.
Some physicians recommend treating the partner as well when a woman has a chronic yeast infection. In most cases, though, one can assume that it is a recurrence of the yeast infection and not a re-infection by the partner.
The myth of infidelity
Young women in particular often avoid talking with their partner. Uncertainty and ignorance on both sides can lead to misunderstandings. But a yeast infection is in no way a sign of infidelity.
The myth of whirlpools and saunas
Tests have confirmed that yeasts such as candida albicans are only minimally present in whirlpools, swimming pools and saunas. Isolated yeasts were found in the changing rooms of women’s toilets. If a woman suffers more from vaginal yeast after visiting the swimming pool, it is more reasonable to assume that the mucosa have been irritated by the chlorine in the water and existing yeast have responded to the changed environment of the skin, more conducive to their multiplication and leading to classic symptoms.
Yeast thrives in a warm, moist environment. After swimming, it is important to replace the wet swimwear with dry clothes as quickly as possible.
The myth of diet
The idea that chronic yeast infections can be counteracted with a sugar-free diet is heavily disputed. Unless a metabolic disorder such as diabetes mellitus has been diagnosed, experts are not agreed on this assumption, and there is certainly no scientific evidence to support it. It is correct that a healthy, high-fibre diet will support your gut and therefore your immune defences, because more than 80 percent of the immune system is located in the gut.
The myth of tampons soaked in yoghurt
Yoghurt does, of course, contain useful probiotics which can have a positive effect on our bodies. Yoghurt can indeed, as part of the diet, have a positive influence on chronic yeast infections of the genital area. But tampons soaked in yoghurt are not advisable. The bacterial cultures contained in yoghurt are not compatible with vaginal flora and could potentially cause more harm than good.
Our health is influenced by many factors. Often we are aware of the potential consequences, if they are obvious. If a colleague is sitting next to us in the office with a runny nose, coughing incessantly, we will almost expect to catch a cold. Similarly, the concept of a healthy, nutritious diet is now pretty tedious for many; but some things will never change, regardless of the latest dietary trend. Healthy nutrition has an effect on our well-being, sometimes subconsciously and over a period of many years. A look at dietary habits confirms this, exploring potential deficiencies and the associated weakness of the immune system. In the case of chronic disease, it can therefore be sensible to check for potential nutritional deficiencies that may be weakening the immune system. Ideally, a blood test can identify what is lacking, so that targeted dietary adjustments and, were appropriate, dietary supplements can be used to counter the problem and strengthen the body’s own defences.
Psychological stress also weakens us and makes us more susceptible to all sorts of complaints. Some women react with headaches, others with recurrent cold symptoms, and others with chronic yeast infections. Although every person is different and it is, of course, important to exclude potential accompanying illnesses, one common factor is often found: a compromised immune system. It is therefore not just individual factors that we must consider when we look for a healthy lifestyle, but rather the whole picture. Sport, exercise in the fresh air and regular relaxation techniques such as yoga and sauna visits are equally important to preventive health care and should, where possible, be integrated in everyday life. Only in this way can their preventive contribution to strengthening the immune system be achieved. Take a break more often. Enjoy a warm cup of tea on the sofa or spoil yourself with a spa visit. Your body will thank you.
We wish you all the best. Your Vagiflor® team.
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