7 Daily Habits That Could Give You A Yeast Infection

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habits that can cause yeast infections
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Avoid these as much as you can!

By Rachel Reiff Ellis

Got yeast? Yes, you might—even if you’re not burning, itching, or noticing weird discharge when you wipe.

Yeast, which is actually a fungus called candida, pretty much always hangs out in the vagina in small numbers. “Yeast likes warm, damp places,” says Nina Ali, MD, assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine.

RELATED: 6 Things Anyone With A Vagina Should Know About Yeast Infections

Most of the time, that's okay: It’s too acidic in a healthy vagina for yeast to multiply and cause infection. But it doesn’t take much to change a vagina’s pH level and give yeast the green light to take off, which might be why 3 out of every 4 women will have a yeast infection in their lifetime. And once you get one, you’re more likely to get others, though doctors aren’t quite sure why.

Whether or not you're naturally prone to this problem, you might unknowingly be raising your risk by making one or more of these common mistakes. 

1. Letting sugar dominate your diet.

You don't have to eat chocolate cake to flood your blood with glucose. Sugar seems to lurk in everything, from ketchup to bread to peanut butter and more. And when you consistently take in too much, it can lead to a host of problems—including yeast infections. “If there's more glucose available in your body, that's an energy source for the yeast,” says Ali.

High blood sugar can also throw off the pH balance in your vaginal area, which allows yeast to thrive. So perhaps it's not surprising that recurrent yeast infections are common among people with diabetes. In some cases, they may be a sign that diabetes is on the horizon, says Michael Cackovic, MD, an ob-gyn at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center.

2. Running errands in your gym clothes or swimwear.

The longer you wait to change out of sweaty or wet clothes, the longer you surround your vagina with moist, damp, humid conditions that are perfect for yeast to grow. “Everybody's on the go, jetting from workouts to pick up groceries or this and that,” says Ali. But if you don’t take the time to change into something dry, you’re setting the stage for infection.

Cotton underwear can be a comfortable choice, but it may also hold on to dampness, says Cackovic. “It's like wearing a towel, essentially,” he says. He recommends choosing moisture-wicking fabrics that pull water and sweat away from your skin. But more important than your fabric choice is keeping things fresh and dry: If the clothes near your crotch are damp, change them as soon as you can.

3. Burning the midnight oil.

Are you a night owl? Do you sit up surfing channels or your smartphone until the wee hours? Your lack of sleep is likely doing a number on your immune system. When you don’t get quality shut-eye, your body isn’t well-equipped to fight off infections, and that includes yeast infections.

In fact, any habit that keeps you from maintaining good health—staying stressed, not exercising, eating poorly—can wreak havoc on your body’s defenses, says Ali.

RELATED: 8 Big, Red-Alert Signs Your Vagina Is Seriously Unhealthy

4. Squeezing into tight jeans.

Any clothing that’s pressed up against your crotch creates a dark and damp haven for yeast to thrive. Your clothes should be breathable so that any sweat you get can evaporate quickly. “Anything tight creates that situation where things can't get aired out,” says Cackovic.

Being very overweight can also be problematic. Yeast is a fan of skin folds, and if you have them in your nether regions and don't keep them dry it's easy to end up with infections both within and beyond the vagina. (Skin rashes are common.)

5. Having sex without protection.

Although a yeast infection isn’t technically a sexually-transmitted disease, it may be possible to get it from your partner during sex. “Generally, it doesn't get passed that way, but when women keep coming back with recurrent infections sometimes we do ask the partner to get treated to see if that helps," says Ali.

Men who are uncircumcised have a slightly higher chance of passing on yeast, since their foreskin creates a dark, damp area where it can hang out. Your risk also goes up every time you have a brand-new partner, because everyone has different flora, says Cackovic.

6. Stretching out your tampon time.

Ever hit the end of a really busy day and realize you can’t remember the last time you changed your tampon? Bad mistake. Anything you put in your vagina can upset the bacteria and pH balance. “You definitely don't want to forget about anything that's inserted in the vagina,” says Ali.

Using pads or a menstrual cup? Make sure you change (or empty) those often, too. And don't even think about douching: It only makes your body have to work harder to restore its natural bacteria balance.

7. Using hormonal birth control.

The cells in your vagina are very sensitive to estrogen and other hormones found in oral contraceptives, patches, and hormonal IUDs, so when you start using one of these methods it may alter your vagina’s environment and up your risk of getting a yeast infection. Luckily, studies show that this risk goes down over time, so if you've been on the Pill for years it's unlikely to start causing a problem now.

Also good to know: Sometimes birth control can change your discharge enough that it can fool you into thinking you have a yeast infection when you don’t. Anytime you're unsure, consult an expert before heading to the drugstore. “See your doctor, let them take a look under a microscope, and come up with a plan based on that,” says Cackovic.

RELATED: What It's Like Having An AWFUL Yeast Infection... In My Mouth

This article was originally published at Prevention. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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