While vaginal yeast infections are rarely serious, you can avoid the uncomfortable symptoms by preventing them from occurring in the first place.

For most women, yeast infection symptoms are just plain annoying — a vaginal yeast infection is rarely dangerous. Still, you can take steps to prevent yeast infections. The following 10 pointers will help you to do just that.

Preventing Vaginal Yeast Infections: Hygiene Sense

Personal care and hygiene can go a long way when it comes to preventing vaginal yeast infections. Be sure to:

  • Wash well. Keeping the vagina clean will not only keep you smelling fresh, it can also help prevent yeast infections. When bathing, be sure to clean the inside folds of the vagina where yeast is likely to grow, says Samantha Dunham, MD, a gynecologist at the NYU Langone Medical Center and assistant professor of medicine at NYU School of Medicine in New York City.
  • Dry thoroughly. Because yeast thrives in moist environments, it’s important to dry the entire vaginal area after taking a shower or bath. You may even want to use a blow dryer on a low, cool setting to get rid of excess moisture, says Dr. Dunham.

What to Wear to Prevent Yeast Infections

The way you dress can affect your risk of developing a vaginal yeast infection. To prevent such infections, keep these tips in mind:

  • Go natural. Cotton and silk underwear absorb moisture, keeping you dry. On the other hand, nylon and other synthetic fabrics hold moisture close to your skin, encouraging the growth of yeast.
  • Change your clothes. Don’t sit around in sweaty gym clothes or a wet bathing suit. Change into dry clothes as soon as possible. Also, change your underwear often to prevent dampness.

What to Avoid to Prevent Yeast Infections

Some cosmetic products can encourage the production of yeast. You can stay well by:

  • Not douching.Douching [washing out the inside of the vagina with liquid] destroys not only harmful bacteria, but also the helpful kind that keep yeast under control,” says Dunham. Douching also washes away the natural protective lining of the vagina, leaving you more susceptible to yeast and other vaginal infections.
  • Skipping scented soaps, bubble baths, and feminine sprays. Perfumes can be irritating to the sensitive area inside the vagina, and that can increase your risk of getting a yeast infection. Also avoid scented sanitary pads and tampons and colored or printed toilet paper — dyes can also be irritating. “A good rule of thumb is to avoid using anything around the vagina that is scented or dyed or has print on it,” says Dunham.
  • Limiting the heat. Yeast organisms love warm (and moist) environments. It’s best to avoid taking long hot baths or soaking in a hot tub. Also don’t wear tight clothing that will prevent air from circulating around the crotch area, especially in the summer.

Medications That May Cause Vaginal Yeast Infections

Here’s what to know about medication when it comes to keeping vaginal yeast infections at bay:

  • Watch the meds you take. Antibiotics kill not only bad bacteria, but also good bacteria that can prevent an overgrowth of yeast. “Recent antibiotic use, like for a bladder infection, is one of the most common risk factors for getting a yeast infection,” says Dunham. Taking oral steroids and birth control pills may also increase your risk. If you have frequent yeast infections, talk to your doctor about the medications you take. There may be alternatives available.

Personal Care Tips for Preventing Yeast Infections

As with most illnesses and infections, taking care of your body overall can help you stay healthy. Be sure to:

  • Get enough sleep. Usually your immune system helps keep yeast under control. But if you get run down from skimping on sleep, your immune system may not be able to do its job. Try keeping a regular sleep schedule and avoiding exercise, caffeine, and heavy meals within three hours of bedtime. Immune-depressing diseases such as diabetes and HIV can also increase the risk of yeast infections. Additionally, if you have diabetes, it’s important to keep your blood sugar levels under control to prevent yeast infections.
  • Change your diet. Some studies suggest that eating yogurt with active cultures may help the body combat an overgrowth of yeast. Dunham also recommends limiting your intake of sugar. There’s some evidence that sugar may help promote the growth of yeast.

Knowing how to prevent yeast infections — and following these pointers — will greatly reduce your risk of dealing with uncomfortable yeast infection symptoms.

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