Understanding the underlying issue of a yeast infection is paramount for effective treatment, says Dr. Paul Stallone.
by Dr. Paul Stallone
Most women assume anything abnormal in their vagina is a yeast infection; however, vaginal infections have multiple causes. While symptoms may be similar, the actual cause could be from fungus or bacteria. In fact, the common yeast infection is actually the second-leading type of vaginal infection.
A single yeast infection may be something almost every single woman will experience in her lifetime. Multiple yeast infections, however, are not. If a woman is experiencing chronic or back-to-back yeast infections, she has an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Yeast infections, also known as candidiasis, are caused by a fungus. Symptoms can vary, but usually involve intense itching, irritation, and swelling. A true infection will usually clear up on its own with the woman’s next menstrual cycle, as this raises the pH levels in the vagina and creates an unfavorable environment for the fungus. Most women will not want to wait and will purchase an over-the-counter treatment like Monistat. This treatment will be unsuccessful if the underlying cause is bacteria.
Bacterial vaginosis or BV, is the leading cause of vaginal infections, yet most women are unfamiliar with it. BV occurs when pathogenic bacteria outnumber the beneficial bacteria in the vagina. The delicate balance maintains the integrity of the vagina, and once these levels become compromised, treatment becomes necessary. Symptoms may include itching, redness and vaginal discharge that smells fishy, while the discharge that can accompany yeast infections has more of a bread or beer odor.
Before beginning a course of treatment, pinpointing which infection is present is essential. Treating for a yeast infection when it’s actually BV may only irritate and worsen BV. Diagnosing can be pretty straightforward with the right naturopathic physician. A treatment plan may be recommended based on in-office testing and an evaluation of symptoms. Some women will require more specialized testing based on factors considered by their doctor. Specialized lab work collected during a vaginal exam will determine the actual source out of the numerous possibilities that can cause vaginal infections, including STDs. This type of testing will supply invaluable information which a specific treatment plan will be based upon.
Another test that a naturopathic physician may consider is for heavy metals. We do not usually think that heavy metal toxicity may be related to a yeast infection, but it can. As heavy metals accumulate in the body, they disrupt the good and bad bacteria balance, leading to yeast overgrowth. Yeast will bind with heavy metals, creating an expanding environment as levels of the metals rise. Women may struggle with yeast infection treatment if these heavy metals are not addressed.
Women with chronic vaginal infections or vaginal issues should consult with an experienced physician to determine if it’s a yeast infection or BV, and also to establish what could be causing these infections to reoccur. Women that only treat the symptoms may be setting themselves up for future complications. With the right diagnostic work, treatment and naturopathic approach, these infections can be easily dealt with and prevented.