Summer is here, and with it comes warm weather, beach vacations, sand, sun, saltwater, and …vaginal infections?! Nothing puts a damper on the fun like an infection. But why do doctors and other sexual health experts see such a spike in these infections during the warm summer months?
According to OBGYN Ruth O. Arumala, DO, MPH, NCMP, the biggest culprit is the increase in moisture, whether from sweating or swimming. “Sweat has a pH of 7, while the vagina’s pH is much lower, from 3.5 to 4.5. Lots of sweating can affect the internal and external pH of the vagina, leading to an increase in yeast and vaginitis.”
Why Do I Feel Itchy Down There in Summer?
Summer brings moisture into all our lives. In the winter you can easily go all day without breaking a sweat. But once the summer heat waves roll around, just stepping outside might be enough to make you sticky. If you’re wearing tight clothes or non-breathable fabrics, that moisture could be trapped next to your skin all day. Worse, when it’s time to cool off, what do you do? Jump in the water – more moisture, especially if you don’t dry off and change your clothes promptly. And the longer you walk around with moisture trapped down there, the more likely you are to develop an infection.
Dr. Arumala says the most common problems she sees in the summer are yeast infections. How do you know if you have a yeast infection? Common symptoms include a red, itchy, or irritated vulva, often accompanied by a yeasty odor and a discharge that looks like cottage cheese. Another common vaginal infection to look out for is bacterial vaginosis (BV), with symptoms that include a fishy odor and a grayish discharge.
Worst of all, Dr. Arumala says she often sees BV start to clear up and then turn into a yeast infection. “The vagina has to be filled with something. It can’t just be sterile, so when the BV is cleared up, it leaves room for yeast or other bacteria to populate.”
A vaginal infection, whether yeast or BV, can really throw a wrench into your summer plans. While other people are spending time at the pool or enjoying carefree vacations, a chronic infection can make you not want to do anything. Yeast infections, BV, and other common forms of vaginitis can also really wreck your confidence – and you probably won’t be feeling very sexy, so all the hot, sweaty, summer sex you had planned is going to go by the wayside.
So how do you avoid these common vaginal infections during the summer? And if that fails, how do you get rid of them? Follow along for some tips on how to maintain a healthy vagina all summer long.
Tips for Avoiding Common Infections
While both yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis are easily treatable, there is a risk of them becoming chronic. Thus, it’s best to try to avoid them in the first place by practicing good vaginal hygiene and keeping yourself as healthy as possible.
Here are five helpful tips that you can start putting into practice today.
1. Keep Things Breathable
It’s really important to let your vagina breathe, especially in the face of extreme temperatures and the sweat they bring. Dr. Arumala says, “I recommend patients sleep without panties overnight in order to get oxygen to the area.” In addition to sleeping in the nude, experts also recommend using only breathable fabrics (such as cotton) around your vaginal area and making sure your pants and underwear aren’t too tight.
2. Try Probiotics
You may have heard about probiotics for your gut, but what you may not know is that probiotics can also help out your vagina. Just like your gut, your vagina is home to many different strains of bacteria, some healthy, some not. When those get out of balance, you can become prone to vaginal infections.
Dr. Arumala recommends making sure your diet is full of healthy probiotic sources: “Putting yogurt in the lineup on a regular basis is a good idea since it’s full of healthy probiotics.” Other sources of probiotics include fermented foods, like sauerkraut or kimchi. And if a gut probiotic isn’t enough, you can also look for a vaginal probiotic, like our BiopHresh Vaginal Homeopathic Suppository (coming June 2020).
3. Avoid Douching
Whatever you do, avoid douches or any other scented, fragranced vaginal hygiene products. The vagina is self-cleaning, and while the vulva (the outer part where the labia and the clitoris are) needs very minimal cleaning, this should only be done with mild, gentle, unscented vaginal soap or wash.
Why? Because douching and other scented feminine hygiene products can throw off the pH of the vagina, which means although you might feel clean for a minute, in the long run you are even more likely to contract a vaginal infection.
4. Clean Up Your Diet
While good vaginal hygiene is key, it’s also a good idea to make sure you’re eating a healthy diet. A diet full of probiotics is a great start, but avoiding sugar is also an excellent way to stop a yeast infection in its tracks.
Why? Yeast feeds on sugar, so when you cut out the sugar, you starve the yeast. Don’t spoil your summer fun, but instead of that super sugary margarita, maybe go for a vodka tonic.
5. Don’t Self-Treat
If you start noticing odd symptoms, don’t try to self diagnose, even if you’ve had a yeast infection or bout of BV before and think you know what’s going on.
Yeast infections and BV can look and feel similar, so you might think you have one when you actually have the other – and the treatments are completely different. It’s important to get checked out by a professional to make sure you’re treating the right thing. Dr. Arumala suggests developing a close, trusting relationship with your doctor so that you feel comfortable calling as soon as you suspect something is wrong.
Treatment for Summertime Discomfort
So what happens if you eat a balanced diet and take your probiotics and still get irritated down there? First off, you don’t have to feel ashamed. The vaginal ecosystem is incredibly sensitive and complicated, and imbalances happen from time to time. In addition to the heat and sweat of summer, stress, pregnancy, or changes in birth control can trigger irritation. It’s not your fault, and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It does mean you need a way to feel better. Here are some tips.
Hygiene and pH
Upping your vaginal hygiene game is a great place to start, not just because it keeps you feeling clean, but because it helps you maintain a healthy pH level in your vagina – and that healthy pH is a great way to discourage BV and yeast infections.
Your best friends here are the healthy bacteria that live in the vagina, which both perpetuate and thrive in a somewhat acidic environment with a pH of 3.5 to 4.5. Unfortunately, stress, hormonal changes, and poor vaginal hygiene can throw off this ideal vaginal environment, leaving you more susceptible to infections.
In order to address these problems, we recommend a multi-pronged approach to maintaining optimal vaginal pH levels.
First up, our BiopHresh Vaginal Homeopathic Suppository (coming June 2020), which you can add to your daily supplement routine. BiopHresh is designed with multiple strains of beneficial lactobacilli, which are essential for a healthy vaginal environment.
Next, check out our Balance Moisturizing Personal Wash, a gentle, unscented feminine wash that won’t throw off your pH or irritate your vulva, no matter how sensitive your skin is.
Summer often means you’re on the go, which can make it a little tricky to stay clean and balanced. If you’re hitting the gym, cruising the beach, or jetting to some far-off land, don’t forget to bring along our Rebalance Wipes, convenient pH-balanced wipes to keep you fresh down there no matter where you are.
Like your skin, your vagina needs moisturizing – especially in the summer, when dryness and irritation can hit hard. And, just as you would for your skin, you can keep your vagina happy by choosing a moisturizer that supports your natural pH. Whether you are experiencing extra dryness or just want a pH-balanced product, check out our Restore Moisturizing Gel, a two-in-one vaginal moisturizer and lubricant that is pH matched, too.
Wetter is Better
A solid vaginal hygiene and moisturizing routine is one of the best gifts you can give your vagina all year long, but especially in the summer when temperatures skyrocket. Another thing you can do? Make sure you’re using a high-quality lubricant when you are sexually active, as it can really help alleviate issues with dryness or mild irritation.
If you do get an infection, your doctor will probably tell you not to have sex at all until it clears up. We know summer sex is hard to pass up, but listen to your doctor on this one – get healthy first.
When to Call Your Doctor
It’s normal to feel a little off down there every now and then. Things like sweat, chlorine, and saltwater can change your odor or cause a little irritation, especially if you’re already prone to dryness or if you’re in the midst of normal hormonal changes like periods, breastfeeding, pregnancy, or menopause. However, if you notice any abnormal symptoms, such as yeasty or grayish discharge, a fishy smell, or a yeasty smell, it’s time to get in touch with your doctor.
Again, don’t be ashamed. It isn’t your fault that some stupid yeast decided to move into your vagina. Your doctor can review your symptoms with you, give you a proper exam to determine exactly what is going on, and make sure that you’re getting the treatment you need.
Stay Worry-Free This Summer
No one wants to be worried about a vaginal infection during the carefree summer months. And while you can’t always avoid them, there are some best practices that can lessen your chances of getting one. Reducing your sugar intake, taking probiotics (both gut and vaginal), eating a good diet, avoiding douching, and establishing a good vaginal hygiene routine can greatly reduce your chances of contracting a vaginal infection.
Maintaining optimal vaginal health has quite a bit to do with maintaining a healthy bacteria and pH balance. Luckily, making a few minor adjustments to your lifestyle and arming yourself with some high-quality, pH-balanced products can be the difference between itchy discomfort and a fun, worry-free summer.