While yeast infections can happen to anyone at any age, there are certain factors that can increase your chances.
Let’s look at causes of chronic yeast infections and the steps you can take to manage and prevent the most common recurring yeast infections.
The Mayo Clinic defines recurring yeast infections as those that happen four or more times within a year.
Chronic yeast infections can occur if conditions in the body are favorable for yeast overgrowth. An overgrowth of Candida causes most cases of yeast infections. This type of yeast is naturally present in our bodies.
In the vagina, chronic yeast infections can happen when there’s an imbalance or variation in vaginal bacteria. These bacteria normally help keep Candida from overgrowing. An imbalance or variation can happen if too much bacteria are removed via antibiotics or douching.
It’s crucial to have a balance of healthy microorganisms in the body. This is where probiotic supplements or foods like yogurt with active cultures may help. Although this isn’t accepted as proven treatment for yeast infections, some people feel it’s helpful for promoting healthy vaginal bacteria.
Candida also tends to thrive in wet conditions, such as sweat or saliva. A lack of regular hygiene practices, such as daily showers and brushing your teeth, or a constantly damp environment can also lead to chronic yeast infections.
You’re also at risk of recurring yeast infections if you have a weakened immune system. The following can weaken your immune system:
- some medications
- certain health conditions
Here are some possible causes of chronic yeast infections.
The initial yeast infection wasn’t completely treated
If your yeast infection didn’t respond to the first course of treatment, your doctor may prescribe long-term antifungals. This may include weekly oral or vaginal medications for up to six months.
Transmitting the infection back and forth
Candida infections can happen on other areas of skin and in the mouth. They can spread via skin-to-skin contact. This is most common between breastfeeding moms and their babies.
The key to prevent recurring transmissions is to make sure both mom and baby are completely cured of yeast infections. You may have to pump your breast milk and bottle-feed while the infections clear up.
While not classified as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it’s possible to pass yeast infections back and forth between sexual partners.
Humidity and moisture
Yeast tends to thrive in wet, humid conditions. Living in a humid environment, constantly sweating, and wearing damp clothing can contribute to yeast or fungal growth. It may be helpful to wear cotton underwear and breathable fabrics.
Drug-resistant strains of yeast
While rare, a species of yeast that’s able to resist common medications may be behind your chronic yeast infection.
If your yeast infection isn’t responding to treatment, your doctor may recommend a different antifungal medication and a multifaceted approach. This might include lifestyle changes and supplements.
It’s not a yeast infection
Some conditions can mimic the symptoms of a yeast infection, such as:
It’s important to see your doctor for a first-time yeast infection or for a yeast infection that returns. They can take a sample (culture) of the suspected yeast infection to determine if it’s attributed to another condition.
The genital area naturally contains Candida. Once this balance is disrupted, though, Candida overgrowth can happen.
For some people, being prone to yeast infections is simply hereditary. Overgrowth of yeast can also happen as a result of:
- moist conditions
- poor hygiene
- antibiotic use
Genital yeast infections are also more common in people with compromised immune systems and who have diabetes. Sexual activity and high estrogen levels are other risk factors.
There are also suggesting chronic yeast infections may be due to hypersensitivity to Candida.
A genital yeast infection can cause burning and itching sensations. You may also notice a red rash, especially around the vulva or anywhere on the penis. When you urinate, you may see a cottage cheese-like discharge and feel burning on the surrounding skin.
Over-the-counter suppository medications can usually treat vaginal yeast infections. However, if this is your first yeast infection or first recurring yeast infection, you may want to see your doctor. They can rule out the possibility of other infections.
Once treated, you can help keep genital yeast infections from returning by keeping good hygiene habits and promoting normal vaginal bacterial balance. Here are some tips:
- Wear cotton underwear and loose clothing.
- Take daily showers.
- Wash and sterilize any clothing and towels you used during your infection.
Like the genital area, Candida is naturally occurring inside your mouth. But if Candida levels get out of control, you may develop thrush.
Symptoms include thick, white lesions that grow on the insides of the cheeks, tongue, and back of the throat. You may also have an uncomfortable feeling of fullness in your mouth. This can cause difficulty eating and swallowing.
Oral thrush tends to be more common in people with weakened immune systems, such as:
- the elderly
- people who have an autoimmune disorder
Wearing dentures or taking antibiotics can also lead to Candida overgrowth in your mouth.
Oral thrush is easily treatable. It involves taking antifungal medication taken by mouth.
Poor oral hygiene can lead to recurring thrush infections. Chronic oral thrush can also occur in babies who need to continue breastfeeding.
Ways to cut down on chronic oral thrush include the following:
- Replace your toothbrush or any mouth gear after an active oral thrush infection so you don’t re-infect yourself.
- Clean and sterilize retainers and other dental gear like dentures, mouthguards, and water flossers. Consider consulting a dentist or doctor for tips.
- For babies with oral thrush, both mom and baby need to receive treatment. Having the household take preventive measures at the same time is also important.
It’s also possible to develop a throat and esophageal yeast infection. Mucocutaneous candidiasis is behind this type of yeast infection. It affects the mucous membranes in the throat and esophagus.
Esophageal yeast infections can occur if oral thrush is left untreated.
These types of yeast infections are also most common in people with weakened immune systems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mouth and throat yeast infections occur in about of people living with HIV.
Treatment and preventive measures for yeast infections in the throat and esophagus are similar to that of oral thrush. Your doctor will likely prescribe an antifungal called fluconazole.
The sooner you treat a yeast infection, the faster you can get rid of the associated discomfort. Call your doctor if your yeast infection seems persistent.
Once your doctor confirms the diagnosis, it’s important to take the necessary steps to make sure you get rid of it for good. This will also help manage the possibility of chronic cases. Consider the following tips to manage chronic yeast infections:
- Make sure you take your full course of medication, even if symptoms go away before the medicine is gone and even if you don’t think it’s working right away.
- If you’re sexually active, ask your partner to get tested for Candida, too. This will help prevent the infection from spreading.
- Change and launder your clothing and fabrics, like towels and sheets, regularly and separate from other clothing. Consider adding bleach, or distilled white vinegar to the wash.
- Wash items that come into contact with infected areas directly after use to prevent spreading yeast cells or re-infecting yourself.
- Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen or if the infection returns after the treatment is complete.
Yeast infections are complex, but they can be cured. Severe or recurring yeast infections will just take more time. Keep in touch with your doctor if symptoms of a yeast infection get worse or come back.