As unpleasant as it may be to experience the irritation of a yeast infection alongside period cramps and other symptoms, your period shouldn’t have too much of an effect on how you treat and get rid of your yeast infection. Hopefully this is particularly comforting to hear at time when heading to your health care provider’s office might not be as simple as it used to be, and stressing over anything can feel more intense than normal. If you suspect you’re suddenly dealing with both a yeast infection and your period, keep reading for some insight on why this might be happening and what you can do about it.
What’s going on when you get a yeast infection?
The fungus that most often causes yeast infections is known as Candida albicans, and it occurs naturally in the body, including in the vagina. Usually, bacteria called Lactobacillus prevent this fungus from growing out of control. But sometimes this yeast has a chance to grow unchecked and cause a yeast infection, which is usually characterized by itching, irritation, and a cottage-cheese-like discharge.
This overgrowth can happen for a few reasons, including using antibiotics that throw off your vaginal flora, hormone fluctuations, health conditions like uncontrolled diabetes, or even lifestyle habits like regularly wearing your sweaty workout clothes for way too long, according to the Mayo Clinic. In any case, rest assured that yeast infections are incredibly common. In fact, 75% of women report getting a yeast infection at some point, with many experiencing at least two infections in their lifetimes, the Mayo Clinic notes. Basically, you’re in great (and probably also very annoyed) company.
Getting your period and a yeast infection can happen pretty easily.
While most people don’t regularly get yeast infections simultaneously with their periods, it’s definitely possible to have both at once, Taraneh Shirazian, M.D., a gynecologist and assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. This is because hormones, vaginal pH, and bacteria levels can all fluctuate in the time leading up to your period, making it easier for yeast to grow too much, H. Frank Andersen, M.D., a clinical education director and ob/gyn in the Department of Medical Education and Clinical Sciences at Washington State University, tells SELF.
More specifically, an increase in estrogen in the days before your period could predispose you to a yeast infection/menstruation combo. A significant enough uptick in estrogen is a known risk factor for yeast infections; high levels of estrogen appear to lower vaginal pH, causing it to become more acidic in a way that makes it easier for yeast to overgrow to the point of infection.
Even if you’re on a combined hormonal contraceptive that suppresses this kind of natural hormonal fluctuation, the estrogen in your birth control itself can also increase your risk of a yeast infection, the Mayo Clinic says. There is also research to indicate that levels of Lactobacillus drop during your period, which causes vaginal pH to become more acidic.
Luckily, Dr. Andersen notes that there’s no reason to worry that your period will make the yeast infection any worse, symptomatically speaking. You might be more annoyed, of course (see the aforementioned rain metaphor), but the fact that you’re menstruating shouldn’t extend or exacerbate the infection. With treatment and time, your yeast infection should conclude as usual, Dr. Shirazian says.
Here’s how to treat a yeast infection when you’re on your period.
Normally when you notice the first signs of a yeast infection, you’re probably tempted to run to the drug store, pick up an antifungal suppository, and call it a day. But you should consider at least calling your ob/gyn before trying to treat the infection at home, especially given our current reality.
For one thing, your doctor may be able to ask you questions in a tele-health appointment to try to confirm whether you’re actually dealing with a yeast infection or one of several other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. If necessary, they can also advise you on how to get testing to confirm what’s going on as safely as possible. Knowing exactly what’s plaguing you (and your vagina) is important under normal circumstances, but especially right now. It’s not the ideal time to try to treat a “yeast infection” at home when it’s really something else that could flourish without the right treatment.
Another thing to consider? Over-the-counter topical treatments are “messy in and of themselves,” Dr. Andersen says, adding that “it’s enough to deal with a period, not to add vaginal cream [on top of that].” Whether or not you’re menstruating, a single-dose oral medication, like fluconazole (also known by its brand name Diflucan), is often a bit easier to use than an over-the-counter cream or suppository, Dr. Andersen says, but you do need a prescription to get it—which is another reason it’s a good idea to loop in your doctor.
However, if your vulva is extremely itchy and irritated and you need some relief before your appointment or while waiting for your prescription to come in, Dr. Shirazian says applying a yeast infection treatment that’s labeled for external use to the area could help. One example is Monistat Care Instant Itch Relief Spray ($6, Amazon). And if you’ve had a doctor-diagnosed yeast infection before and your symptoms align perfectly now, experts typically say it’s okay to treat the actual infection itself (instead of just addressing your symptoms) with an over-the-counter medication if you feel comfortable doing so. Make sure to read and follow the instructions, though—these products generally advise against using tampons until treatment is finished.
Here’s how to prevent yeast infections so you never have to deal with this again.
Goals, honestly. In terms of what you can do to prevent these infections, Dr. Andersen recommends wearing breathable cotton underwear rather than undies made of nylon or another fabric that traps heat and moisture more easily, as these two factors make yeast infections more likely. There are other lifestyle changes that can help make yeast infections less likely, like changing out of damp swimwear or sweaty workout gear as soon as you can. Don’t douche or put scented products anywhere near your vagina (like tampons, pads, and soaps), and avoid taking antibiotics unless they’re absolutely necessary, the Mayo Clinic suggests.
If it feels like you constantly get yeast infections, even if you try the above types of prevention methods, that’s a whole other conversation. Dr. Shirazian notes that some people might have a genetic predisposition to recurrent yeast infections, but the exact reason why someone might be more prone to yeast overgrowth than others remains relatively unknown. Either way, if yeast infections are constantly cropping up when you have your period (or otherwise), you should absolutely make a tele-health appointment with your ob/gyn. Your provider should be able to help you pinpoint any contributing factors, such as preexisting health conditions, hygiene habits, or antibiotic use. Your ob/gyn may also prescribe a long-term antifungal medication to use for something like six months, Dr. Andersen says.
If you’re fed up with yeast infections, talk to your doctor. With their guidance, you should be able to treat (and hopefully prevent) the gynecological one-two punch of getting a yeast infection when your period rolls around, or at any other point in your cycle.