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I think I got a yeast infection from my bathing suit. Help!

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The question

I'm a woman in my 30s and noticed I've developed a yeast infection after a weekend of swimming and lounging around in my bathing suit. Is this just coincidence or can you get a yeast infection from too much time in wet clothes?

The answer

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Vaginal yeast infections are most commonly due to the fungus Candida albicans. This micro-organism is normally present in mucous membranes and other moist surfaces in the body. Yeast infections can occur when it overgrows in the skin of any part of the body. Common sites are the mouth, throat and vagina. In fact, yeast infections are so common, most women will have one at some point in their lives.

In normal conditions, there is a balance of the micro-organisms of healthy bacteria and yeast in the vagina. They keep each other in check by preventing one or the other from growing out of control. When there is a shift in this balance, candida can overgrow and lead to infection.

This fine balance can be upset by a number of things, including taking antibiotics, pregnancy, a weakened immune system, stress, poor diabetic control (high blood sugar) or poor hygiene. All of these factors can contribute to a yeast infection. In addition to these potential triggers, yeast thrives in warm and moist environments.

So to answer your question: Yes, lounging in a wet bathing suit in combination with the warm summer weather can increase the risk of a yeast infection.

The reassuring news is that with some simple precautions, you can avoid yeast infections. If you're going to be at the lake or poolside for the summer, bring an extra suit so you can change or bring a set of dry clothes to lounge in. Tight clothing and synthetic fabrics such as nylon and lycra tend to trap heat and provide a breeding ground for yeast. Instead, wear "breathable" clothing such as cotton and natural fibres that allow moisture to evaporate and decrease the risk of yeast.

Thankfully, treatments for yeast infections are well tolerated and work quickly. For some – if the infection is mild – allowing it to clear on its own without treatment is a good option. If you do choose to treat, however, options include topical therapies such as creams (that can be applied directly to the affected areas), suppositories (that are inserted directly inside the vagina) or oral therapies (that come as an easy to swallow pill). While evidence is not entirely clear, enriching your diet with lactobacillus (commonly found in yogurt) can also be helpful. Douching does not work and should be avoided as it can actually worsen or trigger yeast infections.

But the best thing is to avoid the infection in the first place by knowing the triggers and being cautious about them.

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With some thoughtful planning when choosing your clothing, you can reduce the risk of yeast infections and fully enjoy your summer.

Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasingheyour questions at doctor@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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