Last updated: Jan 14, 2010

Q: I've had several yeast infections in the past year. My sexual habits haven't changed at all. Could it be something I'm eating?

A: A food trigger might sound reasonable, but this down-there issue has no connection to your meal choices. If you're having sex with the same partner, there are other factors to consider. Too-tight or non-cotton underwear can create a breeding ground for yeast, as can harsh cleansers. (Try a mild, pH-neutral soap like Dove.) And some medications, including antibiotics and birth control pills, can disrupt the balance of bacteria. 

Yeast infections are very common and normally easy to remedy with over-the-counter creams. But for some people, yeast infections are hard to shake. You might not actually have a yeast infection: Other problems, like bacterial vaginosis or certain STDs, can cause itching or discharge that mimic yeast symptoms but require antibiotics rather than antifungals to treat.

If it is in fact yeast, you might need prescription antifungal pills in addition to creams. (Then, if it's still coming back, you may require a "maintenance" prescription of pills to take, say, once a week.) Less commonly, a persistent infection may signal a more serious condition, such as diabetes or an immune system disorder.

But some women just seem to have a yeast problem that requires a few extra steps. Excess heat and moisture down there create a hospitable environment for yeast—hence the old advice to wear loose-fitting clothing and underwear made of breathable fabric, like cotton, and to change out of your swimsuit or wet gym clothes as soon as possible. And avoid spermicidal creams (if you use them in addition to condoms for birth control) and scented tampons or pads. Chemicals in these products can throw off the vagina's natural pH balance, which may help yeast multiply. It probably can't hurt to try those new tampons and pads promising to help "rebalance" vaginal pH, but know that there isn't much scientific evidence that they work.