It’s evident the Covid-19 quarantine has not been easy for anyone. Some took up a yoga practice, others might have learned new skills, and many have been binge-watching their favorite shows. People are doing their best to survive these difficult times in the best way possible, but the stress of the whole situation can take a toll on one’s body. For women, stress can manifest in many ways, including gynecological issues.
During the past few months, doctors have observed an increase in the incidence of Candidiasis, a very common yeast infection. “One-third of the female population will manifest Candidiasis at least once in a lifetime”, said Dr. Sérgio Podgaec (OB-GYN at H.I. Albert Einstein). Both Dr. Sérgio Podgaec and Dr. Kelly Andressa (OB-GYN) believe that the pandemic is one of the reasons why more patients have recently sought medical help because of Candidiasis.
But first things first: What is Candidiasis?
Candida Albicans is a fungus present in a healthy vaginal flora. Sometimes, this fungus can proliferate much more than normal, causing uncomfortable symptoms like itchiness, a cream-like secretion, irritation, and inflammation of the vulva and the vagina. This irregularity is what we call Candidiasis, and it can be caused by many different factors:
Medications (particularly antibiotics, but oral contraceptives and corticoids can play a role in the development of the condition).
Use of vaginal douche.
Overuse of panty liners.
Daily use of synthetic fiber underwear.
Use of fragrant soaps and cosmetics in the vulvar area.
A diet rich in sugars, acidic foods, and carbohydrates.
An altered immune response.
It’s important to stand out that Candidiasis is not a sexually transmitted disease (though it can affect one’s sex life due to discomfort and pain during intercourse) and is easily treatable with topic and oral anti-fungal medications.
But why did the incidence of this condition increase during quarantine?
“Women are more anxious, worried, and scared of the uncertainties related to the coronavirus. They are overloaded with work, household chores, childcare and financial concerns. All these stressful situations alter the immune response. Many patients have been eating a larger amount of sugars, processed foods, and alcoholic beverages to cope with stress”, said Dr. Kelly Alessandra. The change in habits and diet can largely impact the risk factor for Candidiasis.
The manifestations of Candidiasis during these last months have not been necessarily worse in clinical conditions but have been more persistent and repetitive (chronic). According to Dr. Podgaec, there are cases in which medications need to be administered for longer periods , but there are many possible courses of treatment for chronic Candidiasis, and most of them consist of a change of habits. He advises the use of cotton fiber underwear, properly drying the vulva after showering (as funny as it may sound, the patient can even use a hairdryer after towel-drying the region), changing the soap used to clean the genital area (the ideal soap is fragrance-free and has a 3-5 pH level), adopting a healthier diet, exercising and managing stress.
Some of the points mentioned as causes are key to the incidence of Candidiasis these past months: emotional imbalance, stress, and diet. These three factors are some of the main causes of alterations in the body’s immune response. Emotional stability is one of the biggest challenges faced by anyone during the quarantine. Women are stressed and often working extra hours, leaving little to no time for self-care. Also, many people are finding it hard to keep a balanced diet (for many reasons). When we combine these three factors, we can see why women are manifesting vaginal infections more often during the quarantine. To prevent this and other disorders, we need to carve out time for ourselves during our busy routines. It is hard but crucial. And never forget, always look for a gynecologist when you notice a change in your vaginal health. We will get through this (and so will our vaginas).