As interest in cycling at home has skyrocketed during the pandemic, some people might have noticed that they’re experiencing more yeast infections. While some might be quick to blame their beloved bikes that’s not exactly the cause.
“The activity itself of cycling … is not necessarily what sets it off,” Dr. Jessica Shepherd, a Dallas-based OB-GYN and chief medical officer of Verywell Health (a health content company), told TODAY. “Activity, in general, can predispose a woman to having a UTI or a yeast infection or vaginitis as well.”
That’s because sweat can create a moist environment that allows yeast and bacteria to blossom. The bacteria lactobacillus live in the vagina and keep it healthy. Sometimes an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans can occur and that can lead to a yeast infection. When people exercise and don’t change out of their sweaty leggings, their bodies remain damp, giving the candida the perfect place to flourish.
“It makes sense for people to possibly have more yeast infections if they don't change their bottoms or take a shower after (working out), but that applies to all exercise,” Dr. Christine Greves, an Orlando-based OB-GYN told TODAY. “I have seen women who cycle more, as their primary sport whether it's indoor or outdoor, who have perhaps a rash … or sometimes yeast infections.”
Greves said she hasn’t seen any recent data on at-home cycling increasing yeast infections or rashes, such as contact dermatitis, a skin reaction to an allergen. A 2018 study of 3,000 women, ranging from non-cyclists to high-intensity cyclists, found that cyclists had higher odds of reporting a previous UTI, genital numbness and saddle sores. Though when compared to other athletes, cyclists were no more likely to report urinary symptoms than swimmers or runners.
Greves said that if women start experiencing symptoms of a yeast infection or unusual itching, their workout gear could be to blame. Prior to the pandemic people might have gone to spin at lunchtime, and then changed and showered. With everything taking place at home, people might be in sweaty clothes for too long.
“Who is to say people aren't cycling and then they're going to prep dinner and then they're doing something else all in the same pants,” Greves said.
Symptoms of a yeast infection include:
- Burning or itching of the vulva
- White discharge
There are over-the-counter treatments for yeast infections that are normally one-, three- or seven-day treatments. But the experts agree that people should contact their doctors if the symptoms don’t resolve with such medications or they worsen. There are also prescription treatments for yeast infections, which could help ease the symptoms. But persistent itchiness, redness and discharge could be a sign of a different type of infection.
People can adopt some habits that might reduce itchiness and redness:
- Change out of workout clothes or shower after exercise.
- Skip douching, which irritates and disrupts the body's natural bacteria.
- Avoid any products with perfumes, which can cause allergic reactions, irritation or change pH.
- Use only mild soap and water to clean the vulva.
- Stay away from natural products that can include yogurt, garlic or boric acid, which irritate skin.
Some people might feel ashamed if they experience a yeast infection, but experts say that yeast infections do happen for a variety of reasons and there’s no need to feel embarrassed.
“I am still surprised that we stigmatize vaginitis,” Shepherd said. “Women should not feel embarrassed about talking about it, seeking treatment, talking to their own health care provider about any vaginal issues because it really is something that occurs quite commonly. The more that we're able to discuss these things then the better.”
CORRECTION (April 20, 2021 10:46 a.m.): An earlier version of this story said Dr. Jessica Shepherd is Chicago-based. She is in Dallas.