Vaginal yeast infections are uncomfortable, causing itching, irritation, and discharge. They’re also quite common: Three out of four women may get one at some point in their lives. The good news is they can usually be managed with over-the-counter treatments and home remedies.
What Causes a Yeast Infection?
Yeast infections can develop for a variety of reasons. Some women get them around their period or during pregnancy due to hormonal changes. Certain birth control pills may also increase your risk of getting a yeast infection.
Yeast (Candida) is a fungus that can live almost anywhere. It’s found naturally in your body, but your immune system keeps it from growing out of control. When too much yeast multiplies in the vagina, it causes an infection.
Anything that changes the normal balance of bacteria and yeast in your vagina has the potential to cause a yeast infection. For example, antibiotics taken to kill a harmful bacterial infection may also kill the lactobacillus bacteria, the good bacteria in your vagina that keep yeast in check.
Conditions that affect your immune system, such as sexually transmitted diseases, can also contribute to yeast infections. Women with diabetes whose blood sugar isn’t properly controlled are also at a higher risk. This is because higher sugar levels promote yeast growth.
Here’s how to manage a yeast infection and how to prevent future ones as well.
If you’re looking to get rid of your current yeast infection, your first course of action will likely be an over-the-counter medication:
Antifungal Cream or Suppository
Over-the-counter medications for yeast infections usually come in the form of a cream, ointment, or suppository. They’re available at most drug stores or grocery stores. Common brands are Monistat and Vagistat. Some only require one-day treatment, while others may need to be used from three to seven days. Follow the instructions on the packaging and don’t stop using the medication early even if symptoms are gone.
These over-the-counter medications are generally effective for women who have mild infections and don’t get yeast infections often.
While medication is a more proven method of getting rid of an infection, there are some natural remedies to try as well:
- Tea tree oil is an essential oil that comes from the leaves of the tea tree or Melaleuca alternifolia. The oil is used for its ability to kill fungus, bacteria, and viruses. Some early research shows that inserting a suppository with tea tree oil into the vagina may help treat vaginal infections. The essential oil is also believed to spare good bacteria that help maintain a healthy balance in the vagina’s flora.
- Boric acid is a chemical that has antibacterial properties. It’s used as a suppository for yeast infections, usually once a day for seven days. Boric acid is sometimes used when yeast infections don’t respond to other antifungal medications. One study found that boric acid suppositories are an effective alternative to other treatments. However, boric acid can irritate the skin and is toxic if taken orally or applied to open wounds. Talk to your doctor before using this treatment.
- Yogurt contains good bacteria, or probiotics. Some of these, such as acidophilus, are also found naturally in the vagina. Researchers believe that eating yogurt or taking probiotic supplements may help maintain the proper balance of good bacteria and keep yeast from overgrowing. You may consider eating yogurt regularly if you frequently get yeast infections or who are on antibiotics. However, a few studies have found that daily use of probiotics may also help to prevent yeast and other bacterial infections.
Whether you’ve had a yeast infection before or not, here are some ways to prevent or avoid having one in the future:
Wearing Cotton Underwear
- Tight-fitting clothing, especially clothing that’s made out of man-made materials — like nylon and polyester — can hold in moisture. Yeast likes to grow in dark, moist places. Experts recommend that women wear cotton underwear or at least underwear with cotton lining in the crotch. Cotton allows more air to flow through the genital area.
- Products such as scented tampons or pads, certain soaps, and detergents can irritate your vagina, causing an imbalance in the natural bacteria. Use unscented items and gentle cleansers. Avoid using powders and fragrant sprays in the genital area.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advises women against douching. This is because it can kill good bacteria in the vagina that prevent infections. Instead, you should clean only the outside areas of your vagina with gentle soap and water.
When to See a Doctor
Don’t try to diagnose yourself with a yeast infection. Visit your doctor to confirm the infection even if you plan to use at-home remedies. Sometimes other infections can be mistaken for yeast infections. Make sure you’re using the correct treatment.
Talk to your doctor if your yeast infection doesn’t improve after using home remedies or over-the-counter medications. You may need a prescription medication.