A yeast infection is a common fungal infection that can develop when you have too much yeast in your vagina. It most commonly affects the vagina and vulva, but it can also affect the penis and other parts of the body.
It’s normal and healthy to have yeast in your vagina. Bacteria typically help keep this yeast from growing too much. But if something happens to unbalance this bacteria, you might experience an overgrowth of a particular type of yeast called Candida, resulting in a yeast infection.
Mild yeast infections often clear up in just a few days, but more severe infections can last up to two weeks.
Symptoms usually include:
- vaginal and vulvar itching, soreness, and irritation
- burning during urination or sex
- white, thick discharge that resembles cottage cheese
If the infection doesn’t seem to improve after several days, you may be dealing with a different issue.
Read on to learn how long it can take a yeast infection to resolve with both OTC and prescription treatments. We’ll also touch on other things that can cause symptoms similar to those of a yeast infection.
If you don’t get yeast infections often and only have mild symptoms, an OTC antifungal medication may provide relief. These medications include clotrimazole, miconazole (Monistat), and terconazole (Terazol), among others.
You apply them directly into your vagina or on your vulva in the form of:
- creams or ointments
The length of treatment depends on the medication you choose, but you’ll generally apply it for three to seven days, usually just before bed. Make sure to read the dosing instructions, even if you’ve used OTC yeast infection treatments before.
Keep in mind that burning or itching might increase temporarily, right after application.
These medications are fairly effective for mild yeast infections. You’ll usually see improvement within a few days, but if symptoms don’t go away after a week, you’ll want to see a healthcare provider.
If you have severe symptoms or OTC medication doesn’t clear up your infection, you may need a prescription medication. Your healthcare provider may also recommend taking antifungal medications regularly if you get frequent yeast infections.
Prescription yeast infection medications, such as fluconazole (Diflucan), are taken by mouth. You’ll usually only need one dose, but you may be prescribed two doses for very severe symptoms.
Other prescription yeast infection treatments include vaginal antifungal medications you can use for up to two weeks.
Your doctor may also recommend boric acid, another vaginal treatment, that can help treat yeast infections that don’t respond to antifungal medications.
If you get a yeast infection while pregnant, OTC topical treatments can provide relief. Your healthcare provider won’t prescribe fluconazole, as it can increase the risk of birth defects.
Still, it’s important to follow up with your healthcare provider if you’re pregnant and have a yeast infection that’s not getting better.
If you’ve been having symptoms of a yeast infection for weeks and treatments don’t seem to be offering any relief, you might be dealing with something else.
Yeast infection symptoms can resemble those of other vaginal health issues, so it’s important to make sure you know what you’re treating before you choose a medication.
If you use antifungal treatments when you don’t have a fungal infection, your symptoms probably won’t improve.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
BV can develop when you have an overgrowth of bacteria in your vagina. While BV isn’t officially classified as an STI, it typically occurs in people who are sexually active.
You may be more likely to develop BV after having sex with a new partner or if you have more than one partner.
Douching and using scented products on your vulva or in your vagina can also increase your risk.
People who’ve never had sexual contact rarely get BV.
You may not have symptoms with BV, but it can sometimes cause:
- thin, white vaginal discharge that has an unusual odor
- vaginal and vulvar irritation and itching
- itching and burning when urinating
Although BV sometimes clears up without treatment, see your healthcare provider if you’ve been having symptoms for more than a week. You may need antibiotics to improve persistent symptoms.
Vulvitis refers to any inflammation of the vulva.
Common causes include:
- allergic reaction or infection
- frequent bike riding
- tight-fitting or synthetic underwear
- vaginal irritants, such as douches and sprays
- scented toilet paper, pads, or tampons
With vulvitis, you’ll usually experience:
- vaginal discharge
- vulvar itch that doesn’t go away
- redness, swelling, and burning around your vulva
- blisters, cracks, or scaly white patches on your vulva
Treatment depends on what’s causing the inflammation, so it’s a good idea to see your healthcare provider to rule out infections or allergies.
Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It’s fairly common and usually responds well to treatment. You need antibiotics to treat chlamydia, though, so yeast infection treatments won’t improve your symptoms.
Some chlamydia symptoms can resemble yeast infection symptoms, but you may not have any symptoms at all. Most women don’t have symptoms.
Typical symptoms include:
- pain when you urinate or have sex
- unusual vaginal discharge
- bleeding after sex or in between menstrual periods
- lower abdominal pain
Untreated chlamydia can lead to long-term complications, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility, so it’s a good idea to see your healthcare provider if you have any of the above symptoms.
If you have new or multiple sexual partners, it’s important to get tested for STIs. Regular STI testing can identify an infection that shows no symptoms and prevent health problems.
Gonorrhea is a common STI. Like chlamydia, it’s treated with antibiotics, so you’ll need to see your healthcare provider for treatment.
You may not have any symptoms if you have gonorrhea, but you may notice:
- pain or burning during urination
- bleeding between menstrual periods
- an increase in vaginal discharge
It’s important to get treated if you have gonorrhea, since this STI can cause serious complications, such as PID and infertility. Your healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics if you have gonorrhea.
Trichomoniasis, often called trich, is a common STI. You can get trich from having sex with someone who has the infection without using barrier methods, such as condoms.
Common symptoms of trich include:
- inflammation in the genital area
- itching and irritation
- pain when urinating or having sex
- white, gray, green, or yellow discharge that smells unpleasant
Trich is treatable, but you’ll need to see a healthcare provider for diagnosis. If you have trich, your partner will also need treatment to reduce the risk of reinfection with the parasite that causes it.
It’s possible to get anal yeast infections, but you could also have hemorrhoid symptoms that affect your vaginal area.
Hemorrhoid symptoms often happen if you develop a blood clot in a vein near the opening of your anus. This can happen for a number of reasons, including strain during exercise or bowel movements, strain in childbirth, or age.
If you do have hemorrhoids, you may experience:
- burning or itching around your anus
- pain in the anal area
- itching and burning around the vaginal area
- bleeding with a bowel movement or after a bowel movement
- anal leakage
If you have hemorrhoid symptoms, your healthcare provider can provide a diagnosis and recommend treatment.
If you’ve never had a yeast infection before or you have symptoms that resemble those of another health issue, such as a STI, you may want to talk to a healthcare provider.
It’s also a good idea to seek medical care if you have severe symptoms, such as sores or tears in your skin.
If you get yeast infections regularly, or more than four in a year, a healthcare provider can also help identify what’s causing these frequent infections and help you find relief.
You should also follow up if OTC or prescription treatments don’t cause at least some improvement in your symptoms after a few days.
Avoid going through multiple rounds of treatment without consulting your healthcare provider first. Otherwise, you could develop a resistance to the medication.
Yeast infections are very common and usually very treatable. In some cases, they can stick around or keep coming back.
If you have a yeast infection that just won’t go away, even after treatment, follow up with a healthcare provider to make sure it’s actually a yeast infection and not something else.