A vaginal yeast infection is a type of vaginitis — inflammation of the vagina — characterized by vaginal irritation, intense itchiness and vaginal discharge.
Vaginal yeast infection — also called vaginal candidiasis — is very common. As many as 3 out of 4 women experience a vaginal yeast infection at some point in their lifetimes. Many women experience two or more yeast infections.
The symptoms can vary from annoying to unbearable, most vaginal yeast infections are actually not dangerous and can easily be treated.
Causes of Vaginal Yeast Infections
If you are having trouble determining whether or not you have a vaginal yeast infection, then consider the following potential causes:
- Antibiotics. Many women develop a vaginal yeast infection after taking antibiotics for several days. Antibiotics kill some of the good bacteria in your body, including the bacteria that kills yeast. If you have been taking antibiotics recently and are experiencing vaginal burning and itching, you might have a vaginal yeast infection.
- Your menstrual cycle. A woman is most likely to develop a vaginal yeast infection around the time of her period.
- Birth control. Birth control pills and one-time “morning after” pills cause a change in hormone levels, which can cause a vaginal yeast infection.
- Impaired immune system.
- Various health problems, like HIV or diabetes can also be a culprit.
- General illness, poor eating or sleeping habits, and stress can do you in, too.
Symptoms of Vaginal Yeast Infections
Remember that there are other potential reasons you may be experiencing the pain and discomfort associated with yeast infections, like bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis. Look for the following symptoms:
- Itching, soreness and overall discomfort of the vagina.
- A burning sensation, especially during intercourse or while urinating.
- Redness and swelling of the vulva.
- Thick (like cottage cheese), odorless, white discharge in the vagina. Not all women experience this symptom.
Home Remedies for Vaginal Yeast Infections
There are many simple home remedies that can eliminate the infection in a relatively short time.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
Both apple cider vinegar and white vinegar contain some distinctive components that can control a vaginal yeast infection and get rid of the fungi causing it.
- Mix two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (organic apple cider vinegar should be murky brown in color) in one cup of warm water and drink it twice daily for a few days.
- Prepare a hot bath and add some vinegar. Soak your body in this bath for about an hour. Soon the skin irritation and itching will lessen.
- Alternatively, you can dilute white or apple cider vinegar with plain water and then apply it externally on the affected skin area. Leave it on for half an hour and then rinse it off with water.
2. Boric Acid
Boric acid is a chemical substance with mild antiseptic, antiviral and antifungal properties.
- Dilute some boric acid with water. Apply the diluted solution over the affected skin area and leave it on for a few minutes. Then rinse the area thoroughly with water. Do this daily for two weeks.
- As a treatment option for vaginal yeast infections, you can take boric acid capsules.
- Skip this remedy if you are or may be pregnant.
- Because boric acid can be toxic, it should not be taken internally or used for a prolonged period of time.
3. Cranberry Juice
Cranberries can treat and prevent both yeast infections and urinary tract infections. Be sure you buy 100% cranberry juice, as the sugar in cranberry juice cocktail will only make matters worse.
4. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has powerful and effective natural antifungal properties that can help with home treatment of vaginal yeast infections. Pregnant women should not use this remedy as some of the properties present in tea tree oil can be harmful to the child.
- Dilute organic tea tree oil with water or one teaspoon of olive oil or sweet almond oil. Rub the diluted oil over the affected skin area several times a day.
- For a vaginal yeast infection, place a few drops of tea tree oil on a tampon and insert it into your vagina for two to three hours. Repeat the process twice daily.
Garlic has strong antifungal properties, meaning it literally kills yeast upon contact. Cut up some garlic and add it to your meals, eat garlic plain, or cut a clove of garlic in half and place it in the vagina overnight.
- There’s such a thing as garlic tablets and those can be inserted in the vagina or swallowed, too.
6. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has effective antifungal properties that can kill the fungi responsible for yeast infections.
- Externally apply coconut oil on the affected areas three times a day.
- You can also make a mixture of equal amounts of cinnamon oil and coconut oil. Apply it on the affected skin area to control the growth of the infection.
7. Oregano Oil
Oregano oil has the goodness of antifungal components and also is very good for boosting your immune system.
- You can apply the oil topically to the affected skin area. As oregano oil can be irritating to the skin, dilute it with olive oil before applying.
- Alternatively, you can take one or two capsules of oregano oil twice a day.
Yogurt contains live cultures of bacteria (lactobacillus acidophilus) that help restore the level of healthy bacteria in the vagina. You can either eat yogurt or use yogurt as a topical treatment (about a spoon or two full) on the effected area.
- Don’t use sweetened or flavored yogurts; the sugar will help yeast grow faster. That is not a good thing; you want the yeast to go away, not spread!
9. Olive Leaf Extract
Olive leaf extract is very effective in treating vaginal yeast infections due to its antiviral, antifungal, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also can restore the good bacteria in your body.
- To make olive leaf extract at home, finely chop some fresh olive leaves and put them into a glass jar with a lid. Pour vodka over the leaves until they are completely covered. Close the lid and store the jar in a dark place for about four weeks.
- Then strain the liquid into another glass jar.
- Apply the solution to the affected skin area.
- Do this three times a day to achieve best results.
Conventional Options for Vaginal Yeast Infections
Use a topical treatment. Topical treatments are available both over-the-counter and with a prescription. These include antifungal creams, ointments, and suppositories that are applied to the genital area. Be sure to carefully read and follow all of the instructions that come with your medication. These usually take 1-3 days to cure a vaginal yeast infection.
- Over-the-counter creams and ointments can be found at most pharmacies and supermarkets.
- The following are common medications: clotrimazole (Mycelex), butoconazole (Gynezol or Fernstat), miconazole nitrate (Monistat), and tioconazole (Vagistat-1).
- If you use an over-the-counter treatment and don’t experience relief for more than 48 hours, then make an appointment with your doctor.
Take an oral treatment (prescription required). Your doctor might prescribe you a single-dose tablet of the antifungal medication fluconazole (Diflucan), which is taken by mouth. Relief can be expected within the first 12-24 hours.
- This is the fastest and most effective cure for a vaginal yeast infection. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, see your doctor immediately to determine if this is the right treatment option for you.
Only take matters into your own hands if you are fully confident. If this isn’t your first time at the yeast infection rodeo, do consider getting various creams, suppositories, and the like to treat the yeast infection yourself (if you’re not pregnant). However, if you’re even the slightest bit of unsure, see your doctor.
- If you do go the antifungal or suppository route, be careful with condoms. The oil in some of the medications can weaken the latex.
- If it’s complicated, know that it could take longer. While mild yeast infections will go away in under a few days, more complicated ones could take longer. Your doctor may prescribe a medication for you to take that lasts up to two weeks. And if it keeps on happening, that needs to be addressed too.
- To keep your yeast levels in check, your doctor may prescribe a medication that you take once or twice a week for up to six months. But remember: it’s just a yeast infection. Things could be so much worse!
How to Prevent Vaginal Yeast Infections
Cut down on your sugar intake. The sugar in chocolate, candy, and even fruit juice can cause blood sugar spikes, which promote the growth of yeast. If you experience regular yeast infections, you should consider cutting back on the amount of sugar you eat on a regular basis.
- Caffeine can worsen the effects of sugar by increasing the speed of blood sugar spikes.
Practice good hygiene on a daily basis. Though some women are more predisposed to yeast infections than others, there are things you can do on a daily basis to prevent the onset and spread of yeast infections.
- Wear cotton underwear that keeps your genital area dry and prevents moisture build-up.
- Change your underwear regularly.
- Always wipe from front to back when using the toilet in order to prevent the spread of yeast or other bacteria from your anus.
- Stay away from tight-fitting jeans or pantyhose, as these increase the temperature and moisture levels in your genital area.
- Change tampons and pads often (every 4-6 hours).
Stay dry. Yeast likes to grow in warm, moist environments, so be sure to wear cotton underwear and loose bottoms if you have a vaginal yeast infection. Otherwise you’re just asking for trouble!
- In case it wasn’t clear, get out of that wet swimsuit! That’s a breeding ground for bacteria when…those places…get damp for long periods of time. No thank you!
Don’t pass it on to others. Yeast, unfortunately, can be passed on to others, either via sexual contact or contact in general, like shared baths with children. To avoid exacerbating the problem, keep good hygiene and wash all linens and fabrics well. A cup of white vinegar to your laundry can be added for good measure.
- Since men can get it, too, be sure to wash up prior and after lovemaking (and use condoms). In the scheme of things, yeast infections aren’t a big deal — but it’s definitely better not to have one!
Take preventative measures when taking antibiotics. Antibiotics kill some of the good bacteria in your body, and are one of the leading causes of yeast infections. If you have been prescribed antibiotics, be sure to eat plenty of probiotics like plain yogurt, which will restore the good bacteria in your stomach, intestines, and vaginal area.
- Generally speaking, antibiotics don’t render birth control pills ineffective. It’s really only one — rifampin — that gets weakened by it, and odds are you won’t be on that. But if you want to be extra careful, wear a condom while you’re on antibiotics. Sometimes when medications interact, funny things happen.
Reduce your stress. High stress levels do more than make you feel anxious; they can have a big physical effect, too. You might notice signs of a vaginal yeast infection when you’re going through a stressful situation. Here is how to stop it before it becomes a full-blown infection:
- Remember to take care of yourself when you’re stressed. Make the time to eat well, exercise, and stay hydrated. Your health is more important than a deadline.
- Get plenty of sleep. Don’t stay up all night writing a paper – your body will suffer for it if you aren’t careful. Get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night.
- Not all stressful situations can be alleviated, but if you can manage to make your life less stressful, your chance of infection will drastically decrease. Try to organize your schedule to make it less hectic, delegate chores to family members, and learn to say “no” when you’ve already got your hands full.
- Wait until a vaginal yeast infection passes before having sex.
- Make another appointment with your doctor if your symptoms don’t go away with treatment. Note that not all over-the-counter treatments work for every woman.
- If you have more than four vaginal yeast infections in one year, see your doctor, as this may be a sign of a more serious medical condition.
- Pregnant women should not treat a yeast infection before consulting a doctor.
- When having baths, try bathing in a little cold water.
- Even if it turns out that you don’t have a yeast infection, most treatments won’t harm your body in any way, unless of course you experience an allergic reaction.
- Untreated yeast infections usually go away on their own after several days.
- Self-diagnosis for yeast infections has a 50% failure rate. To be safe, see your doctor to find out for sure.
- Call your doctor once you notice the signs.