How to Treat a Yeast Infection

Doctor Q&A

Unless you are a pre-pubescent girl or a post-menopausal woman, chances are you are all too familiar with the uncomfortable vaginal irritation caused by a yeast infection.

And although the symptoms of this common fungal infection are bothersome, they are rarely life-threatening, which is why so many women try to diagnose and treat themselves.

The truth is that many symptoms of itching, burning and discharge aren’t a yeast infection at all. Only about 10 percent of women accurately diagnose a yeast infection. 

Here’s what you need to do when those pesky vaginal symptoms occur:

First –

See a health care provider to confirm that you actually have a yeast infection. Diagnosing and treating yourself may have these results:

  • Wastes money on over-the-counter treatments that may not work
  • Wastes time, as you will not feel better until you use the right treatment
  • Ignores the possibility that you may have a deeper underlying cause, especially in the case of recurrent symptoms

Second –

Follow the medical advice you are given. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Vaginal anti-fungal preparations, either over-the-counter or prescription strength
    Note: The length of treatment will depend on the severity of your symptoms. 70 to 80 percent of uncomplicated yeast infections will resolve with one day of over-the-counter treatment.

  • Oral anti-fungal medication - fluconazole (brand name Diflucan)
    Note: Usually one dose is adequate. Care should be taken during pregnancy.

  • Vaginal boric acid in complicated cases
  • Consideration of other underlying causes or diagnoses in the case of recurrent symptoms or when the usual therapies fail

Third –

Know the pitfalls of popular home remedies suggested on the Internet or spread as “old wives’ tales.”

There is NO good evidence that home remedies are beneficial. Some can actually be detrimental in the following ways:  

  • Douching can further disrupt healthy vaginal bacteria and allow yeast to grow
  • Using yogurt or probiotics as either a preventive measure or a treatment for yeast infection is an unproven practice that can be an obstacle to seeking effective, and much-needed, treatment.
    Note: The CDC recommends AGAINST probiotic use in immunocompromised individuals.

  • Herbs and essential oils are NOT monitored by the Food and Drug Administration, so be cautious, as misuse may result in allergic reactions or tissue irritation.

Am I susceptible to yeast infections?

Most yeast infections occur infrequently and last only a few days. They most commonly occur among reproductive-aged women, but you become a more likely candidate if

  • You are pregnant
  • You recently took a round of antibiotics
  • You have diabetes
  • You have a compromised immune system

Can I prevent a yeast infection?

There is no ironclad method of prevention, but the following ideas are noteworthy:

  • If you have risk factors that can be modified (for example, uncontrolled diabetes), treating the underlying condition may help
  • Yeast likes to live in a warm, moist environment, so wearing loose-fitting clothes and cotton underwear may be useful
  • If you know that you are prone to yeast vaginitis after taking antibiotics, often you can treat prophylactically with vaginal or oral antifungals along with your antibiotic

Note: Yeast is rarely a hygiene problem. If there is itching related to certain soaps, lotions or panty liners, it is more likely dermatitis - not a yeast infection. But if you have itching related to these things, obviously, you should avoid them.

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