Vaginal Yeast Infection in Women – Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Updated: Apr 15, 2019
Vaginal yeast infections are very common. It’s estimated that 75% of all women will have at least one in her lifetime, and 40%-45% will have multiple cases.
A vaginal yeast infection (sometimes referred to as, vaginal candidiasis yeast vaginitis, Candidal vaginitis, or Candidal vulvovaginitis) is an infection caused by yeast called Candida.
Yeast infections, or candidiasis, can affect other areas of the body:
A yeast infection of the mouth is called thrush, or oral candidiasis.
Infection of the skin (such as the armpits and groin) is called cutaneous candidiasis.
In this article we focus on a vaginal yeast infection symptoms, causes and home treatment.
Candida species can be present in healthy women in the vagina without causing any symptoms. In fact, it is estimated that 20% to 50% of women have Candida already present in the vagina.
The hormone estrogen helps bacteria called Lactobacilli to grow. These bacteria kill harmful organisms in the vagina and keep you healthy.
But when something happens to tip that balance, a fungus called Candida can grow out of control and cause a yeast infection. This overgrowth triggers irritation, inflammation, itching, and painful discharge.
While yeast can be spread by sexual contact, vaginal yeast infection is not considered to be a sexually-transmitted disease (STD) because it can also occur in women who are not sexually active, due to the fact that yeast can be present in the vagina of healthy women. But you should be aware that once you get a yeast infection, you’re also more likely to get another one.
Treating a vaginal yeast infection can relieve symptoms within a few days. In more severe cases, it may take up to two weeks.
There are multiple ways to try to treat a yeast infection, home remedies, over-the-counter (OTC) medications and prescription medications. Some of these remedies use ingredients that you might already have in your home.
Their effectiveness varies, and evidence for their success is mostly anecdotal. Keep reading to find out about some popular home remedies for yeast infections.
What are the signs and symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection?
The symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection are similar among affected women, however, they are not all specific. Some women may experience symptoms of yeast infection such as:
1. An intense itching of the vaginal or genital area
2. Irritation and burning of the vagina or vulva in women
3. Swelling around the vagina
4. Soreness of the vagina or vulva in women
5. Redness of the vagina or vulva in women
7. Pain during sexual intercourse
8. Pain or burning during urination
9. Vaginal discharge that is typically:
whitish-gray in color;
consistency similar to cottage cheese;
or sometimes the discharge may also be watery.
Usually the length of time your yeast infection is left untreated has a direct impact on how severe your symptoms may become.
What causes a vaginal yeast infection?
The fungus Candida is a naturally occurring microorganism in the vaginal area. Lactobacillus bacteria keeps its growth in check.
But if there’s an imbalance in your system, these bacteria won’t work effectively. This leads to an overgrowth of yeast, which causes the symptoms of vaginal yeast infections.
There are many reasons you could get a yeast infection, including:
1. Antibiotics (they decrease the amount of Lactobacillus (“good bacteria”) in the vagina). These drugs can kill off many of the bacteria that live in your vagina. Taking antibiotics for any reason can alter the normal bacterial populations in the vagina and predispose to the overgrowth of yeast.
3. Hormones. Changes during:
taking birth control pills,
and hormonal imbalance near your menstrual cycle can all change the balance in your vagina.
4. A weakened immune system:
If you are HIV-positive or have another immune system disorder, the yeast may also grow uncontrolled.
Also, women with suppressed immune systems (for example, those taking cortisone-related medications such as prednisone) develop vaginal yeast infections more frequently than women with normal immunity.
Weakened immune system can be also a result of several reasons including your diet, lack of nutrients, stress, lack of sleep etc.
5. Sex. Though a vaginal yeast infection is not considered a true sexually transmitted disease (STD), since Candida may be present in the normal vagina, and it can occur in women who are not sexually active, it can be passed from person to person through sexual contact. So, it is possible for men to develop symptoms of skin irritation of the penis from a yeast infection after sexual intercourse with woman and infect also the next person.
6. Poor eating habits. Including a lot of sugary foods and white bread
8. Lack of sleep
9. Taking oral contraceptives
10. Injury. Vaginal yeast infections can also occur as a result of injury to the inner vagina, such as after chemotherapy.
11. Douches and vaginal sprays. The use of these products can change the balance in your vagina. The use of douches or perfumed vaginal hygiene sprays may also increase a woman’s risk of developing a vaginal yeast infection.
How are vaginal yeast infections diagnosed?
Even though the signs and symptoms of yeast infection may point to the cause, vaginal itching and discharge can be caused by other conditions including bacterial vaginosis and Trichomonas infections. So for an accurate diagnose, you should visit your doctor.
Firstly your doctor will ask about your medical history and whether you’ve had vaginal yeast infections before.
Depending on what your doctor sees, the next step may be to collect some cells from your vagina. These cells go to a lab for examination.
Lab tests are usually ordered for women who have yeast infections on a regular basis or for infections that won’t go away.
How is a vaginal yeast infection treated?
Each yeast infection is different, so your doctor will suggest a treatment that’s best for you.
Treatments are generally determined based on the severity of your symptoms.
Yeast infection is usually treated using antifungal drugs. Both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) remedies are available that are effective in treating vaginal yeast infections. Nonprescription drugs are the best home remedy for yeast infections, and they can cure most yeast infections.
You can also try to treat vaginal yeast infections with natural remedies if you’d like to avoid taking prescription medication, but these aren’t as effective or reliable as the indicated medications.
Home Remedies for Yeast Infections
You may also want to talk to a doctor before trying natural remedies. This is important because:
If your symptoms are due to something other than a simple yeast infection, your doctor can help diagnose your condition.
Some herbs can interact with medications you may be taking or can cause other unintended side effects.It might happen, that your infection goes away with treatment but then returns and you may need a prescription-strength treatment.
Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen or if new symptoms appear at any time during treatment. Also call your doctor if you have persistent irritation that’s separate from your yeast infection symptoms.
Most home remedies bring relief within a few days. Some may take up to a week. Always make sure your hands are clean before applying creams or oils to your vagina.
Top 13 popular natural home remedies include:
1. Greek yogurt: A review of research published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy found that some probiotics can be effective against C. albicans. Yogurt can be considered a probiotic because it contains live bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus. These bacteria are essential to creating a healthy environment in your vagina. They can help treat an overgrowth caused by an imbalance.
Plain Greek yogurt is the best kind to use for this home remedy. Make sure that the yogurt doesn’t contain added sugar, which fuels growth of the Candida fungus.
2. Boric acid: Boric acid is a powerful antiseptic that some women claim is useful for treating yeast infections that are resistant to other remedies. According to a 2009 study, topical boric acid showed encouraging results as a treatment for vaginal infections. Some health websites claim boric acid vaginal suppositories may also be effective in treating vaginal yeast infections. Boric acid is toxic in large amounts. It can lead to kidney damage, acute failure of the circulatory system, or death if you absorb enough of it. To avoid this, don’t use boric acid on broken skin and don’t take it orally.
If you’re pregnant, you should not use boric acid in any form. Always mix boric acid with water before applying it to your vagina or vulva area.
3. Essential oil of oregano: Look for oil of oregano made from wild oregano, or Origanum vulgare. It contains thymol and carvacrol, which are powerful antifungals. A study published in the journal Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry found that wild oregano oil could stop or slow the growth of Candida albicans, depending on the dosage used. Oil of oregano is a natural blood thinner, so don’t use it if you take blood thinners for another health condition. Also don’t use it if you have blood-clotting issues, such as from a vitamin K deficiency. Essential oils should not be taken orally.
Mix three to five drops essential oil per ounce of carrier oil, such as olive or sweet almond oil. Then, apply it to the skin in massage or inhale it through a diffuser. Do not apply essential oils near your vagina.
4. Probiotic suppositories and supplements: Probiotics help restore the bacteria-yeast balance throughout your body. If you start a regimen of oral probiotics that contain strains of the lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria, you can bring your digestive tract and vaginal flora back into alignment. Oral supplements take about 10 days to reach full effect, so some women use probiotics as vaginal suppositories to see results more quickly.
Probiotic suppositories have also been shown to be effective for treating vaginosis, according to Harvard Health.
5. Garlic: Garlic was shown in a lab study to be an effective Candida killer. But there is some debate over whether it will help cure yeast infections outside of a lab setting. If you’d like to try garlic to treat a yeast infection, add more garlic to your diet.
Some websites recommend inserting garlic in the vagina, but burns and significant pain have been reported.
6. Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is an essential oil that’s used to kill fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Research shows that a vaginal suppository containing tea tree oil may help treat vaginal infections. Tea tree oil is also believed to help maintain a healthy balance of flora in the vagina. Tea tree oil is incredibly powerful.
Make sure to dilute it with a carrier oil such as jojoba or coconut oil if you’re going to use it as a vaginal suppository. Only use tea tree oil occasionally, and never swallow it.
7. Apple cider vinegar: One popular yeast infection remedy is an apple cider vinegar bath. Vinegar has many medicinal uses, some more proven by research than others. When you add a half cup of apple cider vinegar to a lukewarm bathtub and soak for 20 minutes, the acidic component of the vinegar is supposed to eliminate any harmful microorganisms.
A vinegar bath is not the same as vinegar douching, which aims to flush out all bacteria (good and bad) from your vagina. Doing so leaves you more prone to a recurrence of the yeast infection.
10. Vitamin C: Vitamin C is an immune system booster. A strong immune system allows your body to bring itself back into balance. Vitamin C (also called ascorbic acid) has antimicrobial components when it’s distilled into tablet form, so some women use it to kill candida overgrowths.
Like many other home remedies, using a vitamin C tablet suppository might burn the sensitive skin of your vagina. Instead, try increasing your intake of vitamin C to boost your body’s ability to beat the yeast infection.
9. Hydrogen peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide is a bacteria and yeast-killing antiseptic, according to lab studies. While it won’t work on every species of yeast, some women swear by using hydrogen peroxide topically when they get a yeast infection.
Make sure that you dilute hydrogen peroxide before applying it to your genitals, and don’t use it for more than five days in a row.
12. Avoid chemicals: Keeping the vaginal area dry and avoiding irritating chemicals can help also. Don’t use douches, and avoid vaginal deodorant sprays and scented vaginal lotions. They may alter the balance of good bacteria and yeast in your vagina.
Since chemical irritants can influence the balance of bacteria in the vagina, avoid also products with potential irritants like scented tampons and tissue.
11. Right clothing: Taking steps to reduce moisture in the genital area can reduce the chances of developing a yeast infection. Wearing cotton underwear or underwear with a cotton crotch, wearing loose-fitting pants, and avoiding prolonged wearing of wet workout gear or bathing suits are all measures that can help control moisture, and may help reduce the chance of getting a yeast infection.
13. Baking Soda: Dissolve baking soda with water (1 tbs/one cup) and wash your genital area every time it starts to itch.
5. Coconut oil: Coconut oil is a fatty oil derived from the flesh of the coconut. The oil has many health benefits, including antifungal properties. Studies have shown that coconut oil is effective against C. albicans, making this home remedy one of the few with strong evidence that it actually works. To treat a vaginal yeast infection using coconut oil, be sure to buy pure, organic coconut oil.
You can apply the oil directly to the affected area.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications for the treatment of vaginal yeast infection
If you recognize that you have a yeast infection, you can also treat yourself at home with OTC products. You’ll also need a follow-up visit with your doctor to make sure the medicine has worked because the symptoms might return within two months.
Topical antibiotic (antifungal) treatments (applied directly to the affected area) are available without a prescription. These include vaginal creams, tablets, or suppositories. Regimens vary according to the length of treatment and are typically 1- or 3-day regimens.
Examples of over-the-counter drugs for yeast infections include:
Prescription medications for the treatment of vaginal yeast infection
Oral prescription medications, taken in pill or tablet form, can be used to treat recurrent yeast infections or infections that do not respond to topical treatment. Fluconazole (Diflucan) is typically used as the first-choice oral antifungal medicine.
Oral antifungal medications should not be used by pregnant women. Oral medications also have more side effects, including:
How can vaginal yeast infections be prevented?
Because yeast can be present normally in the vagina of healthy women, not all yeast infections can be prevented. However, it is possible to take preventive measures that may reduce your risk of getting a yeast infection.