Most healthy vaginas have yeast. But sometimes your yeast grows too much and leads to an infection. Yeast infections can be very irritating and uncomfortable.
What causes yeast infections?
A vaginal yeast infection, which is also sometimes called vulvovaginal candidiasis, happens when the healthy yeast that normally lives in your vagina grows out of control.
It often leads to itching and other irritating symptoms.
The medical name for a yeast infection is “candidiasis,” because they’re usually caused by a type of yeast called candida.
If your vaginal chemistry gets thrown off balance, the normal yeast that lives in your vagina can grow too much and lead to an infection. Some things that can cause changes in your vagina’s environment are:
- normal changes in hormone levels (like during your menstrual cycle)
- antibiotics, cortisone, and other drugs
- a weak immune system
- a natural reaction to another person’s genital chemistry
- taking oral contraceptives
Yeast infections can happen on penises and scrotums too, but it’s not as common.
They can cause redness and irritation on your penis or scrotum.
Vaginal yeast infections can also occur as a result of injury to the inner vagina, such as after chemotherapy. 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.
Yeast infections aren’t an STD. They aren’t contagious, and can’t spread to another person during sex. But sexual contact sometimes leads to yeast infections — your body chemistry can have a bad reaction to another person’s natural genital yeast and bacteria, which causes yeast to grow.
People can also get a yeast infection on their mouth, throat, or tongue — that’s called “thrush.”
What are yeast infection symptoms?
Yeast infections often cause thick, white, clumpy vaginal discharge that usually doesn’t smell (or only smells slightly different than normal).
- whitish coating
- vaginal discharge
- rash and swelling
- painful feelings while having sex with your partner
Most yeast infections lead to itching, burning, and/or redness in or around the vagina. Vaginal itching usually gets worse the longer you have the infection. Sex may be uncomfortable or painful. In extreme cases, you can get fissures or sores on your vagina or vulva. If you have lots of irritation, it may sting when you pee.
How do I treat yeast infections?
Yeast infections can usually be cured easily in a few days with anti-fungal medicine. You can get medicated creams or suppositories for yeast infections (like Monistat and other brands) at a drugstore, over-the-counter without a prescription.
Make sure you follow the directions and use all of the medicine, even if your symptoms go away before you finish. You can also treat yeast infections with a single pill that you swallow (called Diflucan or Fluconazole). You need a prescription from your doctor to get the yeast infection pill.
Don’t have vaginal or oral sex, or put anything into your vagina, until you’ve finished treatment and your infection goes away. Friction from sex can cause more irritation or make it harder to heal. And some medicines that you use in your vagina have oil in them, which can cause condoms to break.
Even though yeast infections can be really itchy, try not to scratch. It can make irritation worse or cause cuts in your skin, which can spread germs and lead to more infection. There are over-the-counter creams that you can use on your vulva to help calm the irritation. Your doctor can also give you tips on relieving burning and itching.
Home Remedies For Yeast Infection
Yeast infections may be treated at home with antifungal creams available from pharmacies and drug stores.
In many cases, yeast infections can be easily and successfully treated at home. This is done with either over-the-counter products or alternative therapies.
Anecdotal reports suggest that many women experience relief from such home treatments.
However, scientific evidence varies for the effectiveness of these alternative therapies.
1. Over-the-counter treatments
Antifungal treatments in the form of creams or pessaries can be purchased over the counter to treat yeast infections. These are available without a prescription and are available to purchase online, or are found in:
- grocery stores
Depending on the product, the treatment may be for external or internal use and treat the infection with:
- a single application
- a 3-day application
- a weeklong application
Treatments that are applied internally have been shown to cure more than 80 per cent of vaginal yeast infections. These contain powerful antifungals called azoles.
2. Boric acid
Vaginal boric acid capsules can work for women with a yeast infection. These may be especially useful for women with recurrent infections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests a dosage of 600 mg of boric acid in a capsule inserted vaginally once a day for 14 days. Before purchasing any suppositories, consult with a doctor.
Some research reports that topically applied boric acid, along with the antifungal flucytosine, successfully treats approximately 70 per cent of women. This study looked at women with yeast infections that did not respond to azole-based antifungal treatments.
3. Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has antifungal properties that may kill yeasts and fungi.
Tea tree oil has long been prized for its antifungal properties. A review of research on this essential oil confirmed its ability to kill a range of yeasts and fungi.
In the majority of the studies reviewed, tea tree oil was tested on candida Albicans, one of the most common yeasts in vaginal infections.
Vaginal suppositories containing tea tree oil have been shown to treat vaginal fungal infections. Some women report relief from adding diluted tea tree oil to a tampon and inserting this into the vagina overnight.
However, extreme caution must be used when using tea tree oil, as it can irritate the skin, and the vaginal walls are particularly sensitive.
Tea tree is an essential oil and, as such, needs to be mixed with a carrier oil. People can use 3-5 drops of tea tree oil in 1 ounce of warmed coconut oil to soak a tampon. It is important to change the tampon regularly.
Also, people can be allergic to tea tree oil. Test the diluted oil on an area the size of a dime on the forearm, and if there is no reaction in 12 to 24 hours, it may be safe to use on the more sensitive genital area.
Other research indicates that a component of tea tree oil (terpinene-4-ol) enhances the activity of the common antifungal drug fluconazole. This is in cases of drug-resistant Candida Albicans.
4. Probiotic supplements
Some probiotic supplements may offer a natural solution to yeast infection. These are available in pharmacies and health stores, or online.
Some brands of probiotic supplements sell specially formulated products for female reproductive health. These aim to restore the balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina. The supplements are taken orally or inserted vaginally.
In a 2012 study, women with chronic yeast infections inserted a specially formulated probiotic pill into the vagina. Nearly 87 per cent reported an improvement in their symptoms. The treatment also had a long-term effect on the yeast responsible for the infection.
In the study, the women used one pill a night for a week. They then inserted one every third night for 3 weeks. After this, they used the treatment just once a week on an ongoing basis as a preventative measure.
Other research suggests that the probiotic lactobacilli can increase the effectiveness of antifungal medications being taken by women with a vaginal yeast infection.
5. Natural yoghurt
Natural, unsweetened, non-flavoured yoghurt contains beneficial bacteria, called probiotics. These contribute to the health and help restore the balance of bacteria and yeast in the body.
A 2006 review of research found that certain types of probiotics may combat some of the yeasts that cause a vaginal yeast infection. While the reviewers flagged issues with several of the studies they cited, many people report relief from:
- eating yoghurt
- applying to the vulva around the vagina
- inserting it vaginally
6. Coconut oil
Coconut oil has antifungal properties and has been shown to combat the Candida albicans yeast. Raw organic coconut oil can be applied internally or externally to ease symptoms.
Warmed coconut oil can also be used as a carrier oil for more powerful antifungal essential oils, including tea tree oil or oil of oregano.
Coconut oil is available to purchase online. Some products may be specifically suited for cooking, rather than for use on skin, so compare products and brands to choose an appropriate product.
Garlic is a known antifungal and antibiotic. However, recent research suggests that eating garlic has no effect on the levels of yeast in the vagina.
As an alternative to eating garlic, some women have tried using garlic internally. They claim to experience relief from a yeast infection, by placing a garlic clove, threaded with a string, into the vagina overnight. While there is no evidence to say this works, it is a low-risk home remedy for yeast infection.
People with sensitive skin may experience burning and even skin damage. As such, people should not use garlic if they have sensitive skin. If the burning sensation worsens, people should discontinue use.
Also, a vaginal cream containing garlic and thyme was found to be as effective as clotrimazole vaginal cream in the treatment of yeast infection.
8. Oil of oregano
Wild oregano oil may slow or halt the growth of yeast.
Most oregano oil is made using the common oregano, origanum marjoram, which has no special properties.
However, oil of oregano made from the wild oregano, origanum vulgare, contains two potent antifungals: thymol and carvacrol.
Using wild oregano oil was shown in some research to halt or inhibit the growth of Candida albicans. Capsules containing oil of oregano may be inserted into the vagina at night. Alternatively, it can be applied to a tampon before insertion. Comparing different products is recommended.
Essential oils should be mixed with carrier oils before use and never applied directly to the skin. People can mix 3-5 drops of oil of oregano essential oil in 1 ounce of sweet almond oil, warmed coconut oil, or olive oil. A tampon should be soaked in this mixture for a few minutes, then insert and change every 2-4 hours during the day. People should not leave a medicated tampon in for more than 6 hours. It is a good idea to test for allergies to oil of oregano on the forearm before use.
When to avoid home remedies
Many home remedies are safe for most people with yeast infections. However, the following people should not try to treat themselves:
- pregnant women
- anyone who has been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection
- people with a recurrent yeast infection
- people who are unsure if their symptoms are caused by a yeast infection