The Step-By-Step Guide to Curing a Vaginal Yeast Infection
Finding a yeast infection cure and a treatment that works for you is easy—just do these five things to find relief.
Yeast infections are so common-75 percent of women will experience at least one in her lifetime-that you might tend to get a little know-it-all when it comes to your lady parts. Sure, some yeast infection symptoms are pretty obvious (a thick, cottage cheese-like discharge, intense vaginal itching), but they don't necessarily mean you should head straight for the obvious yeast infection treatment (like Monistat).
"The most important thing that you have to keep in mind is that yeast infections are the most commonly misdiagnosed infection," says Lauren Streicher, M.D., associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "In fact, many women assume that they have a yeast infection so they go to buy whatever over-the-counter product, but then they continue to have symptoms because it was never yeast in the first place." About half of the women who treat themselves for a yeast infection actually have some other condition, says Barb DePree, M.D., of Lakeshore Health Partners in Holland, MI.
If you think you have a yeast infection, there are a few steps you should take before self-treating. That holds true for the 5 to 8 percent of women who experience recurrent or chronic yeast infections, meaning they get them at least three times a year. Follow these steps to make sure you're correctly diagnosing and treating your vaginal issues-the first time.
1. Know the symptoms.
Yeast is fungus-one that naturally occurs in the vagina. "The infection happens when there is a proliferation of this fungus, usually candida, which causes an inflammation of the vaginal tissues and discharge," says Dr. Streicher. That can lead to itchy, irritated skin and pain during sex and urination. "But these symptoms can be seen in other vulvovaginal conditions as well," says Dr. DePree. "Many times, it's actually bacterial vaginosis, which is caused by an imbalance in vaginal bacteria levels." If it doesn't itch, it's probably not a yeast infection-but rushing to self-diagnose could mean you miss other important clues as to what's going on. (Related: 6 Reasons Your Vagina Smells...and When You Should See a Doc)
2. Call your gyno.
Do you need to see your gyno if you suspect you have a yeast infection? Not necessarily. "Ideally women should be seen by their health care provider and not self-diagnose, but there are plenty of effective antifungal medications available over-the-counter, so women don't have to present to their provider to get treatment," says Dr. DePree. "If someone has white, thick, clumpy discharge, and itching, then trying an over-the-counter antifungal medication makes sense." That said, starting with a call to your ob-gyn certainly can't hurt. "If a patient of mine calls me up and says, 'Look, these are my symptoms. Do I need to come in?' I'm not going to make them take time off work and come in just to confirm. I'll treat them over the phone." (The telemedicine trend is picking up steam. Evidence: These therapy and mental health apps-some of which connect you with a real professional.)
3. Get over-the-counter meds.
You can find yeast infection medicine right on the drugstore shelf, or even online at Amazon if you feel awkward taking it up to the cashier. Dr. Streicher says there are a lot of good antifungal cream options at your disposal, but if you try one, make sure to give it some time to work. Giving it a day to work is just not enough time to reduce the inflammation in the tissue and other irritating symptoms, she says. And don't totally freak out about trying OTC yeast infection treatments if you aren't 100 percent sure what's going on. "Other than wasting your time and your money, it's not going to cause any harm," she says. "It's just not going to solve the problem."
4. Go to your doctor.
"If over-the-counter treatment doesn't resolve symptoms, or the symptoms immediately recur, then you should be seen by your health care provider," says Dr. DePree. If you're not sure what's going on or if you have other symptoms along with the discharge and vaginal itching, you could also just start with a doctor's appointment. It is possible to have a yeast infection and a bacterial infection, and there's no way to tell without seeing your gynecologist. Plus, while 90 percent of yeast infections come from candida yeast, there are other types of yeast infections that might not respond to OTC drugs and need a doctor's attention, says Dr. Streicher. So the sooner you see a doctor the better, especially if there's an underlying issue like a bacterial infection. But know that a yeast infection isn't going to kill you. "The longer the infection has gone on and the worse that it is, the more symptomatic you're going to be," says Dr. Streicher. (Related: Can You Have Sex with a Yeast Infection?)
5. Be preventative.
It's not fully understood how to prevent yeast infections, why yeast overproliferates, or why some people get yeast infections more than others. But there are some things that have been linked to them, like antibiotics or diabetes. Also, "yeast thrive in a dark, moist environment, so getting out of sweaty underclothing is helpful if you are someone prone to yeast infections," says Dr. DePree. "You can also take preventative measures like wearing cotton, breathable underwear, and trying a feminine probiotic like RepHresh Pro-B to help maintain a healthy balance of yeast and bacteria on a daily basis.