You can treat many yeast infections with over-the-counter creams or suppositories that you can buy without a prescription, especially if this isn't the first time you've had a yeast infection and you recognize the symptoms.
But if you get yeast infections often or they’re severe, you may need a prescription medication. Not sure? Then you need to talk to your doctor.
Yeast Infection Creams
For bad yeast infections, your doctor may prescribe an antifungal vaginal cream. These usually come packaged with an applicator that helps you measure the right dose.
You can get a range of similar yeast infection medications without a prescription, too. Some are creams you apply inside the vagina. Others are suppositories or tablets you place in your vagina and let dissolve. Most large drugstores and supermarkets sell them.
Many yeast infection treatments come in 1-day, 3-day, and 7-day strengths. Over-the-counter vaginal creams and other products you can buy often have the same ingredients to fight a yeast infection as the medication your doctor might prescribe, but in less-concentrated doses.
There are also creams that cover different strains of yeast. You'll have to have a prescription for these:
In general, the more concentrated the drug, the shorter the time you have to take it. A vaginal cream that has the number 7 after its name, for instance, would usually be used for 7 days. If the same product name had a 3, it would be a more concentrated version of the vaginal cream and you'd only need it for 3 days.
Your doctor may also prescribe a steroid cream for a few days to ease more serious inflammation, redness, and soreness at the opening of the vagina and the surrounding tissue, called the vulva.
Over-the-counter yeast infection creams
Vaginal creams without prescriptions also come with applicators that measure the right dose. Read all package directions carefully first. Vaginal creams can be messy and may leak out during the day, so -- depending on how bad your infection is -- you might want to use them only at bedtime.
When you use a vaginal cream that’s oil-based, you may need to use birth control that’s not a condom or diaphragm, or skip sex while you're using the cream. That's because the oil in the cream could damage the latex in a condom or diaphragm.
Yeast infection suppositories
Medications in vaginal creams (such as clotrimazole and miconazole) may also be available as vaginal tablets or suppositories. You put these into your vagina and let them dissolve. Some brands call them "ovules" because they're oval-shaped. These products often come packaged with a plastic inserter that helps you get the medication to the right place.
One benefit of a suppository is that it's less messy than a vaginal cream and less likely to ooze out during the day. Another benefit of tablets or suppositories is that you use the doses for fewer days, so you get relief from your symptoms sooner.
Safety tips for OTC yeast infection treatment
Before you use any of these products, you need to know for sure that you have a yeast infection, not something else. See your doctor if you're not sure because using the wrong medicine can make an infection harder to diagnose.
Always follow the package directions exactly. Pay special attention to how often to use the product and how much to use. You need to get those two things right because the dose targets the growth cycle of the yeast.
Complete the whole treatment, even if you feel better.
Antifungal medications can change the way some drugs work. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking an antifungal if you are taking other medications.
No matter which yeast infection treatment you try, see your doctor if your symptoms don't clear up after you finish it.
Yeast Infection Pills
If you have a severe infection, your doctor might prescribe an oral medication. The new drug ibrexafungerp (Brexafemme) is taken twice a day for one day and targets the specific fungal cells behind the infection. Fluconazole (Diflucan) is a pill that kills fungus and yeast throughout your body. You would take fluconazole for a week -- every third day (days 1, 4, and 7) -- initially, for three doses total. Then, your doctor might have you take it weekly for 6 months to make sure the yeast infection doesn't come back. Side effects for either include stomach upset, diarrhea. or headaches for a short time afterward.
You shouldn’t take either of these oral medications to treat yeast infections if you're pregnant.
The antifungal oteseconazole (Vivjoa) has been approved for people who have repeated infections and who are not able to get pregnant, either because they're postmenopausal or are permanently infertile. Infertility might be because you've had your uterus or your ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, or you've had your tubes tied (tubal ligation).
Medication Tips for Yeast Infections
Take the full course. Use all the pills or creams, even if your symptoms go away before you run out of the medicine.
Keep in mind that vaginal creams, vaginal tablets, and suppositories may be made with oil, which can damage condoms and diaphragms. So you’ll need to use another birth control method or not have sex during treatment if you don’t want to get pregnant.
Never take any medication -- or even use a nonprescription vaginal cream -- while you're pregnant unless you've spokento your doctor about it first.
When to Call Your Doctor
Reach out to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about your prescription and how to take your medicine. Check in with your doctor's office if your symptoms don't disappear after you finish taking all your medicine as prescribed.
See your doctor if you have four or more vaginal yeast infections in a year. It could be a condition called recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis. It’s not common, but if you have it, you may need to take an antifungal medication for up to 6 months.
Frequent, repeated yeast infections can also be a sign of a resistant strain or more serious condition, including untreated diabetes. Your doctor can help you figure out what the problem is.