Yeast infections are caused by a type of fungus known as yeast, a single-cell organism that exists throughout the environment. Most of the time, your body can handle this fungus without any problems. But if your immune system is compromised or you are taking antibiotics, you may come down with a yeast infection in any soft, damp part of your body.
Yeast infections of the mouth are called thrush, while people with vaginas can have vaginitis, or vaginal yeast infections.
Treating yeast infections generally requires antifungal medications. In most cases, treatment is simple and the yeast infection clears up right away. In some cases, you may need to complete multiple courses of treatment or use stronger, prescription medications to put an end to your symptoms.
Remedies and Treatments for Yeast Infections
The most effective treatment for yeast infections is a dedicated course of antifungal medication. But you can also try several home remedies if you are waiting to see a doctor for a diagnosis and prescription. Here are six treatments for yeast infections (not all of them equally effective).
Many yeast infections happen when your immune system is busy or damaged. It’s common to have yeast infections while on antibiotics because your body’s normal bacteria die off.
By taking probiotic supplements, which are made of live bacteria, you can help support the natural bacteria population in and on your body that keeps yeast infections from occurring or getting worse.
Yogurt is another healthy source of probiotics. Just make sure that you eat the yogurt. It doesn’t offer any benefits when it's put on your skin, and the sugar that’s present in all yogurt may cause other infections as well.
Apply Saltwater Rinses
Yeast infections can sometimes be reduced and soothed by rinsing the area gently with saltwater. Mix a half-teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water. For oral thrush, you can gently swish the mixture around in your mouth. For other areas of your body, you can soak the infected area for several minutes, then rinse thoroughly.
Apply Coconut Oil
Coconut oil seems to act as an antifungal agent both in the lab and in people.
You can gently apply a thin layer of coconut oil to the site of the yeast infection. This may help kill off some of the yeast and may soothe irritated, dry, uncomfortable skin, allowing it to heal.
Use Tea Tree Oil
Some studies suggest that tea tree oil is particularly effective against yeast while not seriously affecting the bacteria that naturally live on the body. While more research needs to be done, tea tree oil may be a useful treatment.
You can find tea tree oil in suppositories, creams, and ointments, but it should not be applied while undiluted. Frequent tea tree oil application can lead to skin irritation and rashes, so use it in moderation.
The most effective treatment for any fungal infection is to take antifungal medications. There are many medications available, from oral medications to topical creams, ointments, and suppositories for vaginal yeast infections. If you are sure you have a yeast infection, you can find many treatments over the counter. If you aren't sure, see your doctor.
You can also request a prescription medication from your doctor if you have recurrent yeast infections or your infection is not responding to other treatments. Make sure to follow the instructions for the drug because there are a variety of different strengths and delivery methods for antifungal medications.
When to See a Doctor
Yeast infections should go away within a few days of treatments. If you’re still having symptoms of a yeast infection after several days of treatment, or if it seems to be getting worse, reach out to your doctor. You may need a stronger course of medication if the infection is serious or spreading.
If any of these three situations sounds like yours, you need a doctor's attention:
- It's the first yeast infection you've ever had. See a doctor to be sure it's not a more serious problem that needs a different treatment, such as a urinary tract infection or STI.
- You're pregnant. Any medications, including over-the-counter vaginal creams, need to be approved by your doctor during pregnancy.
- You often get yeast infections. If you have four or more yeast infections in a year, doctors call it “recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis.” If you have it, you’ll need treatment for up to 6 months with an antifungal medication. Frequent yeast infections can also be a sign that you have diabetes or another medical condition.
If you're concerned about your symptoms or they're different from those of past yeast infections you've had, you may want to see your doctor for your own peace of mind. They may recommend a prescription-strength vaginal cream to ease the itching and burning more quickly than an over-the-counter product would. There are also oral antifungal medications that might be prescribed.
If antifungal medicines are not working, there is also a chance that your infection is not a yeast infection, but something that may require antibiotics.
Tips for Yeast Infection Self-Care
There's nothing definitive that you can do that will prevent yeast infections entirely, but there are some things you can try that also may treat a yeast infection once you have it.
Acidophilus. Eating yogurt with live cultures of Lactobacillus acidophilus – a natural, "friendly" bacteria – may head off a yeast infection. Taking supplements with Lactobacillus acidophilus may also help prevent them.
Watch what you wear. Avoid tight-fitting pants and wear cotton panties to allow your body to "breathe" and stay cool. Yeast thrives in a moist, warm environment, so keep things airy and dry to prevent a yeast infection from coming back.
Nonprescription treatments. If you're sure you have a yeast infection based on a past episode, you could try an over-the-counter medication to treat your symptoms. These products are usually creams, dissolvable tablets, or suppositories (oval-shaped doses of the medication) that you put into your vagina. If your symptoms do not clear up, follow up with your doctor.
Also, if you have diabetes, make sure it is under control.