Yeast Infection Treatments

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on March 13, 2024
7 min read

A vaginal yeast infection (also called vaginal candidiasis) happens when too many candida yeast cells grow in the vagina. These cells are always there, but factors such as pregnancy, taking antibiotics, having too much stress, or wearing a wet swimsuit for too long can cause an overgrowth of bad bacteria and yeast, making them outgrow the good ones.

Yeast infections typically cause symptoms such as itching, redness, and swelling of the vagina and vulva; vaginal pain or a burning sensation; a vaginal rash; and/or a thick, odorless, white, cottage cheese-like discharge.

There are many over-the-counter (OTC) yeast infection treatments. If those don't work for you, or your yeast infections keep returning, talk to your doctor to see if you need a longer course of treatment.

Yeast infections are very common, affecting about 75% of women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) at some point in their lives. The duration, symptoms, and frequency of these infections vary widely from person to person. That's why there are several vaginal yeast infection medications on the market.

There are two main types of yeast infection treatments:

Short course. These antifungal medications range from a one-time pill (fluconazole) that you take orally to 3- to 7-day courses of antifungal creams, tablets, and suppositories. You can buy some of these over the counter, but others have to be prescribed by your doctor.

Long course. If you have very severe symptoms, or yeast infections that keep returning, your doctor may recommend long-course treatment. This may be an antifungal vaginal medication that you use for 2 weeks or two to three doses of a pill that you take by mouth. Your doctor may also recommend boric acid tablets that you insert in your vagina (these pills can be fatal if taken by mouth, so talk to your doctor before using).

You can get antifungal vaginal creams from your doctor or buy them without a prescription at most large drugstores and supermarkets. Some creams you can apply inside the vagina; these usually come with an applicator that helps you measure the right dose. Others are suppositories or tablets you place in your vagina where they dissolve.

Many yeast infection treatments come in 1-day, 3-day, and 7-day strengths. OTC vaginal creams and other antifungal products have the same ingredients to fight a yeast infection as the medication your doctor might prescribe but in less-concentrated doses.

  • Clotrimazole (Lotrimin and Mycelex)
  • Miconazole (Micatin and Monistat)
  • Tioconazole (Vagistat-1)

Some creams also cover different strains of yeast. You'll need a prescription for these:

  • Butoconazole (Gynazole-1)
  • Terconazole (Terazol)

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 number 3 behind it, 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.

OTC yeast infection creams

First, read all package directions carefully. Vaginal creams can be messy and may leak out during the day, so 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 leak 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 entire course of medication, even if your symptoms go away early.

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.

If you have a severe infection, your doctor might prescribe an oral medication. Ibrexafungerp (Brexafemme) is taken twice a day for 1 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.

You shouldn’t take either of these oral medications to treat yeast infections if you're pregnant.

Another antifungal medicine, oteseconazole (Vivjoa) has been approved for people who have repeated infections and who are not able to get pregnant due to being postmenopausal or 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).

Never take any medication or use a nonprescription vaginal cream while you're pregnant unless you've spoken to your doctor about it first.

If you think you may have a yeast infection you should talk to your doctor. Everyone's symptoms are different and yeast infection symptoms can be confused with other vaginal conditions, including skin allergies, sexually transmitted diseases (such as trichomoniasis), bacterial vaginosis, and hormonal changes.

You may have heard of several home remedies to treat yeast infections. One study showed that coconut oil may effectively kill candida, but it wasn't tested in people. Other at-home treatments that you may find include garlic, essential oils, and vinegar, but none are proven to cure the condition.

You may not always be able to prevent a yeast infection. But if you've had one before and you want to avoid them in the future, some of these tips may help:

  • Avoid eating foods with lots of sugar (which yeast uses to grow) and refined flour.
  • Avoid foods fermented with yeast (such as breads and beer).
  • Take probiotic supplements or eat foods with probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, and kimchi to increase the good bacteria in your vagina. Supplements with lactobacillus are particularly helpful for a yeast infection.
  • Keep your vaginal area dry. You can wear cotton underwear, which lets air circulate. After you've been swimming, get out of your suit and dry off. And wear pants that aren't too tight to avoid trapping moisture.
  • Choose products such as tampons and feminine pads without added fragrances and dyes.

Most yeast infections clear up within about a week. But the time it hangs around will depend on how severe it is and if you get the right treatment.

Will a yeast infection go away on its own?

If you have a very mild yeast infection, it may go away on its own. But you'll need medication to treat most moderate and severe yeast infections.

Frequent yeast infections

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 prescribed by your doctor 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. You are also more likely to have recurrent yeast infections when you have hormonal changes, (such as during pregnancy) or when your immune system is weakened because you have HIV or have had an organ transplant.

If you have frequent yeast infections, talk to your doctor who may do some testing to find out why.

Reach out to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about your prescription and how to take your medicine. Let your doctor know if your symptoms don't disappear after you finish taking all your medicine as prescribed. You should also call your doctor if you have any new symptoms because they might be related to other conditions.

Yeast infections can be uncomfortable to have, but antifungal medications can help treat them in as little as one day. Symptoms of a yeast infection can be the same as those of other conditions including skin allergies and sexually transmitted diseases. If you think you have a yeast infection or have ones that keep coming back, talk to your doctor to figure out the best treatment for you.