Most women have a vaginal yeast infection at some time. Candida albicans is a common type of fungus. It is often found in small amounts in the vagina, mouth, digestive tract, and on the skin. Most of the time, it does not cause infection or symptoms.
Candida and the many other germs that normally live in the vagina keep each other in balance. However, sometimes the number of Candida increases, leading to a yeast infection.
This can happen if:
You are taking antibiotics used to treat another infection. Antibiotics change the normal balance between germs in the vagina.
Sometimes, a culture is taken when the infection does not get better with treatment or comes back many times.
Your health care provider may order other tests to rule out other causes of your symptoms.
Medicines to treat vaginal yeast infections are available as creams, ointments, vaginal tablets or suppositories. Most can be bought without needing to see your health care provider.
Treating yourself at home is probably OK if:
Your symptoms are mild and you do not have pelvic pain or a fever
This is not your first yeast infection and you have not had many yeast infections in the past
You are not pregnant
You are not worried about other sexually transmitted infections from recent sexual contact
Medicines you can buy yourself to treat a vaginal yeast infection are:
When using these medicines:
Read the packages carefully and use them as directed.
You will need to take the medicine for 1 - 7 days, depending on which medicine you buy. (If you do not get repeated infections, a 1-day medicine might work for you.)
Do not stop using these medicines early because your symptoms are better.
You doctor can also prescribe a pill that you only take by mouth once.
If your symptoms are worse or you get vaginal yeast infections often, you may need:
Medicine for up to 14 days
Clotrimazole vaginal suppository or fluconazole pill every week to prevent new infections
To help prevent and treat vaginal discharge:
Keep your genital area clean and dry. Avoid soap and rinse with water only. Sitting in a warm, but not hot, bath may help your symptoms.
Avoid douching. Although many women feel cleaner if they douche after their period or intercourse, it may worsen vaginal discharge. Douching removes healthy bacteria lining the vagina that protect against infection.
Eat yogurt with live cultures or take Lactobacillus acidophilus tablets when you are on antibiotics. This will help to prevent a yeast infection.
Use condoms to avoid catching or spreading infections.
Avoid using feminine hygiene sprays, fragrances, or powders in the genital area.
Avoid wearing tight-fitting pants or shorts, which may cause irritation.
Wear cotton underwear or cotton-crotch pantyhose. Avoid underwear made of silk or nylon, because they can increase sweating in the genital area, which can cause irritation.
Use pads and not tampons.
Keep your blood sugar levels under good control if you have diabetes.
Avoid wearing wet bathing suits or exercise clothing for long periods of time. Wash sweaty or wet clothes after each use.
Most of the time, symptoms go away completely with proper treatment.
A lot of scratching may cause the skin to crack, making you more likely to get a skin infection.
Repeat infections that occur right after treatment, or a yeast infection that does not respond well to treatment, may be an early sign of diabetes or rarely, HIV.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
This is the first time that you have had symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection
You are not sure if you have a yeast infection
Your symptoms don't go away after using over-the-counter medicines
Merritt DF. Vulvovaginitis. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 543.
Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.