Fungi of the genus Candida normally live on the skin and inside the body (mouth, throat, gut, and vagina) without causing health problems. Research suggests about 20 percent of women have candida in the vagina that doesn’t cause infection. (1)
There are many species of candida, at least 15 of which are known to cause infections if they multiply out of control. (5)
In the United States, around 90 percent of vaginal yeast infections are caused by the species C. albicans. Most other cases are caused by C. glabrata. Less frequently, C. parapsilosis, C. tropicalis, and C. krusei cause vaginal yeast infections. (6,7)
Candida yeast cause an infection when something throws off the balance of microorganisms that live in and on your body, such as:
- Certain types of medication, including hormonal contraceptives (birth control pills, patches, or vaginal rings), antibiotics, and steroids
- Immune-suppressing diseases, including HIV
- Stress and lack of sleep, which can weaken the immune system (2,3)
Additionally, certain lifestyle habits may also promote the growth of Candida, including:
- Being sexually active (vaginal yeast infections are not considered a sexually transmitted infection but they are more common in women who are sexually active)
- Eating a diet high in sugar (a yeast food source)
- Other contraceptive use, including vaginal sponges, diaphragms, and intrauterine devices (IUDs)
- Maintaining poor vaginal hygiene
Diagnosis of a Yeast Infection
Though it may be tempting to self-diagnose a vaginal yeast infection, since effective over-the-counter (OTC) treatments exist, experts recommend you see a doctor.
Several other conditions — notably bacterial vaginosis (vaginal infection caused by bacteria), trichomoniasis (a sexually transmitted infection), and dermatitis (irritated skin) — can cause symptoms similar to yeast infections, making self-diagnosis difficult. In one study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, only about 34 percent of women who purchased OTC antifungal medications accurately diagnosed themselves with a yeast infection. (3)
You should especially see a doctor if:
- This is your first yeast infection.
- Medications for a previous yeast infection are not working on your current infection.
- Your symptoms differ from previous yeast infections. (10)
To diagnose a yeast infection, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history, perform a pelvic exam, and take a sample of vaginal discharge. A lab technician will examine the discharge to determine if there is an overgrowth of candida.
Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on all the findings — a positive fungal culture alone does not mean you have a yeast infection, because women can have candida in their vagina without showing symptoms. (1,3)
Duration of Yeast Infection
Most yeast infections clear up within a few days, depending on the severity of the infection and the medication used.
But up to 8 percent of women develop recurrent or chronic yeast infections (at least four infections per year). These infections are typically due to non-albicans species, and may require different treatment. (3,7)
Treatment and Medication Options for a Yeast Infection
Vaginal yeast infections are treated with over-the-counter or prescription antifungal creams, ointments, tablets, suppositories, or oral medications. You will need to take the medication for 1 to 7 days, depending on which medication you are using.
OTC and prescription drugs that may be used include:
- Monistat (miconazole)
- Gyne-Lotrimin (clotrimazole)
- Vagistat (tioconazole)
- Gynazole (butoconazole)
- Terazol (terconazole)
- Diflucan (fluconazole), a prescription single dose pill
If you have recurrent yeast infections, you may require multiple doses of fluconazole in the first week of infection, followed by at least six months of maintenance therapy (periodic fluconazole doses depending on the presence of symptoms). (11,12)
Alternative and Complementary Therapies
Can home remedies and natural cures help treat and prevent vaginal yeast infections? Many women wonder what else they can do to deal with yeast problems. Despite the documented effectiveness of over-the-counter products and prescription medication for vaginal yeast infections, some women prefer to treat their ailments with natural or home remedies.
- Probiotics (oral and intravaginal)
- Boric acid (suppository gelatin capsules)
- Vinegar (vaginal irrigation)
- Povidone-iodine (topical solution, ointments, and vaginal suppositories)
- Garlic pills
- Tea tree oil (topical)
- Propolis (vaginal cream)
- Sodium bicarbonate (bath or vaginal irrigation)
- Dietary changes to reduce sugar intake, including from dairy products (15)
While they are very popular, the effectiveness of home remedies for treating and preventing yeast infections is not very well known or understood.
Some remedies, at least, appear to be helpful for vaginal yeast infections, though more research is needed. For example, using probiotics as an adjuvant therapy could help cure yeast infections, but the quality of evidence is low or very low, according to a review published in November 2017 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (16).
And boric acid, at least, is recommended for the treatment of non-albicans species.