Dealing With a Yeast Infection? Here's How (and How Not) to Treat It

It burns, itches, and produces a disturbingly cottage cheese-like discharge. If you're reading this, you've probably had it. In fact, roughly half of women have been diagnosed with at least one yeast infection before the age of 25.

Vulvovaginal candidiasis, as doctors call it, is caused by a vaginal overgrowth of a fungus known as Candida albicans. Typically, the fungus coexists peacefully at low levels with the usual bacterial flora of the vaginal environment, but sometimes — often after taking antibiotics or oral contraceptives — the fungus can overpopulate and wreak havoc.

The Symptoms

The "havoc" caused by candidiasis comes in the form of intense itching, thick discharge, swollen labia, and sometimes even spotting, painful urination, or painful sex. But according to Honore Lansen, MD, a women's health expert with One Medical, symptoms can vary widely. "Some women may have a yeast infection and not even know it," she says. "In this case, it's not dangerous and usually does not need to be treated."

But women with symptoms are usually begging for treatment, and thankfully there are several science-backed methods that can cure your vaginal woes.

Treatment Options

"Most patients opt to treat with fluconazole, an oral antifungal medication," Dr. Lansen told POPSUGAR. It's quick and easy: all it takes is one dose to treat the infection. But since it's a prescription drug, you'll need to talk to your doctor about it. And though fluconazole is generally safe and well tolerated, it can interact with many other prescription medications, so if you're taking other drugs, you'll have to discuss them with her, too.

Other women choose over-the-counter antifungal creams, which may alleviate symptoms faster since they are applied directly to the vagina. But they typically require a full week of treatment to achieve similar cure rates as fluconazole, and many women find them to be messy.

Natural Remedies

Women who favor a more natural approach to treatment may consider using boric acid. "A compounding pharmacy can prepare boric acid ovules, which a woman inserts once nightly for two weeks," said Dr. Lansen. But Lansen warns that boric acid can be fatal if swallowed, and it must be kept far away from pets and children.

Unfortunately, other therapies that are considered more "natural," like probiotics or garlic supplements, have not been shown to be effective in treating or preventing yeast infections in clinical trials. As a doctor, I recommend that patients stick to tried-and-true antifungals — oral or topical — for quick, simple, and easy relief. And if you decide to put crystals in your vagina, please know that this will not cure your yeast infection. If anything, the foreign body will disrupt the vagina's natural pH and make you even more prone to yeast troubles.

What to Do If You're Still Suffering

If you're using an evidence-backed treatment and still haven't found relief, it's time to pay your doctor a visit. Nonfungal infections can produce similar symptoms, and formal in-office testing is often required to identify the right diagnosis. One clue that you may not actually be dealing with a yeast infection is if your discharge has a foul odor. In this case, it's more likely to be a bacterial or parasitic infection, which would require a completely different treatment.