When you have a yeast infection, your first thought is probably, “Ah, the itch!” Your second? “How do I get rid of this as fast as humanly possible?”
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A quick internet search calls up a treasure trove of trendy home remedies for yeast infections, from apple cider vinegar (“ACV” to those in the know) to essential oils. But are these treatments actually effective — or even safe?
Ob/Gyn Kathryn Goebel, MD, shares her advice for keeping the yeasty beasties at bay.
Effective ways to treat a yeast infection
Right off the bat, Dr. Goebel spots a problem with treating yeast infections at home. “The biggest issue is that self-diagnosis of yeast infections is not very accurate, especially if you haven’t had one before,” she says.
Bacterial infections, allergic reactions and some skin conditions can cause similar symptoms, so it’s important to have a doctor confirm your diagnosis.
What if you’ve had yeast infections before, and there’s no doubt what you’re dealing with? Dr. Goebel says your best bet is actual yeast infection medication:
- Fluconazole is a prescription pill that can treat most yeast infections with a single dose, though it might take a few days for symptoms to clear up.
- Miconazole is an over-the-counter topical cream. It comes in a variety of formulations, including one-day, three-day and seven-day options. The cream can be a little messy, but it can also bring faster itch relief than oral fluconazole does, she says.
DIY yeast infection prevention
Some unlucky women get recurrent yeast infections, meaning they get to deal with the symptoms four or more times a year. If that’s you, the idea of sitting in an apple cider vinegar bath might not sound so wacky.
What works, and what should you avoid? Dr. Goebel shares her do’s and don’ts for treating and preventing yeast infections.
- DO practice good hygiene. “Shower after exercise, avoid super tight clothing, don’t sit around in a wet bathing suit, and don’t wear a pantiliner every day since it can trap moisture,” she says.
- DO pamper your skin. If you have external irritation on the vulva, applying thick ointments like Vaseline® and Aquaphor® can provide a barrier against yeast and reduce itching.
- MAYBE consider probiotics. Probiotics contain healthy bacteria, which might help keep yeast levels in balance. Unfortunately, Dr. Goebel says, there’s no great data on whether eating foods or supplements with probiotics makes a big difference for yeast infections. But for most people, there’s no harm in giving them a try. Look for lactobacillus, the bacteria found in healthy vaginal flora. You’ll find it in yogurt and kefir with live active cultures, or in tablet or pill form.
- DON’T put yogurt anywhere but your mouth. Some women insert yogurt (it is made with lactobacillus) vaginally, but Dr. Goebel recommends against it. Even unsweetened yogurt has natural sugars, which can fuel yeast growth and might make matters worse.
- DON’T rely on vinegar. The idea is that adding vinegar to your bath can reduce the vaginal pH, making yeast less likely to grow. But there’s little evidence that it works, and it can cause burning or irritation. And definitely skip a more, ahem, direct application. “Old-fashioned vinegar douches disrupt natural healthy bacteria and increase the risk of infections,” Dr. Goebel says.
- DON’T confuse your vagina with a medicine cabinet — or a kitchen cabinet. The internet might tell you that introducing things like tea tree oil suppositories, coconut oil or garlic into the vagina can help clear up an overgrowth of yeast. But there’s no solid evidence for those DIY treatments, Dr. Goebel notes — and there’s a decent chance you’ll cause burning and irritation (not to mention lost bits of garlic). “Most of it doesn’t work, and a lot of it will cause problems,” she adds.
If you’re dying to hop on the latest trend, buy some new boots or dye your hair pink. When it comes to treating yeast infections, tried-and-true is your better bet.