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Vaginal yeast infection, also known as thrush, is one of the most common infections that every woman has experienced at least once in her lifetime. Although it is easily treatable, its symptoms do take a toll on you and affect your daily activities.

The most commonly found culprit behind this is the yeast, Candida. Candida is found as a commensal (which is found normally living in some area) organism in our mouth, throat, and vagina. However, when the conditions become favorable, it starts growing and colonizing in the vagina. Thrush is characterized by redness, itching, and discharge from your vagina. The vulva (the skin around the opening of your vagina) also shows small white areas and is mostly accompanied by a foul smell. Mild cases can be treated by using simple home remedies while recurrent or severe cases should be immediately treated by your physician or gynecologist.

Before curing yourself at home, be sure that what you are suspecting is actually a fungal infection.

If your symptoms do not include anything other than those mentioned below, you can go for the following simple yet effective home remedies:

  1. Apple Cider Vinegar for vaginal yeast infection
  2. Probiotics for vaginal yeast infection
  3. Yogurt for vaginal yeast infection
  4. Coconut oil for vaginal yeast infection
  5. Tea tree oil for vaginal yeast infection
  6. Boric acid for vaginal yeast infection
  7. Calendula oil for vaginal yeast infection
  8. Oregano oil for vaginal yeast infection
  9. Aloe vera for vaginal yeast infection
  10. Cranberry juice for vaginal yeast infection
  11. Garlic for vaginal yeast infection
  12. Wear cotton underwear in vaginal yeast infection
  13. Some basic facts about vaginal yeast infections

Apple cider vinegar is very effective in fighting yeast infection. However, you should be careful that no vinegar should be used other than apple cider vinegar because they will increase the infection rather than fighting it. Dilute the apple cider vinegar with water and use it for washing yourself. You may also apply the diluted vinegar on the genital area, keep it for 20 minutes and wash thoroughly with clean water. Another way of using apple cider is by putting two cups of apple cider in your bathtub containing warm water. Sit in the water for 15-20 minutes. Pat dry yourself using a cotton towel. Do not wipe yourself roughly as it may increase the irritation.

These are available as capsules as well as solutions which contain healthy bacteria (mostly Lactobacillus). They not only help in preventing infections but also help in balancing the pH of the vagina. A balanced pH helps in reducing the overgrowth of yeast. Probiotic supplements may either be used as capsules to be placed inside the vagina or taken as drinks every day.

They also come of great use in women who have recurrent fungal infections

Yogurt is a rich source of lactic acid bacteria such as Lactobacillus. This bacteria plays a major role in maintaining the overall health of the genital area, especially the vagina. It also kills excess fungal cells which colonize the vaginal area and cause infection. You can either eat yogurt or apply it on the genital area and keep it there for one hour. Do it 2-3 times a day. Wash thoroughly with clean water.

A 2004 study suggests that coconut oil has antifungal properties and is very effective against yeast infections, especially those which are resistant to medicines. Hence, by rubbing coconut oil on the affected area, you may soon get rid of the infection.  Use coconut oil 3-4 times a day.

Tea tree oil has been known for its natural antifungal and antibacterial properties. Hence, it is also used as one of the home remedies for treating vaginal yeast infections. However, its concentrated form is stingy and may cause a burning sensation. That’s why you should always dilute tea tree oil with water, almond oil or olive oil. Rub the diluted solution on the affected area several times a day.

Boric acid is an antiseptic. It also has antifungal and antiviral properties. You can mix boric acid with water to dilute it and apply it over the affected area. Leave it on for a few minutes and rinse thoroughly. Apply it daily for at least two weeks.

Calendula oil is an essential oil which is extracted from the flowers of Calendula officinalis. A study conducted in 2008 in southern Brazil shows that this essential oil has potential antifungal activity. Hence, it can be used to treat vaginal yeast infection at home. rub the oil on the affected area 2-3 times a day.

In a 2010 study, oregano oil was found to have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. This oil is extracted from the dried leaves of a plant, Origanum vulgare. This oil can be used in diluted form to be applied 2-3 times a day over the area where yeast infection is present.

The enzymes, vitamins, and amino acids found in aloe vera have anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties. To treat your yeast infection, you can use two tablespoons of aloe vera, mix it with one cup of orange juice and drink it every day.

Cranberry juice has been proven to be effective against yeasts and other fungal infections. It contains benzoic acid which was found to have antifungal properties in an old study conducted in 1968. Drink cranberry juice without diluting or sweetening it. Doing this a few times a day will help in curing a yeast infection.

Many researchers have tested and provided evidence for the action of fresh garlic extract against yeast infections. We advise you not to use garlic cloves by yourself as they are difficult to insert or remove. Garlic capsules are taken orally and garlic extract creams are applied around the vaginal skin. These are available at drugstores and may be used to treat your yeast infection. Read the instructions for dosage carefully. Stop using it if it causes irritation. When in doubt, ask your doctor if it is the right course of treatment for you.

Warm and moist environment favors the growth of yeast in the vaginal area. Hence, wearing tight clothes, synthetic underwears, etc will worsen your condition. Therefore it is important that you wear a dry and loose cotton underwear or no underwear at all. Doing this will prevent the yeast from growing and will help in treating the infection.

Here is some essential information on vaginal yeast infections that you should be aware of.

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. Prevention
  4. Medicines

Symptoms

The common symptoms of a yeast infection involve the following:

  • Itching in the vagina and affected region.
  • Redness in and around the vagina.
  • Discomfort and mild pain.
  • Excessive moistness in the region. 
  • Cheesy or curd-like discharge usually white in colour from the vagina.
  • Increased temperature of the genital region.
  • A foul and unpleasant smell from the discharge.
  • Pain while passing urine. (Read more: Painful urination causes)

When to see a gynecologist

If your infection doesn’t go away after using the above-mentioned remedies, you should immediately visit your gynaecologist to know the cause of the infection. Recurrent or untreated infection can indicate or may lead to serious medical conditions such as sexually transmitted infections or diseases. If you are facing any symptoms as follows, you should see a doctor immediately.

  • Infection in the vaginal area if you are pregnant.
  • If the infection has been recurrent (more than twice).
  • Presence of ulcers or warts in the genital area.
  • Pain in the pelvic region.
  • Unprotected sex with an unknown partner or multiple partners.
  • Fever associated with vaginal infection.

Causes

The vagina is a flexible yet delicate area. It is naturally self-cleaning in nature, means our body secretes certain enzymes which help to keep the vagina clean by itself. But you might still develop an infection which is usually mild and is easily treatable, there are certain underlying medical conditions which may increase your risk of getting the infection, such as:

  • Pregnancy
    Pregnancy hormones are responsible for various bodily changes. Hence, it may make you susceptible to vaginal yeast infection as well. If you get an infection, do not try the home remedies and go to your gynecologist for your correct treatment because some of the above-mentioned remedies may have an adverse effect on your baby.
     
  • Alcohol intake
    As we have mentioned above, excessive alcohol intake will increase your chances of getting a vaginal yeast infection.
     
  • Contraceptives 
    Some contraceptive pills also change the environment of your vaginal area and make you susceptible to infections.
     
  • Diabetes
    Diabetes increases the chances of catching infections because more sugar is available for the yeast to feed on.
     
  • Weak immune system
    A weak immune system which can either be present by birth or caused by certain diseases such as HIV-AIDS decrease the body’s ability to fight against infections and make you an easy target for infectious agents.
     
  • Antibiotics
    Long-term antibiotic treatment also kills healthy bacteria which are important for keeping a balance of yeast cells in the vagina. When the number of these bacteria decrease, the yeast gets an opportunity to overgrow and cause infection.
     
  • STD (Sexually Transmitted Diseases)
    Sexually transmitted diseases also reduce the number of healthy bacteria and make the conditions favorable for yeasts to grow.

Prevention

The above-mentioned remedies are to treat yeast infection. However, it’s always good to maintain vaginal and overall health and stay away from diseases. Following is a list of do’s and don'ts to prevent the development of any such infection in your body:

  • Cotton clothes
    Wearing cotton clothes and underwears will prevent the development of warmth and moisture in the vaginal area and prevent overgrowth of yeast.
     
  • Loose clothes
    Tight clothes do not allow your vagina to get any fresh air. This will provide a favorable environment for the yeast to grow and cause infection. Hence, it is advisable to wear loose airy clothes to keep your vagina healthy and infection-free.
     
  • Reduce alcohol consumption
    Alcohol causes dehydration of the vaginal area and leads to the overgrowth of infectious bacteria and fungi. Hence, it is always advised that you consume alcohol within the recommended amounts.
     
  • Maintain hygiene
    Do not wear dirty clothes. Immediately change your sweaty gym clothes or work clothes and wear fresh attire at home. Do not touch your genital area with dirty or contaminated hands.
     
  • Wipe yourself the right way
    Wipe yourself in a front to back manner after taking a dump. This will prevent bacteria from your anus to infect your vaginal area.
     
  • Be gentle on your skin
    Vaginal skin is a sensitive one and it is very important to balance its pH. Do not use harsh soaps, perfumed or scented body wash or bath salts because these products increase the pH of the vagina and favor the growth of yeast and other infectious fungi and bacteria.
     
  • Drying the vaginal area
    Be gentle while you are wiping yourself after a shower. Wiping roughly may irritate your genital skin and increase the possibility of getting an infection. Use a soft towel and pat dry yourself.
     
  • Do not douche your vagina
    You may think that cleaning the vagina again and again from the outside as well from the inside will keep you infection free. However, this is not so. Our vagina is a self-cleaning canal which can take care of its hygiene without you having to flush water or other chemicals in (douching) to clean it. Let this natural cleaner be and don’t worry too much about the inner area because it’s naturally trained to do its part very nicely.
     
  • Do not use panty liners
    Use sanitary pads and panty liners only when you are menstruating. Using them otherwise may make your vaginal skin dry and cause irritation. This will favor the development of infection in that area along with itchiness, cracks, ulcers, etc.
     
  • Avoid sex when you have an infection
    Having sex while you are suffering from yeast infection will increase the irritation in your genital area and may worsen your condition. Hence, avoid having sex while your treatment is going on.

(Read more: Vaginal health)

Medicines

These are the ones which are easily available at your nearby drug store and include antifungal creams, ointments, solutions, lotions, vaginal tablets, and pessaries or suppositories. Following are a few OTC (over-the-counter) antifungal medicines that you may use to cure your infection at home:

  • Clotrimazole
  • Miconazole nitrate
  • Butoconazole
  • Tioconazole
  • Butenafine hydrochloride
  • A combination of the above

These medicines are mostly available with an applicator stick which is used to apply the medicine inside the vagina. Before starting the application, you should either ask the pharmacist about the correct method of application or read the instructions given on the packaging of the medicine.

It is important that you tell the pharmacist about any other medications that you are on and which may interfere with the action of these antifungal medicines and vice versa.

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References

  1. Falagas ME, Betsi GI, Athanasiou S. Probiotics for prevention of recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis: a review. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2006 Aug;58(2):266-72. Epub 2006 Jun 21. PMID: 16790461
  2. Abdelmonem AM, Rasheed SM, Mohamed ASh. Bee-honey and yogurt: a novel mixture for treating patients with vulvovaginal candidiasis during pregnancy. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2012 Jul;286(1):109-14. PMID: 22314434
  3. Office on Women's Health [Internet] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Vaginal yeast infections.
  4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Vaginal Candidiasis
  5. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Vaginal yeast infection
  6. Better health channel. Department of Health and Human Services [internet]. State government of Victoria; Vaginal thrush
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