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So, you're dealing with a vaginal yeast infection (again)? You may want to explore home remedies to treat your vaginal fungal infection — but which ones are effective, and what should you know about them?

What Are Vaginal Yeast Infections?

Yeast — a fungus — is found on the skin, in the digestive system, and the vaginas, of perfectly healthy people. While that might sound a little icky, it's just a fact of life, and not a problem at all. If that yeast proliferates excessively, you're dealing with a yeast overgrowth, or a yeast infection. While yeast infections are typically caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans, other Candida species can also be responsible. Yeast infections can strike nearly any part of the human body, from skin folds to nail beds and from the esophagus to your mouth. [1]

We're not here to talk about yeast infections in any of those places today, however, and for good reason — around one in five women will experience a vaginal yeast infection at least once in their lives [2]. 

Those who already know what they're dealing with, because they've had a vaginal yeast infection before, are likely to simply be annoyed. Those who are new to the not-so-wonderful world of vaginal fungal infections and don't know what's going on "down there" might be quite worried when they notice the nasty symptoms associated with vaginal candidiasis:

  • 85.9 percent of all women with a vaginal yeast infection report they suffer from pruritus, more commonly known simply as "itching" in laypeople's terms. You may experience a burning sensation instead of itching, or in addition to it, as well.
  • 66.1 percent of women who are dealing with a vaginal yeast infection notice altered vaginal discharge. The vaginal discharge associated with yeast infections is typically thick, white, and creamy — it's often described as vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese. 
  • 31.1 percent of all "yeast infection victims" will experience vaginal and vulvar soreness. Your privates may look inflamed or irritated, and your vulva's skin can become so dry that it cracks. 
  • Five percent will report pain during sexual intercourse. [3]

While Candida albicans is by far the most common cause of vaginal yeast infections, being responsible for those nasty symptoms more than 80 percent of the time, other types of yeast are significantly more likely to lead to soreness and pain during sex, and they're also more likely to recur. [3]

Vaginal Yeast Infection Risk Factors

If you've recently used antibiotics or are currently on a course of antibiotics and notice the symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection, you've already found your cause! One study found that 19.3 percent of women with vaginal yeast infections used antibiotics in the preceding month, making antibiotic use one of the biggest risk factors for vaginal yeast infections. [4]

Why do antibiotics put you at risk of a vaginal yeast infection? Well, lactobacillus bacteria play an important role in the maintenance of the vagina's natural, normal, and healthy microbial flora. You'll certainly have heard that antibiotics attack both the good and bad bacteria in the body, and they certainly reduce the numbers of lactobacillus bacteria in the vagina — changing its pH levels and giving yeast a field day. 

Women with diabetes are also at a higher risk of developing vaginal yeast infections, with type 1 diabetes patients being more prone to vaginal candidiasis than type 2 diabetes patients. Those with poor blood glucose control appear to be more vulnerable to yeast infections than those with properly controlled diabetes, [5]

Other risk factors for vaginal yeast infections include:

  • Regular use of condoms
  • A weakened immune system
  • Using hormonal contraceptives
  • Being younger, and of reproductive age
  • Having sex more than four times a month
  • Being in the luteal (post-ovulation) stage of the menstrual cycle
  • Using vaginal douches [3, 6]

All these factors either involve higher levels of estrogen or have the potential to disturb the natural balance of the vaginal flora. 

Do You Need To See A Doctor If You're Pretty Sure You Have A Yeast Infection?

The standard treatment of vaginal yeast infections consists of over-the-counter antifungal medications, which may be used orally or vaginally. Both these over-the-counter products, like miconazole and tioconazole, and the home remedies for yeast infections we will be looking at in a minute, are clearly accessible without a prescription.

The question is, then, whether you still need to see a doctor if you're pretty sure you have a vaginal yeast infection and don't need a prescription. 

One study showed that "patient self-diagnosis of 'another yeast infection' [is among] the best independent predictors of a positive culture" that proves the presence of a yeast infection [7]. We can only take this as an indication that women who've had vaginal yeast infections in the past and think they're dealing with another one are usually right.

On the other hand, you'll also want to consider the possibilities that you're dealing with something other than a yeast infection (bacterial vaginosis, for instance) and that you're dealing with both a yeast infection and another problem. This is especially true for women who have had unprotected genital contact and may have a sexually transmitted disease. [8] We don't want to be either condescending or reckless, so we'll just say — please let a doctor confirm your self-diagnosis if you think it's at all necessary, and especially if you've never had a vaginal yeast infection before. 

Now that we have that out of the way, let's take a look at the most promising natural remedies for yeast infection treatment at home!

1. Garlic As A Yeast Infection Treatment

One study found that a vaginal cream containing garlic and thyme was as effective at treating vaginal yeast infections as clotrimazole, one of the most popular antifungal medications used for the same purpose [9]. One such product is the Vagina Pro™ Garlic Vaginal Defense Cream — which we mention in case you were considering simply inserting a clove of garlic into your vagina. (Yes, I've seen this suggested on the internet. Doing so may, however, lead to topical irritation.)

Another study incidentally found that garlic tablets could be an effective alternative to a medication commonly used to treat another frequently seen vaginal infection, bacterial vaginosis [10], which may mean that you've got a good thing going with garlic even if you happen to have confused the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis with the symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection. 

2. Boric Acid To Treat Vaginal Yeast Infections?

Vaginal capsules containing boric acid — the same stuff some people use for their laundry and to deter cockroaches — can also be found over the counter. Research indicates that boric acid is a safe remedy for vaginal yeast infection treatment at home, not to mention a cheap one.

What's more, boric acid may succeed in treating recurrent vaginal yeast infections where azole antifungal medications fail; boric acid has been found to be effective in the treatment of vaginal yeast infections not caused by Candida albicans, which are often resistant to azole antifungals. [11]

Do note that boric acid is NOT safe during pregnancy! Any woman who knows she is pregnant or who could plausibly be pregnant should avoid using boric acid capsules. 

3. Oregano Oil For Yeast Infection Treatment At Home

Another home remedy for vaginal yeast infections that shows some promise is oregano oil. A mouse study shows that oregano oil from the species Origanum vulgare has the ability to fight Candida albicans overgrowths. Mice aren't exactly humans, however, and even so, the oregano oil was administered for a full 30 days — and I don't know about you, but I'd personally want to be rid of a vaginal yeast infection a little sooner! [12]

Women who have used oregano oil in this way suggest adding 20 drops of the stuff to eight ounces of water and douching with it twice a day. 

4. Can You Use Tea Tree Oil To Fight Your Vaginal Yeast Infection?

Tea tree oil, derived from the Australian tea tree, has antibacterial and antifungal properties. It's commonly suggested as an acne treatment and a means of treating fungal toenail infections among alternative health proponents.

One study indicates that it also works well for those who want to complete their yeast infection treatment at home — tea tree was found to be effective not just against Candida albicans, but a total of 20 different Candida strains.

The only caveat? The study was carried out in a lab setting, and it's authors make it clear that tea tree needs to be tested on actual women with vaginal yeast infections before any further conclusions can be made. We should also note that the tea tree oil was used in the form of vaginal suppositories. [13] You don't want to insert neat tea tree oil into your vaginal cavity, or it will be significantly more uncomfortable than your yeast infection is!

5. Coconut Oil As A Remedy For Yeast Infections

Several studies have also looked into coconut oil as an antifungal treatment against Candida strains, and suggested that coconut oil does indeed have some potential to fight yeast infections. While one of these studies specifically looked at the role of Candida albicans in the development of childhood dental caries [14], another study looked at coconut oil in the form of vaginal capsules — and found it to be a promising alternative to the conventional antifungal treatment of vaginal yeast infections [15]. 

6. Can Probiotics Prevent And Treat Vaginal Yeast Infections?

Whenever you mention that you're dealing with a vaginal yeast infection to anyone, they're extremely likely to suggest probiotics, which are also present in some types of yogurt. This makes sense, especially if you're taking antibiotics and want to do what you can to restore the normal vaginal microbiome, since antibiotic use is associated with lower numbers of lactobacillus bacteria.

Do probiotics work, though? Surprisingly, neither oral nor vaginal lactobacillus supplements have been shown to do much of anything in the way of preventing yeast infections following antibiotic use [16]. 

An analysis of the available literature on probiotics as a remedy for vaginal yeast infections concluded that the studies done to date simply weren't big enough or reliable enough to conclude that probiotics play a significant role in the prevention and treatment of vaginal candidiasis. Its authors did, however, say that probiotics are worth considering in women who suffer from repeated yeast infections more than three times a year. [17]

7. What About Vinegar To Treat Yeast Infections?

Vaginal douches containing five percent vinegar have been shown to fight Candida, bacterial vaginosis, and group B streptococcal vaginitis, while leaving the lactobacilli you want to keep alone. This suggests that some vaginal douches containing vinegar may be really quite useful if you're looking for a home remedy for vaginal yeast infections and several other vaginal problems. However, other douches really disturb the vaginal microbiome in a bad way, meaning you'll want to be careful with this. [18]

The Bottom Line

It emerges that there are quite a few different home remedies for vaginal yeast infections that show scientific promise — but that doesn't mean that you should make note of the substances that are known to fight Candida species and simply go wild with them. SteadyHealth "in-house physician" Dr Sasa Milosevic shares:

"I would say that traditional medicine has a lot to offer, but using raw garlic, vinegar, or, borax in uncontrolled concentrations and without proper pharmaceutical formulation can be dangerous, because it can cause damage to the vaginal mucosa. That can lead to superinfections with bacteria, and symptoms such as pain and irritation."

You should further keep in mind that some of the substances that fight vaginal yeast infections have contraindications, meaning that they are not suitable for everyone, and that some may interact with other (prescription) drugs that you are taking. I'll also repeat that there is a very, very good chance that you're right if you think you are dealing with a vaginal yeast infection — but also a risk that you are wrong, and you have a different problem. 

As such, if you have the chance at all, it really makes sense to swing by your family physician or gynecologist and consult with them before you begin using yeast infection treatment at home. This can both help you confirm your self-diagnosis, and give you peace of mind that the yeast infection remedy you are using is safe for you. 

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