If you find yourself wondering if a fiery itch, thick vaginal discharge and redness or swelling are signs of a yeast infection, your doctor — or a clinician at urgent care, even a telehealth provider — is your first (and best!) line of defense. Ultimately, getting a prescribed treatment can help cure a vaginal yeast infection quickly and effectively without dragging out any of the irritating, painful symptoms. But if you’re simply unable to make it to a doctor, there are other ways you may quell a suspected yeast infection with a few over-the-counter products, and even one or two household staples that come in handy when you’re trying to prevent reinfection down the road.
The downside? Many of these solutions take much longer than antifungal medication to get your vaginal health back in balance, meaning you’ll spend more time in potential discomfort. And while there has been limited research into the effectiveness of holistic vaginal yeast infection treatment using some of these DIY solutions, the evidence isn’t as strong and established as it should be, explains Fenwa Milhouse, M.D., a board-certified urologist in private practice in Chicago.
“Yeast infections are fungal infections; in most cases, treatment is simple with quick resolution of any present symptoms,” she tells us. “Home remedies may work for uncomplicated or simple cases of yeast infections, but will take longer to resolve without receiving clinical care.”
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What is a yeast infection?
Often triggered by an overgrowth of a fungus known as Candida albicans, yeast infections are more common than not, especially for women who have recently used antibiotics or may be experiencing hormone imbalances; and are more likely for those with diabetes or weakened immune systems. Yeast exists naturally in the flora of the vagina and is usually self-regulated in a healthy system. When an infection occurs, the following symptoms make it obvious that things are seemingly out of whack — here are common symptoms that should clue you into a vaginal yeast infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Itching, burning sensations along the vulva and vagina
- Vaginal soreness and tenderness
- Pain or discomfort while urinating
- Swelling and rash-like conditions of the vulva
- Thick discharge that may or may not be white in color
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms in any severity, heading to a clinic or speaking to your doctor when you’re first noticing them is best before resorting to any DIY pain relief or infection solutions at home. Seeing a healthcare provider as soon as you notice these issues may also aid your doctor in detecting the true source of yeast overgrowth, especially if you have chronic infections. More often than not, antifungal medication may be the only way to truly restore balance in your vagina’s microbiome.
What is the fastest way to get rid of a vaginal yeast infection?
It’s true that there are over-the-counter solutions for yeast infections; but the fastest, safest way to treat a vaginal yeast infection is to receive a prescription for antifungal therapy medications from a doctor following an examination or in-clinic consult. Dr. Milhouse indicates that most providers suggest antifungal medication or topical antifungal ointments that are applied to the vagina directly. “Typically, the oral medication route only involves taking one tablet — but complicated yeast infections will require longer duration oral medications,” she adds, indicating that most providers rely on a medication known as fluconazole.
An extremely popular and effective product for treating mild yeast infections without a prescription is miconazole, often available at pharmacies and retailers as a topical cream, explains Taraneh Shirazian, M.D., a New York-based gynecologist and Monistat brand ambassador.
“Yeast infections can get better without treatment, but it often means a longer course. Many patients are symptomatic with itching, pain, and discharge,” she says. “With the option of over-the-counter medications like Monistat, patients that know they have a yeast infection can easily treat at home and only seek clinical care if symptoms aren’t improving, or if it’s their first time feeling those symptoms.”
If you choose to attempt to quell your infection at home, either with natural resources or over-the-counter medication, be sure to monitor your progress closely. Still experiencing painful symptoms more than a week after your first course of treatment? It’s time to see a physician immediately, Dr. Shirazian adds, as pain, discharge and itching will need to be treated by more potent antifungal medications.
Home remedies for yeast infections
There isn’t sufficient scientific evidence to suggest that most holistic tools — including items on this list — are effective alone for the most common variety of yeast infections prompted by Candida albicans. But healthcare providers have been aware of emerging research on a few natural alternative solutions for nagging yeast infections; most of the research indicates these remedies may be most effective at preventing yeast infections, and could potentially help to reinstate vaginal balance over a longer period of time.
Eat more Greek yogurt.
For years, women’s health experts have danced around claims that probiotic-rich yogurt can be used as a topical agent to help clear up yeast infections. But the reality is that the very limited research available on applying yogurt directly to the vagina is shaky at best; even unprocessed Greek yogurt contains sugar naturally, which can fuel the growth of even more yeast in the end, according to materials published by the Cleveland Clinic. Doctors are more sure, however, that doubling down on eating more probiotics as you treat a vaginal yeast infection can only speed up the recovery process.
Unsweetened Greek yogurt is rich in live Lactobacillus bacteria that is particularly productive against C. albicans infections. But eating probiotic-rich foods like Greek yogurt can help expand the microbiome in your gastrointestinal tract, which researchers indicate may help to reset a yeast overgrowth elsewhere in the body. Choosing Greek yogurt specifically is a good way to ingest as many active cultures as possible at mealtime, Dr. Shirazian adds, and can boost the restorative efforts of other tactics you may be using to recover currently.
Use vitamin E suppositories.
Outside of pharmacy buys like Monistat, prepackaged vitamin E suppositories can help quell many of the active symptoms associated with a yeast infection. This is especially true for inflammation, as a 2020 study published in the journal Microorganisms indicates that inflammation triggered by C. albicans was largely soothed by vitamin E suppositories.
While the research is limited in nature, and more is needed to determine how yeast infections may be stymied by these particular suppositories, the fact that more established research suggests vitamin E may also play a role in offsetting atrophic vaginitis is promising. Vitamin E suppositories are readily available in pharmacies and online, and are often used as part of a holistic menopause treatment plan for many women.
Consider essential oil of oregano.
Dr. Milhouse says that extremely limited research in the form of a Journal of Applied Microbiology study indicates that essential oil of oregano was effective in neutralizing C. albicans in topical use. But these studies were conducted in lab in-vitro environments (read: test tubes!) and it’s unclear if the same results would be achieved in humans.
Because essential oils can be dangerous when applied directly to the skin in various amounts, it’s crucial to approach this tactic with the help of your primary healthcare provider. Oil of oregano is a potent ingredient (and not at all the same as the common oregano you’ll find in local supermarkets).
It should not be used if you have a history of blood clotting or a vitamin K deficiency.
Give coconut oil a try.
Based on a 2018 study that suggests coconut oil dissolved in water served as an antimicrobial agent, those with frequent, recurrent vaginal yeast infections may consider employing coconut oil topically to keep bacterial landscapes in check. Its use as a preventative agent rather than an actual course of treatment for active yeast infections is likely much more effective in the end.
“We don’t have enough evidence at this time to know if coconut oil could be as effective as a yeast infection treatment,” Dr. Milhouse adds. “It’s generally safe to use in the vulva and vagina, and has been shown in lab test tubes to have some antifungal properties.”
If you decide to apply coconut oil in your vaginal region, ensure you’re using pure, organic coconut oil, which you can simply apply to affected areas using clean hands.
Ask your doctor about boric acid suppositories.
For those with yeast infections, boric acid has been shown to employ an antifungal effect when used in vaginal suppositories. It is not often the first treatment option for most, but is usually reserved for recurrent infections that may be resistant to standard antifungal medications. While not a one-size-fits-all solution by any means, boric acid has a probiotic element as it contains Lactobacillales, meaning it may help bring yeast levels back bringing yeast levels back into range and keeping them there in the long run. A 2011 review published in the Journal of Women’s Health indicated that boric acid suppositories were successful in stamping out yeast infections for a majority of patients in separate studies that also analyzed medications like fluconazole.
“There’s good evidence that boric acid is an effective treatment for uncomplicated yeast infections, with a 65-70% success rate in women infected with Candida glabrata [Editor’s note: Miconazole is a preferred alternative first line of treatment for this strain],” Dr. Milhouse says. “It should be used in the vagina nightly, ideally in a 600mg capsule, for 2 to 3 weeks on average.”
It’s true that boric acid may be available in grocery stores and other home retailers; but the safest option is to purchase pre-filled suppositories that are available in local pharmacies. You shouldn’t attempt to create boric acid suppositories on your own, and should use pharmacy-sourced options ideally under the supervision of your doctor. Being in communication with your doctor about dosage and directions on these suppositories is crucial for proper use; they are highly toxic and potentially lethal if they’re ingested orally, for example.
Turn to lidocaine spray.
Even when using antifungal medications or other over-the-counter products to treat vaginal yeast overgrowth, lingering itching, swelling and rashes can be a constant nag while you’re recovering at home. In this case, you’ll need to find a tool that can provide numbing relief.
The most basic? According to Dr. Shirazian, you can find solid relief using a cold compress or an ice pack — or by turning to lidocaine gel or spray designed for vaginal application. “These tools can provide numbing relief in the meantime,” she adds.
Home remedies to avoid
These so-called yeast infection solutions aren’t sufficiently supported by any form of medical research, and furthermore, doctors say they may end up causing you more pain than relief.
- Garlic: Whether you wish to eat more of it, or use it in any topical sense near or in your vagina, garlic simply isn’t a natural cure-all for yeast infections, Dr. Shirazian stresses. Despite established research on a compound in garlic known as allicin, which may contain antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, placing any form of garlic (yes, minced included!) inside of your vagina can easily cause further skin burning and irritation.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: This homespun tale of quick relief can easily irritate the lining of the vagina when used as a douche, according to Dr. Milhouse. Using this vinegar to douche can greatly alter its pH balance and subsequent microbiome, which may lead to chronic yeast infections in the future. You may also be tempted to consider a soaking bath that’s infused with apple cider vinegar due to a highlighted 2017 study, focused on a singular case of a woman who overcame near-constant yeast infections with topical apple cider vinegar. But nearly all care providers agree that something as astringent as apple cider vinegar is best left alone in the kitchen, and not used topically whatsoever near your vagina.
- Hydrogen Peroxide: Just like apple cider vinegar, applying hydrogen peroxide directly to your vagina in the hopes of stemming a yeast infection can instantly impact your pH levels and leave you vulnerable to future incessant infections. Hydrogen peroxide’s antifungal properties are appropriately reserved for open cuts and wounds elsewhere on your body. “Anything that disrupts vaginal pH, such as hydrogen peroxide, is not recommended,” Dr. Shirazian clarifies.
Can a yeast infection go away on its own?
For those with busy schedules or upcoming trips and exciting plans, it’s not what you want to hear — but only the mildest yeast infections can be successfully treated using the at-home tools we’ve highlighted above. More often than not, especially if you are experiencing severe symptoms that are new to you, you’ll need to call your doctor or head to an emergency clinic to confirm your diagnosis and to receive a prescription for antifungal medications.
The good news? These medications may work to resolve the yeast overgrowth, and quell subsequent symptoms, in as little as 24 hours. Most will clear up within days, and you should be able to resume normal routines soon.
You may have more success by incorporating holistic preventative measures into your routine targeted to preventing further yeast infections — like probiotics, for example. Probiotic supplements containing Lactobacillus help to regulate your vagina’s bacteria, especially those that contain more than 1 billion colony-forming units (CFUs), which can help stave off yeast overgrowth as well as issues like urinary tract infections.
Zee Krstic is a health editor for Good Housekeeping, where he covers health and nutrition news, decodes diet and fitness trends and reviews the best products in the wellness aisle. Prior to joining GH in 2019, Zee fostered a nutrition background as an editor at Cooking Light and is continually developing his grasp of holistic health through collaboration with leading academic experts and clinical care providers. He has written about food and dining for Time, among other publications.
Division Chief & Associate Professor, Division of Urogynecology & Reconstructive Surgery, University of Utah
Carolyn W. Swenson, M.D. is an associate professor and division chief of urogynecology & reconstructive surgery at the University of Utah. As a board-certified specialist in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, Dr. Swenson is an expert in the medical and surgical management of pelvic floor disorders including pelvic organ prolapse, urinary incontinence, and obstetric-related pelvic floor symptoms. She lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and three kids.