Vaginal Yeast Infection: Should I Treat It Myself?

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Vaginal Yeast Infection: Should I Treat It Myself?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Vaginal Yeast Infection: Should I Treat It Myself?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Treat your yeast infection with
    over-the-counter medicine.
  • See your doctor
    for treatment advice, or wait to see if the infection goes away on its
    own.

Key points to remember

  • A mild
    vaginal yeast infection may go away without treatment.
    If you have mild symptoms, you may want to wait to see if that happens.
  • If you're not pregnant and you know that your symptoms are
    caused by a yeast infection, you can treat it yourself with an
    over-the-counter antifungal medicine.
  • If
    you're not sure that your symptoms are caused by a yeast infection, you may
    want to see your doctor instead of treating it yourself. You could have
    another problem, such as a
    bacterial vaginal infection or a
    sexually transmitted infection (STI), that needs
    different treatment.
  • If you are pregnant, see your doctor before you
    treat your symptoms so you can make sure you have a yeast infection. If you do,
    it can be safely treated with a vaginal medicine.
  • Condoms and diaphragms aren't safe to use for birth control when you are using
    an antifungal cream or
    suppository. These medicines contain oil, which can
    weaken rubber.
FAQs

What is a vaginal yeast infection?

Yeast is a
fungus that normally lives in the vagina in small numbers. A
vaginal yeast infection means that too many yeast
cells are growing in the vagina.

A healthy
vagina has many bacteria and a small number of yeast
cells. The most common bacteria, Lactobacillus acidophilus, help keep other organisms—like the yeast—under control.

Some things can
cause an imbalance between these organisms and can prompt yeast to grow. Taking
antibiotics sometimes causes this imbalance. So can the high
estrogen levels caused by pregnancy or
hormone therapy. So can some health
problems, such as
diabetes.

Although a yeast infection can
cause severe itching, pain, and soreness, it's not likely to lead to serious
health problems. But if you get a lot of yeast infections, you may have a
medical problem that needs treatment with
antifungal medicines.

How is a yeast infection treated?

A one-time
vaginal yeast infection is usually treated with either:

  • An antifungal cream or
    suppository inserted into the vagina. You repeat this
    treatment for several days.
  • A prescription antifungal pill you take
    once.

Another treatment is vaginal
boric acid capsules. This may help for a yeast infection that has not gone
away with antifungal treatment.

What are the risks of not treating or treating a vaginal yeast infection?

Not treating. A vaginal yeast
infection does not lead to major health problems. And you may find that a mild
infection goes away on its own. But you may not be able to go without treatment
if you have severe symptoms.

Treating. The
biggest risk is treating the wrong problem and delaying diagnosis and treatment
of the right one.

If you have been diagnosed with a yeast
infection before, you likely know the symptoms and can treat it yourself with
an
over-the-counter medicine with little risk.

Other conditions have similar symptoms to yeast infections, though. If you
aren't sure that your symptoms are caused by a yeast infection and yet you
treat it anyway, you might be delaying diagnosis and treatment of your true
problem, such as a
bacterial vaginal infection or a
sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Treating a yeast infection with a vaginal cream or
suppository poses no major risks. This medicine only
affects the vaginal area and usually does not cause pain or tenderness.

If you are pregnant and think you have a yeast infection, see a doctor.
Don't treat it yourself.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?

What are the benefits?

What are the risks and side effects?

Self-treat your yeast
infection

Self-treat your yeast
infection

  • You use over-the-counter
    antifungal medicines to treat the
    infection.
  • Medicine is used as a cream or a
    suppository you insert in your vagina.
  • Depending on the medicine, treatment can last 1 to 7 days.
  • You avoid the time and cost of a
    doctor visit.
  • Antifungal treatments cure yeast infections in 80 to 90 out of
    100 women who have them.footnote 1
  • If you aren't sure that
    your symptoms are caused by a yeast infection, you might be delaying diagnosis
    and treatment of your true problem.
  • Antifungal treatments don't
    cure yeast infections in 10 to 20 out of 100 women who have them.footnote 1
  • Condoms and diaphragms are not safe to use for birth control when
    you are using an antifungal cream or suppository.
  • Side effects of vaginal medicines can include burning and
    soreness when high doses are used.
  • These treatments may not work if
    you get yeast infections often.
Don't self-treat

Don't self-treat

  • If your symptoms are mild, you
    can wait to see if they go away on their own.
  • You can see your
    doctor to confirm that you have a yeast infection. If you do, you can treat it
    with
    over-the-counter medicine or a pill that your doctor
    prescribes.
  • If you see a doctor, you can
    know for sure that the problem you are treating is a yeast infection.
  • If your problem is not a yeast infection, your doctor can
    prescribe the right treatment.
  • For pregnant women, seeing a doctor
    is the safest choice.
  • There are no real
    risks or side effects. But you may spend time and money on a doctor visit that
    you did not need. Or your infection may not get better on its own, so you'd
    still need to get treatment.

Personal stories about self-treating a possible vaginal yeast infection

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

During my
pregnancy, I developed terribly uncomfortable vaginal yeast symptoms that just
about drove me crazy. I knew it was a yeast infection, but since I was
pregnant, I just didn't want to do anything I shouldn't. So I went for a quick
check, and my nurse midwife sent me right off to get some over-the-counter
cream. She told me that even though I'd been right about my diagnosis, I'd
done the right thing to see her first. Sometimes it isn't what you think it is,
and you never know what medicines are safe when you're pregnant.

Anna, age
24

I started getting a vaginal itch last week,
which I've had diagnosed before as a yeast infection. Although I was going to
get some medicine right away, my sister reminded me that sometimes they go
away on their own. After a few days, it was better. If it comes back again,
I'll probably try a vaginal cream, but for now it seems okay.

Darla, age 32

After taking
antibiotics, I got a raging vaginal yeast infection. Believe it or not, I'd
never had one before, so I went to my doctor to find out what was causing me
such misery. She told me to use an over-the-counter vaginal medicine for 3 days since
the strong 1-day kind might irritate my already inflamed skin. What a relief
that brought me!

Carmen, age 52

I swim year-round, so I have had some
experience with yeast infections. So, when I get symptoms, I go right out and
get the medicine. It's worked every time.

Gretchen, age 18

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to treat a vaginal yeast infection yourself

Reasons not to treat a yeast infection yourself

I'm sure I have a yeast infection.

I'm not sure I have a yeast infection.

More important
Equally important
More important

I don't want to pay for a doctor visit.

I don't mind paying for a doctor visit.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm not worried about the side effects of antifungal medicines.

I'm worried about the side effects of antifungal medicines.

More important
Equally important
More important

I know I'm not pregnant.

I think I might be pregnant.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Treating my yeast infection myself

NOT treating my yeast infection myself

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1, Is it okay to treat your yeast infection yourself if you are pregnant?
2, Is it okay to treat a yeast infection yourself if you know you have one (and you are not pregnant)?
3, Is it a good idea to see your doctor if you're not sure your symptoms are caused by a yeast infection?

Decide what's next

1,Do you understand the options available to you?
2,Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
3,Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1.
How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure


Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision 

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts 

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act 

Patient choices

Credits and References

Credits
Author Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

References
Citations
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2015. MMWR, 64(RR-03): 1–137. http://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015. Accessed July 2, 2015. [Erratum in MMWR, 64(33): 924. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6433a9.htm?s_cid=mm6433a9_w. Accessed January 25, 2016.]
Other Works Consulted
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Vulvovaginal candidiasis section of Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines 2010. MMWR, 59(RR-12): 61–63. Also available online: http://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/2010/default.htm.
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Vaginal Yeast Infection: Should I Treat It Myself?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the Facts

Your options

  • Treat your yeast infection with
    over-the-counter medicine.
  • See your doctor
    for treatment advice, or wait to see if the infection goes away on its
    own.

Key points to remember

  • A mild
    vaginal yeast infection may go away without treatment.
    If you have mild symptoms, you may want to wait to see if that happens.
  • If you're not pregnant and you know that your symptoms are
    caused by a yeast infection, you can treat it yourself with an
    over-the-counter antifungal medicine.
  • If
    you're not sure that your symptoms are caused by a yeast infection, you may
    want to see your doctor instead of treating it yourself. You could have
    another problem, such as a
    bacterial vaginal infection or a
    sexually transmitted infection (STI), that needs
    different treatment.
  • If you are pregnant, see your doctor before you
    treat your symptoms so you can make sure you have a yeast infection. If you do,
    it can be safely treated with a vaginal medicine.
  • Condoms and diaphragms aren't safe to use for birth control when you are using
    an antifungal cream or
    suppository. These medicines contain oil, which can
    weaken rubber.
FAQs

What is a vaginal yeast infection?

Yeast is a
fungus that normally lives in the vagina in small numbers. A
vaginal yeast infection means that too many yeast
cells are growing in the vagina.

A healthy
vagina has many bacteria and a small number of yeast
cells. The most common bacteria, Lactobacillus acidophilus, help keep other organisms—like the yeast—under control.

Some things can
cause an imbalance between these organisms and can prompt yeast to grow. Taking
antibiotics sometimes causes this imbalance. So can the high
estrogen levels caused by pregnancy or
hormone therapy. So can some health
problems, such as
diabetes.

Although a yeast infection can
cause severe itching, pain, and soreness, it's not likely to lead to serious
health problems. But if you get a lot of yeast infections, you may have a
medical problem that needs treatment with
antifungal medicines.

How is a yeast infection treated?

A one-time
vaginal yeast infection is usually treated with either:

  • An antifungal cream or
    suppository inserted into the vagina. You repeat this
    treatment for several days.
  • A prescription antifungal pill you take
    once.

Another treatment is vaginal
boric acid capsules. This may help for a yeast infection that has not gone
away with antifungal treatment.

What are the risks of not treating or treating a vaginal yeast infection?

Not treating. A vaginal yeast
infection does not lead to major health problems. And you may find that a mild
infection goes away on its own. But you may not be able to go without treatment
if you have severe symptoms.

Treating. The
biggest risk is treating the wrong problem and delaying diagnosis and treatment
of the right one.

If you have been diagnosed with a yeast
infection before, you likely know the symptoms and can treat it yourself with
an
over-the-counter medicine with little risk.

Other conditions have similar symptoms to yeast infections, though. If you
aren't sure that your symptoms are caused by a yeast infection and yet you
treat it anyway, you might be delaying diagnosis and treatment of your true
problem, such as a
bacterial vaginal infection or a
sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Treating a yeast infection with a vaginal cream or
suppository poses no major risks. This medicine only
affects the vaginal area and usually does not cause pain or tenderness.

If you are pregnant and think you have a yeast infection, see a doctor.
Don't treat it yourself.

2. Compare your options

  Self-treat your yeast
infection
Don't self-treat
What is usually involved?
  • You use over-the-counter
    antifungal medicines to treat the
    infection.
  • Medicine is used as a cream or a
    suppository you insert in your vagina.
  • Depending on the medicine, treatment can last 1 to 7 days.
  • If your symptoms are mild, you
    can wait to see if they go away on their own.
  • You can see your
    doctor to confirm that you have a yeast infection. If you do, you can treat it
    with
    over-the-counter medicine or a pill that your doctor
    prescribes.
What are the benefits?
  • You avoid the time and cost of a
    doctor visit.
  • Antifungal treatments cure yeast infections in 80 to 90 out of
    100 women who have them.1
  • If you see a doctor, you can
    know for sure that the problem you are treating is a yeast infection.
  • If your problem is not a yeast infection, your doctor can
    prescribe the right treatment.
  • For pregnant women, seeing a doctor
    is the safest choice.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • If you aren't sure that
    your symptoms are caused by a yeast infection, you might be delaying diagnosis
    and treatment of your true problem.
  • Antifungal treatments don't
    cure yeast infections in 10 to 20 out of 100 women who have them.1
  • Condoms and diaphragms are not safe to use for birth control when
    you are using an antifungal cream or suppository.
  • Side effects of vaginal medicines can include burning and
    soreness when high doses are used.
  • These treatments may not work if
    you get yeast infections often.
  • There are no real
    risks or side effects. But you may spend time and money on a doctor visit that
    you did not need. Or your infection may not get better on its own, so you'd
    still need to get treatment.

Personal stories

Personal stories about self-treating a possible vaginal yeast infection

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"During my pregnancy, I developed terribly uncomfortable vaginal yeast symptoms that just about drove me crazy. I knew it was a yeast infection, but since I was pregnant, I just didn't want to do anything I shouldn't. So I went for a quick check, and my nurse midwife sent me right off to get some over-the-counter cream. She told me that even though I'd been right about my diagnosis, I'd done the right thing to see her first. Sometimes it isn't what you think it is, and you never know what medicines are safe when you're pregnant."

— Anna, age
24

"I started getting a vaginal itch last week, which I've had diagnosed before as a yeast infection. Although I was going to get some medicine right away, my sister reminded me that sometimes they go away on their own. After a few days, it was better. If it comes back again, I'll probably try a vaginal cream, but for now it seems okay."

— Darla, age 32

"After taking antibiotics, I got a raging vaginal yeast infection. Believe it or not, I'd never had one before, so I went to my doctor to find out what was causing me such misery. She told me to use an over-the-counter vaginal medicine for 3 days since the strong 1-day kind might irritate my already inflamed skin. What a relief that brought me!"

— Carmen, age 52

"I swim year-round, so I have had some experience with yeast infections. So, when I get symptoms, I go right out and get the medicine. It's worked every time."

— Gretchen, age 18

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to treat a vaginal yeast infection yourself

Reasons not to treat a yeast infection yourself

I'm sure I have a yeast infection.

I'm not sure I have a yeast infection.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I don't want to pay for a doctor visit.

I don't mind paying for a doctor visit.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I'm not worried about the side effects of antifungal medicines.

I'm worried about the side effects of antifungal medicines.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I know I'm not pregnant.

I think I might be pregnant.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

   
             
More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Treating my yeast infection myself

NOT treating my yeast infection myself

             
Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1.
Is it okay to treat your yeast infection yourself if you are pregnant?

  • Yes

  • No
  • I'm not sure

You're right. If you're pregnant, see your doctor before you treat your symptoms so you can make sure you have a yeast infection.

2.
Is it okay to treat a yeast infection yourself if you know you have one (and you are not pregnant)?

  • Yes
  • No

  • I'm not sure

You're right. If you're not pregnant and you know that your symptoms are caused by a yeast infection, you can treat it yourself with an over-the-counter antifungal medicine.

3.
Is it a good idea to see your doctor if you're not sure your symptoms are caused by a yeast infection?

  • Yes
  • No

  • I'm not sure

You're right. If you're not sure that your symptoms are caused by a yeast infection, you may want to see your doctor instead of treating it yourself. You could have another problem that needs different treatment.

Decide what's next

1.
Do you understand the options available to you?

2.
Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3.
Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1.
How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

         
Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2.
Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.

 

Credits
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

References
Citations
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2015. MMWR, 64(RR-03): 1–137. http://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015. Accessed July 2, 2015. [Erratum in MMWR, 64(33): 924. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6433a9.htm?s_cid=mm6433a9_w. Accessed January 25, 2016.]
Other Works Consulted
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Vulvovaginal candidiasis section of Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines 2010. MMWR, 59(RR-12): 61–63. Also available online: http://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/2010/default.htm.

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