6 HIGHLY EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS FOR YEAST INFECTIONS
Here's what's new, what's natural, and what's tried-and-true in the battle to beat vaginal yeast infections:
For 5% of women, vaginal yeast infections are chronic, returning at least 4 times a year. In a study at Wayne State University School of Medicine, women with a history of recurrent episodes took the oral antifungal fluconazole (Diflucan) weekly for 6 months; during that time, the rate of recurring infection dropped 90%. Six months afterward, 43% were considered cured, compared with 22% of those taking a placebo.
While women often self-diagnose a vaginal yeast infection, in many cases, "they actually have bacterial vaginosis, which has similar symptoms but, unlike a yeast infection, needs to be treated with antibiotics," says Jennifer Reinhold, PharmD. Urinary tract infections also have overlapping symptoms (pain and burning, though not discharge), but they, too, require different medications. A home vaginal swab that measures pH levels, taken with an OTC test such as the Vagisil Screening Kit, can confirm a yeast infection diagnosis. But health experts recommend that women with complicating factors, such as pregnancy or recurrent infections, schedule a doctor visit.
Tea Tree Oil
The essential oil derived from tea tree leaves has been shown in several lab and animal studies to act as an antifungal against yeast. While more studies need to be done to prove the oil's efficacy, some women report that they get yeast infection relief from inserting a tampon doused in tea tree oil at night. Try this with caution, Cullen advises: "The vagina is very sensitive, so I would hesitate to put something that might be irritating in an already irritated environment." If you find this home remedy uncomfortable, discontinue it immediately.
Boric Acid Suppository
"For uncomplicated yeast infections, my top-shelf treatment is boric acid," says Cullen. The substance is a natural antifungal and antiseptic, and studies have shown that it inhibits the growth of Candida albicans, the strain of yeast behind most cases of the infection, as well as other kinds, such as Candida glabrata, an increasingly common cause of infection that tends to be more resistant to other treatments. The powder, an irritant, should never be applied directly; look for a suppository capsule that contains it, such as Vitanica Yeast Arrest (sold at health-food stores), and use for only 5 to 7 days.
Cotton Underwear (or none)
A warm, moist environment may push a yeasty infection colony into overdrive, so the age-old advice—wear cotton-lined underwear, avoid panty hose and tight jeans, and change out of wet swimsuits and gym clothes right away—still stands. Or, if you're up for it, go commando. "I'm a big fan of wearing long skirts with no underwear to let air get to the perineal area for women who have a history of chronic infections," says Jill Rabin, MD, head of urogynecology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and the author of Mind Over Bladder. She advises against using scented douches, body sprays, and the like, which can disrupt vaginal pH levels. Rabin also suggests showering with an unscented soap after sex (especially oral sex) to avoid letting someone else's bacteria set up shop.
Progestin-Only Birth Control
Estrogen-based contraception, such as combination birth control pills, may cause an uptick in yeast. "If a patient is very reliant on her method of birth control, we'll work around it, but it is worth considering nonestrogen methods such as progestin-only mini pills and IUDs," says Cullen. Spermicides, which can alter the vaginal environment, may also present problems. Birth control aside, Cullen recommends using a lubricant (water-based only; avoid yeast-friendly glycerin) during sex: "Friction can upset the ecology of the vagina."