There’s nothing quite as irritating as realizing you may have a potential yeast infection or other not-the-norm sitch happening down there. The itching and irritation suck, and the frenzied grab of all those $18 products promising relief in the feminine-care aisle sucks just as much.
We got Dr. Brandye, MD, a board certified OBGYN and women’s sex and pleasure coach at LifeLoveLibido, to help sort through some of the common q’s you might have about yeast infections, how to treat them, what to buy, what you shouldn’t waste your money on, when to see a doctor, and how to soothe them at home.
Disclaimer: if this is your first yeast infection, you should go see a doctor, Dr. Brandye says. The reason for this is because other things can masquerade as a yeast infection (see below). You’ll also want to see a doc if the symptoms are really severe — if your vulva and vagina are swollen and red, if the skin is splitting, you’re experiencing any significant pain, or you’ve already tried an over-the-counter remedy and it still hasn’t gone away.
However, if this is not your first time at the Monistat Rodeo, here are some tips:
1. Figure out if it’s really a yeast infection.
As Dr. Brandye pointed out, there are many things that you might confuse for a yeast infection, like BV, a UTI, or STIs like herpes. Here are some telltale signs to help you differentiate if you’re not sure if you should pick up some Monistat, drink cranberry juice, or call your doc.
Yeast infections vs. Bacterial Vaginosis
Yeast infections have lots of itching and irritation and don’t usually have a lot of discharge, but if there is, it’s white and looks like cottage cheese, explains Dr. Brandye. A more severe yeast infection might get you discharge with a greenish tint to it. On the other hand, bacterial vaginosis will usually have discharge with a fishy odor.
Yeast infections vs UTIs
Dr. Brandye also adds that sometimes urine coming into contact with the vulva may cause burning, which makes women think they’re experiencing a UTI and not a yeast infection, but UTIs have different symptoms, such as pelvic pain, pain when you urinate, and going to urinate very frequently with with only a small amount of urine coming out.
Yeast infections vs STIs
If you notice any new bumps or lesions, it might not be a yeast infection and could be an STI. These bumps might not always be painful, but things like herpes can cause pain and irritation that may mimic a yeast infection, Dr. Brandye says. However, the pain from these lesions would be more localized to where the lesions are.
If you have any overlapping symptoms and aren’t sure, a call to your doc is the best way to go here.
2. Go for the 7-day OTC treatment, not the 1-day one.
You might think one and done is great here, but in reality, you’re better off with the seven-day treatment, or if you must, the three-day treatment, according to Dr. Brandye. “I see too many women who use the 1-day ovule, and they come in because they think that they are still having symptoms, but in actuality the yeast infection is gone but the medication was so concentrated that it gave them a form of dermatitis,” she adds. Considering you just treated yourself for itching and irritation, the last thing you want added to your plate is vulvar dermatitis, which can also cause itching and irritation.
3. Whatever you do, don’t get any vaginal itch cream without also getting an OTC treatment.
Using an anti-itch cream is fine, if you also use an OTC treatment. Dr. Brandye notes that she’s seen women use only the anti-itch treatment thinking that it’ll treat whatever is causing the itching, which can delay someone getting treatment for the underlying infection. Anti-itch creams may soothe your symptoms, but you’re going to be using that tube of cream forever and a half if you think it’ll do anything to treat your infection.
4. Look for OTC yeast infection medications ending in azole, miconazole, clotrimazole.
Dr. Brandye says these are easily accessible and will treat a yeast infection. However, “sometimes there can be resistance, or a different species of yeast that won’t respond to these medications,” she adds. In these cases, you’d wanna call up your doc to get a prescription for an oral medication like fluconazole.
5. If you have external symptoms, pick a cream over a suppository.
“Both suppositories and creams are equally effective,” says Dr. Brandye, but if you happen to have more external vaginal symptoms, “the cream might help make things feel better while the medication is doing its work.”
6. Save your money and don’t get any of those vaginal pH test kits.
When you’re trying to solve a problem in your pants FAST, it can be tempting to grab one of those expensive kits that promises to tell you whether you have a yeast infection or not, but if you have any doubts as to whether you have one, call a doc.
“The OTC test strips are only testing for the vaginal pH, which is not definitive for saying if it is a yeast infection or something else. It is only testing whether or not the pH is off,” explains Dr. Brandye. Your vaginal pH could be changed due to a variety of other factors such as your menstrual cycle (totally normal BTW), recent sexual intercourse, recently having taken antibiotics, or multiple infections (which is why we keep hammering in to see a doc if there’s any question!)
7. Try a sitz bath of just water (and no additives) to soothe any symptoms.
Dr. Brandye says soaking for 10-15 minutes can help calm nerve endings and make you more comfortable. You can use warm or cool water, but avoid adding in anything to the soak lest you irritate things further.
8. Use icepacks for only ten minutes or less at a time.
If you do use an icepack to soothe your vulva, Dr. Brandye says to make sure you 1.) wrap it in a towel or washcloth, and 2.) don’t leave it on longer than ten minutes as you can damage external tissues with prolonged contact with ice.
9. Ditch the tight pants.
“Yeast likes warm, moist places,” says Dr. Brandye, so you should leave any tight-fitting pants or shorts out of your wardrobe rotation until the situation is all-clear. You want to aim to keep the area as well-ventilated as possible.
10. Sleep commando.
In fact, ditch pants all together if you can. “I usually recommend that my patients with recurring yeast infections sleep commando style commando style, with no underwear or pajama bottoms on, to let the area recieve more air flow,” Dr. Brandye suggests.
10. Wear white, cotton undies, or at least underwear where the inner liner is white.
The dyes used in clothing can sometimes be an irritant, Dr. Brandye explains. By wearing un-dyed undies, you can at least be sure you’re not adding to the problem.
11. Whatever you do, do not go for any vaginal washes, wipes, sprays, perfumes, or douches.
You might think this is a good idea to ~clean~ the area, but in actuality, they can make things worse. Sprays/washes/wipes etc, “are not necessary,” says Dr. Brandye and “often contribute to persistent vaginal irritation and infections.” Not what we want here.
12. Wash your genitals using the gentlest, fragrance-free bar soap you can find.
Technically, all you really need to clean the genitals is warm water, says Dr. Brandye, but a gentle bar soap could also work. Dr. Brandye prefers bar soap over liquid, as bar soaps tend to have less additional ingredients that could cause potential irritation compared to liquid soaps.
Dr. Brandye likes the Dove Beauty Bar for Sensitive Skin for this. And while it’s technically not a “soap”, Dr. Brandye says it doesn’t matter as the Dove bar is a mild cleanser and moisturizer, which can help maintain skin integrity.
“You can use another bar soap,” Dr. Brandye says, but, “you just have to be mindful of things like scents/fragrances or other additives because they can be irritating.”
13. Think about getting on a vaginal probiotic.
For her patients with recurring vaginitis of either yeast or BV, Dr. Brandye recommends RepHresh Pro B, which is a probiotic specifically meant for maintaining a healthy vaginal pH. “It is a tablet that you take by mouth every day, and used along with good perinealhygiene habits, works really well,” she says. Just remember, you still gotta treat the yeast infection, but the probiotic is a good extra step in case you want to prevent recurring future ones.
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