Until you have one, you probably don’t know much about yeast infections. They’re not something that tends to come up in conversation with family and friends, and you certainly don’t learn about them in any health class. Yet this fungal infection affects a lot of people. It’s the second most common type of vaginal infection, accounting for 1.4 million doctor’s visits in the United States every year.
If you suspect you have a yeast infection—or worse, if you have one that seems to keep coming back—you can find relief. Read on to learn all about vaginal yeast infection, including how long a yeast infection lasts, if a yeast infection goes away on its own, how to get rid of a yeast infection, and what else you may have if it’s not a yeast infection.
What Is a Yeast Infection?
A vaginal yeast infection (aka vulvovaginal candidiasis) is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of the candida fungus in your vaginal area. Candida albicans naturally live in the vagina and typically cause no harm. However, when anything disrupts the delicate balance of lactobacillus bacteria in the vagina, it can cause this type of fungus to multiply, leading to a yeast infection.
75% of people with vaginas get a yeast infection at some point during their lives, and some unlucky ones experience chronic or recurring yeast infections (classified as four or more yeast infections within the span of a year). You can also get yeast infections on other parts of your body, including the mouth (called thrush) and skin.
Symptoms and Causes
It’s typically hard to overlook a vaginal yeast infection because it’s uncomfortable. Symptoms of a yeast infection include:
- Itching or irritation of the vagina and vulva
- Thick, white, odorless vaginal discharge with a cottage cheese-like texture
- Watery discharge
- Pain or burning during urination
- Pain during sex
- Swelling, redness, and soreness around the vulva
Many things can cause yeast infections, and some unfortunate people are more prone than others. The main yeast infection causes include:
- Genetic predisposition
- Shifts in hormone levels during the menstrual cycle
- Hormonal shifts from using oral birth control
- A weakened immune system or autoimmune condition
- Recent antibiotic use
- Improper hygiene practices such as leaving sweaty or wet clothes on all day
How Long Does a Yeast Infection Usually Last?
Sometimes mild yeast infections will go away on their own within a few days. But most times, yeast infections get worse without treatment. So as soon as you start noticing symptoms, your best bet is to contact your healthcare provider. They can diagnose you and suggest an over-the-counter or prescription antifungal treatment. Once you start taking this, your yeast infection should clear up within about a week.
Can a Yeast Infection Go Away on Its Own?
If your yeast infection is mild, it might go away on its own. But this doesn’t always happen, and you can’t predict whether a yeast infection will resolve or worsen without treatment. Additionally, most home remedies for yeast infection are not proven to work.
If you do not properly treat a yeast infection, you risk having the infection come back a few weeks or months later. You also risk ending up with a complicated yeast infection, where your symptoms become more severe and harder to treat.
What Happens If You Leave a Yeast Infection Untreated?
Untreated yeast infections can sometimes progress into more serious infections, leading to redness, swelling, and cracks or sores around your vagina. These severe infections are still treatable, but they are much more uncomfortable and take longer to clear up.
To minimize your symptoms and feel better ASAP, it’s best to be proactive. Reach out to a doctor who can create a treatment plan.
What to Do When a Yeast Infection Won’t Go Away
Certain yeast infections are more serious than others, and others can be resistant to medications typically used to treat them. So if your yeast infection isn’t going away on its own or with over-the-counter treatment, see a gynecologist or other healthcare provider. You might need further testing and a secondary course of prescription antifungal medication.
How Do You Know When a Yeast Infection Is Gone?
Once your symptoms resolve and you’ve completed the duration of your treatment, your yeast infection has cleared. If your symptoms resolve before you complete the full course of treatment, keep using the medication until you have finished it as directed. (If you don’t, you may not fully clear up the infection and risk having it return.)
If your symptoms persist, or if you’re worried about the yeast infection recurring, talk to your doctor.
How to Get Rid of a Yeast Infection
The only foolproof way to get rid of a yeast infection is by taking a short course of antifungal medication. These are available as over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription oral pills, topical antifungal creams, and suppositories.
OTC treatment options include the cream clotrimazole (Lotrimin) and miconazole (Monistat), which comes as a cream or suppository. The most widely used prescription treatment option is fluconazole (Diflucan), an oral medication that you take for two or three days (or longer, if your yeast infection is severe).
If you experience chronic or recurrent yeast infections, your doctor may prescribe a longer course of medication to take for several weeks or months. This will ensure the infection clears up completely and does not return.
Is it possible to get rid of a yeast infection in 24 hours?
Many of these medications work quickly to alleviate yeast infection symptoms. Once you start an antifungal drug, you should notice relief from itching and other discomfort within 24-48 hours. If your doctor prescribed a single-dose medication, you may feel better in just one day.
What Could It Be If It’s Not a Yeast Infection?
Several different women’s health conditions share symptoms with yeast infections, and it’s not uncommon to mistake them for each other. If your yeast infection doesn’t clear up with antifungal medication, you might have something else, such as a:
- Urinary tract infection (UTI): This occurs when bad bacteria multiply in your urinary tract, triggering symptoms such as a burning when you urinate, bloody or cloudy urine, pain during sex, and abdominal pain. Antibiotics can treat UTIs.
- Sexually transmitted infection (STI): STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and genital herpes can cause itching, burning, and unusual vaginal discharge. If you notice blisters, sores, or any kind of rash around your vaginal area, it’s worth seeing a doctor, especially if you’ve recently had unprotected sex.
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV): This bacterial infection is similar to a yeast infection in many ways, with one crucial difference: It’s caused by bacteria instead of fungus. BV is characterized by a thin gray or white discharge with a strong fishy odor (as opposed to yeast infection discharge, which is thick, white, and odorless).
When to See a Doctor
Anytime you notice symptoms consistent with a yeast infection, it’s best to seek medical advice from a gynecologist or other provider who can diagnose you and recommend a treatment plan. As noted above, what seems like a yeast infection isn’t always a yeast infection, and your symptoms will not resolve unless you use the appropriate treatment.
Get Yeast Infection Treatment Today with K Health
K Health provides a simple, accessible option for yeast infection treatment. Chat with a doctor on your phone to determine whether you indeed have a yeast infection and get a prescription sent straight to your pharmacy, all for just $23.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.