Antifungal Medications For Vaginal Infections

  • Polina Terechova Bachelor of Science - BSc, Biomedicine, University of East Anglia
  • Harry White Master of Science - MS, Biology/Biological Sciences, General, University of Bristol, UK

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When you think of anti-fungal treatment for a vaginal infection, what comes to mind? Perhaps something available over the counter at your local pharmacy or personal care products from your favourite brand? 

But did you know that the effectiveness of your medication can depend on your diet and clothing choices? Continue reading to discover the essential details that ensure effective treatment.

Understanding fungal infections and their symptoms

So, what happens before you get a vaginal infection? There are a few types of infection and each has individual causes, but for fungal infections, the most common reason is an overgrowth of yeast. Usually, the fungus to blame is Candida.

When you're diagnosed with a fungal infection and begin treatment, tracking your symptoms can be highly beneficial. Monitoring any changes or relief you experience helps determine the effectiveness of the medication.

Here are the most common symptoms associated with a fungal infection, which you can use as a reference to track your progress during treatment:

Key symptoms of vaginal fungal infections

SymptomDescriptionNote
ItchingPersistent and often intense itching in the vaginal area.A common and early sign.
DischargeThick, white, and often resembles cottage cheese.Usually odourless, unlike some bacterial infections.
Redness & swellingSwelling and irritation around the vaginal area.Can be accompanied by soreness.
Burning sensationParticularly during urination or intercourse.Not exclusive to fungal infections; could indicate other conditions.

If you're experiencing two or more listed symptoms and are unsure if they indicate a fungal infection, you might wonder what to do next. The flowchart below can guide you in making a decision. If you’re already diagnosed with the infection, you can jump to the next section where common myths about the treatment will be debunked with facts.

Now, let’s address the most common misconceptions about fungal infection treatments and separate myths from reality.

Myths vs. facts about the treatment

Myth: Over-the-counter antifungal creams are always the best first line of treatment.

Reality: Severe or recurrent infection may require a more serious treatment. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional if that is your case.1

Myth: If symptoms disappear, you can stop using the medication.

Reality: You should complete the treatment even if you do not experience any more symptoms. This will ensure the infection is fully treated and prevent a recurrence.1

Myth: Antifungal medications work instantly.

Reality: Some symptoms may be gone very quickly, but some may stay until you finish the full course of treatment.1

Myth: Yeast infections are a sign of poor hygiene.

Reality: While hygiene is important to prevent the development of the infection, the most common causes are antibiotic usage and hormonal changes.2

Myth: What you eat does not affect antifungal medication effectiveness.

Reality: It does.2,3,4 Large amounts of sugary food can promote the development of the condition, whereas a balanced diet can speed up the recovery.

Myth: All vaginal itching and discharge are due to yeast infections.

Reality: There are a few reasons why you may develop these symptoms.5 For example, bacterial infections, sexually transmitted infections, and some other conditions. It is worth seeking a medical professional to get an accurate diagnosis.

Myth: You only need to see a doctor for severe or recurrent infections.

Reality: As shown in the flowchart above, there are many different situations and recurrence is not the only sign to see a doctor. If in doubt, you can use the flowchart to help you make a decision or consult with a professional straight away.

Myth: Home remedies are just as effective as medical treatments.

Reality: A variety of home remedies are commonly used in an attempt to treat fungal infections.6,7,8,9,10 However, home remedies can at best, relieve symptoms but can also cause more harm than good. Always be mindful of the advice you may read on the internet and consult with a medical professional if in doubt.

Myth: Only those with a vagina need to worry about vaginal yeast infections.

Reality: Vaginal yeast infection does predominantly affect individuals with a vagina. However, this infection can be transmitted through shared items like towels or bathrobes as well as during sex.2 Thus, it is important to be mindful if you or someone you are close with is diagnosed with a yeast infection. If you or anyone you live with has a vaginal infection, don’t wash your clothes together, especially underwear. This is another way the infection can be transmitted.

Myth: Yeast infections are always sexually transmitted.

Reality: Yeast infections are not considered to be sexually transmitted infections because they can occur without sexual activity.11 One of the ways yeast infections can be transmitted is through towels, bathrobes, or any other shared items as was mentioned above.

Tips for treating and preventing

Here are ten tips to boost your treatment and prevent infection from returning:

Complete treatment

Symptoms will improve soon after you start treatment, but it’s very important to finish the full course of treatment. This way you can make sure the infection is definitely gone and mitigate any risk of recurrence.1

Breathable underwear

Natural materials will reduce the moisture build-up in the affected area. And moisture is loved by fungi. Choose underwear that is made of materials like cotton, bamboo, modal, and silk.11

Keep the area dry and change wet clothes promptly

As mentioned above, fungi thrive in high humidity. Thus, if you are swimming or doing any other sports activity, try to change your clothing promptly so you don’t wear wet clothing for too long.11

Avoid tight clothing

Just like in the tips above, wearing tight bottoms can increase heat and moisture, creating a perfect place for fungi to live.11

Maintain good hygiene and avoid scented feminine products

Regular cleansing is vital for recovery. Try to avoid harsh soaps and fragranced cleansers. Using fragrance-free intimate care products can prevent additional irritation or symptoms from getting worse.12 Any other products like tampons or pads should also be fragrance-free11

Manage blood sugar levels

High blood sugar levels can increase yeast growth, so if you have a sweet tooth, you should consider holding back on that until you are fully recovered.11 This is especially important if you have diabetes.3,4

Consume probiotics 

Probiotics can help your body restore and maintain healthy vaginal flora.13 This will mitigate the risk of the infection recurring.4,14

Limit antibiotic use 

As well as targeting harmful bacteria, antibiotics can also kill beneficial bacteria, negatively affecting the natural balance of your body's microbiome.11,15 Only use antibiotics when necessary and consult with your doctor before taking any medication, including antibiotics.

Regular exercise

 Physical activity improves blood circulation and thus boosts your immune system.16 A healthy immune system can be beneficial to the bacterial balance within your body.

Stress management

Last but not least - watch out for high-stress levels. Stress is known to weaken the immune system and disturb the hormonal balance, both of which can prompt infection development.17 Activities like yoga and meditation can help reduce stress and keep it low, which is good for overall health, recovery and, the prevention of infections.18

Take-home messages

Complete your treatment - A full recovery means a fully completed course of treatment.

Seek advice - If in any doubt, it is always best to ask for professional medical advice.

Lifestyle matters - Daily habits, the food you eat, the clothes you wear, your mental health, and regular exercise are all part of effective treatment.

Stay informed and alert - Knowing what to do is half of success.

Prevention is the key - Tips to support treatment are also useful in preventing the infection. Remember, it is always easier to prevent than to treat.

Summary

The article provides comprehensive information on treating and preventing vaginal fungal infections, highlighting the importance of diet and clothing choices in the effectiveness of antifungal medications. It explains that fungal infections, often caused by an overgrowth of Candida yeast, exhibit symptoms such as itching, discharge, redness, swelling, and burning sensations. The article debunks common myths, clarifying that over-the-counter creams may not always be sufficient, treatment should be completed even if symptoms subside, and diet impacts medication effectiveness. It emphasizes the importance of consulting healthcare professionals for severe or recurrent infections, and it advises against relying on home remedies.

Practical tips for treating and preventing infections include completing the full treatment course, wearing breathable underwear, avoiding tight clothing, maintaining good hygiene, managing blood sugar levels, consuming probiotics, limiting antibiotic use, exercising regularly, and managing stress. The article concludes with key takeaways: complete your treatment, seek professional advice, consider lifestyle factors, stay informed, and prioritize prevention.

References

  • Pappas PG, Kauffman CA, Andes DR, Clancy CJ, Marr KA, Ostrosky-Zeichner L, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Candidiasis: 2016 Update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis. 2016;62(4):e1-50.
  • Gonçalves B, Ferreira C, Alves CT, Henriques M, Azeredo J, Silva S. Vulvovaginal candidiasis: Epidemiology, microbiology and risk factors. Crit Rev Microbiol. 2016;42(6):905-27.
  • Mohammed L, Jha G, Malasevskaia I, Goud HK, Hassan A. The Interplay Between Sugar and Yeast Infections: Do Diabetics Have a Greater Predisposition to Develop Oral and Vulvovaginal Candidiasis? Cureus. 2021;13(2):e13407.
  • Mizgier M, Jarzabek-Bielecka G, Mruczyk K, Kedzia W. The role of diet and probiotics in prevention and treatment of bacterial vaginosis and vulvovaginal candidiasis in adolescent girls and non-pregnant women. Ginekol Pol. 2020;91(7):412-6.
  • Reed BD, Huck W, Zazove P. Differentiation of Gardnerella vaginalis, Candida albicans, and Trichomonas vaginalis infections of the vagina. J Fam Pract. 1989;28(6):673-80.
  • Bona E, Cantamessa S, Pavan M, Novello G, Massa N, Rocchetti A, et al. Sensitivity of Candida albicans to essential oils: are they an alternative to antifungal agents? Journal of Applied Microbiology. 2016;121(6):1530-45.
  • de Oliveira SF, Lôbo IP, da Cruz RS, Andrioli JL, da Mata CPS, Soares GA, et al. Antimicrobial activity of coconut oil-in-water emulsion on Staphylococcus epidermidis and Escherichia coli EPEC associated to Candida kefyr. Heliyon. 2018;4(11).
  • Avci P, Freire F, Banvolgyi A, Mylonakis E, Wikonkal NM, Hamblin MR. Sodium ascorbate kills Candida albicans in vitro via iron-catalyzed Fenton reaction: Importance of oxygenation and metabolism. Future microbiology. 2016;11(12):1535-47.
  • Dover SE, Aroutcheva AA, Faro S, Chikindas ML. NATURAL ANTIMICROBIALS AND THEIR ROLE IN VAGINAL HEALTH: A SHORT REVIEW. Int J Probiotics Prebiotics. 2008;3(4):219-30.
  • Watson CJ, Grando D, Fairley CK, Chondros P, Garland SM, Myers SP, et al. The effects of oral garlic on vaginal candida colony counts: a randomised placebo controlled double‐blind trial. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. 2014;121(4):498-506.
  • womenshealth.gov. Vaginal yeast infections | Womenshealth.gov. 2018.
  • Chen Y, Bruning E, Rubino J, Eder SE. Role of female intimate hygiene in vulvovaginal health: Global hygiene practices and product usage. Womens Health (Lond). 2017;13(3):58-67.
  • Hilton E, Isenberg HD, Alperstein P, France K, Borenstein MT. Ingestion of yogurt containing Lactobacillus acidophilus as prophylaxis for candidal vaginitis. Ann Intern Med. 1992;116(5):353-7.
  • Hu H, Merenstein DJ, Wang C, Hamilton PR, Blackmon ML, Chen H, et al. Impact of eating probiotic yogurt on colonization by Candida species of the oral and vaginal mucosa in HIV-infected and HIV-uninfected women. Mycopathologia. 2013;176(3-4):175-81.
  • Hofer U. How antibiotics predispose to candidiasis. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2022;20(7):382.
  • Scheffer DDL, Latini A. Exercise-induced immune system response: Anti-inflammatory status on peripheral and central organs. Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Basis Dis. 2020;1866(10):165823.
  • Morey JN, Boggero IA, Scott AB, Segerstrom SC. Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function. Curr Opin Psychol. 2015;5:13-7.
  • Association AP, ‌. Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress: Apa.org.; 2021 [Available from: Available from: https://www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness/meditation#:~:text=Researchers%20believe%20the%20benefits%20of.

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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