Why Chronic Yeast Infections Occur and How to Deal

Emily Boynton Fact Checked
Woman in discomfort
© Lucas Ottone / Stocksy United

Let’s be honest, one yeast infection is bad enough. But burning, itching and cottage cheese discharge on repeat? That’s the stuff of nightmares.  

Bacteria, called the microbial flora, normally live in your vagina, where they help keep yeast and other disease-causing bacteria in check. But when the balance of your flora is off, yeast can run rampant and cause an infection.

Recurring yeast infections are when you have four or more documented infections per year, says Dr. Melanie Andersen, an OB-GYN who sees patients at UW Medicine Primary Care at South Lake Union and Women’s Healthcare Center at UW Medical Center – Roosevelt

If you’re one of the not-so-lucky folks logging multiple yeast infections per year, it’s likely you’re looking for a treatment to put an end to the madness — and boric acid might just be the answer to your fungal misfortune.  

What causes recurring vaginal yeast infections? 

Yeast infections occur when the balance of fungus and bacteria in your vagina is off, resulting in an overgrowth of yeast and symptoms such as pain when peeing or having sex; itchiness; a red or swollen vulva; and thick, white discharge. 

For one-off infections, your doctor will prescribe antifungal medication and you’ll be good to go in about a week. But if you have recurring yeast infections (also known as chronic or complicated yeast infections), the infection just keeps coming back.  

There are several reasons this might occur: Your infection may be caused by a strain of yeast resistant to antifungal medications; the yeast causing your infection has acquired resistance during treatment; or, lucky you, you’ve simply scored the vaginal infection that won’t quit. 

“Recurrent disease is usually a relapse from a persistent vaginal reservoir of yeast organisms,” Andersen says. In other words, many times chronic yeast infections occur when antifungal medication fails to eradicate the yeast.  

There are also additional factors that can put you at higher risk for recurring yeast infections, including uncontrolled diabetes, severe medical illness, immunosuppression, pregnancy and other vulvovaginal conditions.  

How does boric acid treat recurring vaginal yeast infections? 

On to the silver lining: Boric acid, a natural chemical found in soil and water, can be used to treat recurring yeast infections that are resistant to antifungal medications. 

“Boric acid has antifungal properties and works by promoting an acidic environment in the vagina that helps balance the normal vaginal flora,” Andersen says. 

Basically, when you take boric acid, it disrupts the growth of the fungi in your vagina that causes yeast infections. This allows the bacteria and fungus in your vagina to return to a balanced state.  

What are the side effects of using boric acid for yeast infections? 

While boric acid is a cheap and effective way to treat yeast infections, you need to talk to your doctor before using it. This not only ensures that boric acid is a good treatment option for you, but also allows your doctor to check for any other vaginal infections that might be causing irritation. 

“A consultation with a gynecologist is recommended for any vaginal symptoms that are not responding to over-the-counter or at-home remedies,” Andersen says. “It’s important in these cases to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.” 

As for side effects, boric acid can cause vaginal irritation, since you use it by inserting a capsule into your vagina. In some cases, it can also cause your partner irritation during sex. Boric acid is toxic if taken orally (so don’t swallow the capsule) and is not safe for pregnant people or those trying to conceive.  

How do you use boric acid to treat yeast infections? 

On board with boric acid?  

You can buy capsules of boric acid from many pharmacies or through online retailers, and you can even make your own capsules by purchasing boric acid powder and gelatin capsules (you’ll want 600 mg of boric acid per dose, Andersen says).   

To treat a current yeast infection, insert one 600 mg capsule of boric acid into your vagina before you go to bed every night for two weeks. Your symptoms should start to improve in a couple of days and the infection should clear in one to two weeks.  

You can also talk to your doctor about using boric acid to prevent recurring yeast infections to determine if this is a good option for you. As a general guideline, the University of Washington Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends inserting boric acid capsules into your vagina two nights a week for six to 12 months.  

Thankfully, you don’t have to live with recurring yeast infections — not even the persistent, antifungal-medication resistant ones.