Written by Monica Taiwo - Nigeria
Burning, itching, and an unpleasant odor are just some of the common symptoms of vaginal infections. But treatments vary by condition, so it's important to know which type of vaginal infection you have.
According to Dr Abiodun Akinola, consultant gynecologist and Medical Director, Tobiloba Hospital, Abeokuta, vaginal infections are very common so most women will experience some form of vaginal infection or inflammation during their lifetime. A healthy vagina has many bacteria and yeast. However, some things such as douches, hormone level changes, antibiotics, sexual intercourse, pregnancy and breastfeeding could disturb the vagina's healthy balance.
The most common types of vaginal infections is yeast infection. It is caused by one of the many species of fungus known as Candida. Candida live naturally in your body in small numbers, including in the vagina, and usually don't cause any harm. However, Candida thrive in a warm, moist, airless environment and, under those conditions, can grow in number, causing a vaginal infection.
Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include a thick, white discharge that some women describe as resembling cottage cheese. Yeast infections also can cause vaginal itching and redness of the vulva; the lips of the external female genital area and vagina.
Bacterial vaginosis. Along with yeast, "friendly" bacteria called lactobacilli live in the vagina. When the number of lactobacilli gets too low, it can trigger a condition called bacterial vaginosis. Why bacteria levels change is not known, but the normal lactobacilli can be replaced by other infection-causing bacteria. With bacterial vaginosis, a woman may see a thick or whitish discharge or one that is slippery and clear. It is not likely to itch or burn. A fishy odor may be noticeable, especially during intercourse.
Trichomonas vaginitis. Of the three most common vaginal infections, trichomonas vaginitis is the only one that is a true sexually transmitted infection it is commonly called "trich," it is caused by a single-celled parasite, trichomonas vaginalis, and is passed from partner to partner during intercourse.
The symptoms of trichomonas vaginitis are similar to other vaginal infections: burning, irritation, redness, and swelling of the vulva, with a yellow-gray or greenish vaginal discharge, possibly with a fishy odor. Some women also experience pain during urination.
According to Dr Biodun Akinola, other common vaginal infections and causes of vaginal itching include: Chlamydia vaginitis; a sexually transmitted disease that can cause inflammation of the vagina. Some women will have a discharge with chlamydia and some will not. A more common symptom is bleeding, especially after intercourse. "Sexually active women up to age 26 should be tested annually for chlamydia because it so often comes without symptoms and can linger and do a fair amount of damage to fertility, he emphasised
Noninfectious vaginitis; this is when the skin around the vagina becomes sensitive to an irritant such as scented tampons, perfumed soaps, or fabric softeners. This is not an infection, and the solution is simple: Do not use whatever you are reacting to.
Vulvodynia is a condition in which women have chronic pain or discomfort of the vulva without a known cause. The symptoms are similar to vaginal infections: burning, stinging, rawness, soreness, and swelling. Symptoms may be constant or occasional.
Viral vaginosis Viruses also can cause vaginal infections. Most viruses are spread through sexual contact. "The herpes simplex virus is a common cause of viral vaginosis. Symptoms include pain in the genital area from lesions or sores. Most of the time, you can see the sores on the vulva or vagina, but they can also be hidden and seen only during an examination by your gynecologist.
Akinola stated that, these infections can be treated, but it is important to know which infection you have so that the right medication is prescribed.
How to prevent yeast infections
While vaginal yeast infections are rarely serious, you can prevent them from occurring in the first place.
For most women, yeast infection symptoms are just plain annoying - a vaginal yeast infection is rarely dangerous. Still, you can take steps to prevent yeast infections. The following tips will help you to do just that.
Practice good hygiene
Personal care and hygiene can go a long way when it comes to preventing vaginal yeast infections. Be sure to:
Wash well: Keeping the vagina clean will not only keep you smelling fresh, it can also help prevent yeast infections. When bathing, be sure to clean the inside folds of the vagina where yeast is likely to grow.
Dry thoroughly: Because yeast thrives in moist environments, it's important to dry the entire vaginal area after taking a shower or bath. You may even want to use a blow dryer on a low, cool setting to get rid of excess moisture.
Wear the right clothes
The way you dress can affect your risk of developing a vaginal yeast infection. To prevent such infections, keep these tips in mind:
Go natural: Cotton and silk underwear absorb moisture, keeping you dry. On the other hand, nylon and other synthetic fabrics hold moisture close to your skin, encouraging the growth of yeast.
Change your clothes: Don't sit around in sweaty gym clothes or a wet bathing suit. Change into dry clothes as soon as possible. Also, change your underwear often to prevent dampness.
Avoid pantyhose: Pantyhose, tights, and leggings can cause heat and moisture to build up in the crotch area. If you do wear pantyhose, be sure to wear cotton panties underneath, and choose pantyhose with a cotton crotch.
Pass on pajamas: Avoid snug-fitting pajama; a loose, flowing nightgown is preferable. And going without underwear while you sleep will help keep your genital area dry and discourage yeast growth.
Skip unnecessary cosmetics
Some cosmetic products can encourage the production of yeast. You can stay well by:
Avoiding scented soaps: bubble baths, and feminine sprays: Perfumes can be irritating to the sensitive area inside the vagina, and that can increase your risk of getting a yeast infection. Also avoid scented sanitary pads and tampons and colored or printed toilet paper - dyes can also be irritating.
Limit heat: Yeast organisms love warm and moist environments. It is best to avoid taking long hot baths or soaking in a hot tub. Also don't wear tight clothing that will prevent air from circulating around the crotch area, especially in the summer.
Do not douche
Douching washing out the inside of the vagina with liquid destroys not only harmful bacteria, but also the helpful kind that keep yeast under control douche products also wash away the natural protective lining of the vagina, leaving you more susceptible to yeast and other vaginal infections.
Medication and yeast infections
Watch the meds you take: Antibiotics kill not only bad bacteria, but also good bacteria that can prevent an overgrowth of yeast. "Recent antibiotic use, like for a bladder infection, is one of the most common risk factors for getting a yeast infection. Taking oral steroids and birth control pills may also increase your risk. If you have frequent yeast infections, talk to your doctor about the medications you take. There may be alternatives available.
Other Personal Care Tips
As with most illnesses and infections, taking care of your body overall can help you stay healthy. Be sure to:
Get enough sleep:
Usually your immune system helps keep yeast under control. But if you get run down from skimping on sleep, your immune system may not be able to do its job. Try keeping a regular sleep schedule and avoiding exercise, caffeine, and heavy meals within three hours of bedtime. Immune-depressing diseases such as diabetes and HIV can also increase the risk of yeast infections. Additionally, if you have diabetes, it's important to keep your blood sugar levels under control to prevent yeast infections.
Change your diet:
Some studies suggest that eating yogurt with active cultures may help the body combat an overgrowth of yeast. Dunham also recommends limiting your intake of sugar. There's some evidence that sugar may help promote the growth of yeast.