Vaginal Infections – The Problem No One Wants to Talk About
Besides being extremely irritating and painful, vaginal infections are downright embarrassing to discuss with others – even your family doctor. The good news is that vaginal infections can usually be resolved in a short amount of time and are easily treatable.
Ages that are usually affected by vaginal infections are persons between the ages of 14 and 60. It’s rare than newborns, toddlers or persons between 6 and 13 are affected, but somewhat common in those people up to 60 years of age.
Over three million cases of various vaginal infections are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. They’re usually caused by an imbalance of vaginal bacteria, low estrogen levels (especially after menopause) or an infection.
Symptoms usually include painful urination, pain during intercourse, itching or irritation in the vaginal area and vaginal discharge. Treatment for vaginal infections usually attempts to concentrate on the cause rather than the symptoms.
A woman’s membranes lining the cervix and vagina normally secrete mucus and moisture, which is slightly milky or clear and clumpy or slippery except when dry and it turns to a yellow color.
A myriad of bacteria grow normally in the vagina of healthy women and some help to keep the vagina healthy. Lactobacilli bacteria help to maintain the proper pH acid balance to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
Sexual arousal, stress or midway between menstrual cycles may cause secretions to increase, but the situation doesn’t usually cause inflammation or irritation of any type in the vulva or vaginal areas.
You can view your discharge by using a clean tissue to gather a sample from inside the vagina and then smear it onto a glass slide or piece of clean glass. If the substance is clear or milky, you likely aren’t suffering from a vaginal infection.
Types and Symptoms of Vaginal Infections
There are three common types of vaginal infections – yeast (candida), trichomoniasis (trich) and bacterial vaginosis. Symptoms of an infection will likely include severe or mild burning and itching around the vulva, abnormally high levels or discolored discharge, thigh chaffing and possibly frequent urges to urinate.
Recurring or chronic vaginal or vulvar infection symptoms may cause skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. You may also develop symptoms of a vaginal infection if you’re subjected to stress, other infections in the body, lack of sleep or poor diet which can all lower your resistance to any infections.
Scented vaginal sprays, birth control pills, hormones, diabetes (or pre-diabetic issues), douching and pregnancy may also cause the onset of vaginal infections. Abrasions or cuts and other types of irritations within the vagina (such as having intercourse without enough lubrication) are culprits for causing infections in the vaginal area.
Infections could also be transmitted through having sex with your partner or using an instrument for medical or masturbation reasons. If you suffer from chronic vaginal infections, it may be a sign of a more serious medical condition such as HIV or diabetes. Be sure to see your doctor for proper testing.
One of the most common types of vaginal infections is the yeast fungus (candida albicans). Mostly called candida, this fungus grows in both the vagina and the rectum – especially when the pH balance is acidic (such as within the vagina).
Menstrual cycles, some antibiotics, pregnancy, diabetes and birth control pills tend to make the vagina and rectal areas even more acidic, causing a yeast infection to easily develop.
Also, when your system is out of balance from hormonal or other issues, yeast organisms can grow easily and plentifully. It produces a cottage-cheese like discharge and unpleasant odor and possibly cause itching or burning.
Recurring yeast infections may also happen because of the candida fungus on a male partner. The only sure way to diagnose a yeast infection is to be examined by a physician. He or she will analyze the vaginal secretions with a microscope and may also order a lab culture.
Bacterial vaginosis is another type of vaginal infection. It’s caused by an imbalance within the vagina when an abnormal growth of microorganisms such as anaerobic bacteria, gardnerella and mycoplasmas occurs.
Some women don’t realize they have bacterial vaginosis as the symptoms seem to appear and disappear – usually appearing during a menstrual cycle and becoming worst as it progresses – and disappearing after the period.
Causes of bacterial vaginosis might include routine douching and infections such as those which are sexually transmitted. The symptoms are a discharge which appears grayish or thick and white and has a strong odor.
Vulvitis is an inflammation of the vulva and could be cause by a certain type of medical condition or from using external creams or other irritants. You may have vulvitis caused by oral sex, an injury, sitting in a hot tub, allergic reaction to soaps, powders or other products.
Sanitary napkin irritation, underwear made from synthetic fibers or panty hose may also contribute to the vulvitis infection, which may also come with a vaginal infection. Other causes ay include stress, poor hygiene or a diet lacking in proper vitamins and minerals.
Hormonal drops such as happens during post-menopausal years may cause vulvitis because of drying and less elastic vulvar tissues. Women with diabetes may also suffer from the condition.
You may notice symptoms of redness, swelling, pain, itching and burning during an outbreak of vulvitis. Sometimes, blisters appear which may open, drain and form a crust. You may develop a secondary infection if you scratch the irritated area.
Vulvodynia is the term used to describe chronic pain in the vulva. Symptoms are pain, itching and stinging, severe burning and irritation in the genital area. You could develop vulvodynia as a result or during of a severe yeast infection or outbreak of herpes.
One type of vulvodynia is called generalized and may occur within different parts of the vulva. You may experience it at various times and even when you’re not having sexual intercourse or masturbating.
The other type of vulvodynia is called localized vulvodynia and symptoms include pain in the area of the vagina opening (vestibule) when that area is pressed on or even lightly touched.
Medical and Alternative Treatments for Vaginal Infections
Yeast infections are usually easy to diagnose and treat. You could try an over-the-counter treatment such as a vaginal suppository or cream or oral antifungal meds. But, beware that some antifungal creams might get rid of the symptoms without getting rid of the infection.
If you have recurring yeast infections, you may need oral treatments. Suppositories and creams can be used during pregnancy as they have fewer harmful side effects than oral treatments.
Sometimes a baby can be born with a candida infection (thrush) if the mother has an infection when it’s born. A doctor will usually treat the baby with oral nystatin drops. Boric acid capsules may also be recommended or using gentian violet to swab on the cervix, vulva and vagina. Beware that an allergic reaction to gentian violet may occur.
Boric acid side effects don’t usually occur, but may cause itching and burning in and around the vagina. Don’t use boric acid if you have cuts, sores or abrasions in the genital area as it can enter the bloodstream and cause problems such as diarrhea and vomiting and even kidney damage.
Bacterial vaginosis is usually treated by using metronidazole or clindamycin either vaginally or orally for a few days to a week. Metronidazole is usually the first choice because it’s less apt to cause a yeast infection than clindamycin.
Vaginal treatments for bacterial vaginosis are usually less reactive, but can be more expensive than taking the pills. It’s common for women to experience another bacterial vaginosis infection within a few months of treatment.
Using a condom during sexual relations may help to prevent recurring infections. Sometimes women develop bacterial vaginosis infections after a gynecological surgery such as a vaginal hysterectomy.
There’s no normal medical treatment plan for vulvodynia because the reasons for the infection aren’t clear. Your doctor will first try to treat the cause of the pain, which includes skin problems around the vulva, an infection such as herpes, a blocked Bartholin duct or cystitis that causes urinary and bladder pain.
Irritants or activities around the vulva may be the cause of the pain as will Candida or inflammatory vaginitis. Spasms originating in the pelvic floor area of the body could also be the cause of your pain.
The doctor will most likely recommend one of several options including a low-dosage of tricyclic antidepressant that will help to lessen central nervous system pain, applying estrogen cream in the vagina, topical anesthetic ointment and physical therapy.
Your healthcare provider may also recommend seeing a sex therapist or counselor if he suspects the pain could come from past sexual experiences. Many times, multiple or a combination of treatments is required.
If none of the usual treatments work to alleviate the pain and irritation from vaginal infections, surgery may be suggested. A vestibulectomy involves the removal of the hymen and vestibule, but success doesn’t always follow the surgery.
You may want to try a natural or alternative remedy to treat your vaginal infections or prevent them from occurring. Rather than taking antibiotics, some herbal remedies help to restore natural vaginal flora and help the healing process.
Sitz baths – where you sit in the amount of water necessary to cover your hips, thighs and buttocks – may help to relieve vaginal infection symptoms. Avoid using any of these remedies if you suspect you have an infection involving the fallopian tubes, ovaries or uterus.
Preventing Recurring Vaginal Infections
You may be successful at preventing recurring vaginal infection by taking some prevention measure such as supplementing your diet with vitamins B and C. Avoid douching and use condoms, which will reduce the effect of alkaline-containing semen.
Eating yogurt may help by balancing your pH, but isn’t effective if you have bacterial vaginosis. Also avoid using tampons if you’re prone to vaginal infections. Keep in mind that these types of alternative treatments may provide immediate and temporary relief from symptoms, but will not cure vaginal infections.
You can actually over clean the vulva enough to irritate it and invite infections to the area. Simply washing once per day with warm water is enough to keep it clean and help to prevent harmful bacteria from forming.
Some success has been found by drinking about eight ounces of unsweetened cranberry juice per day or using cranberry supplements. Garlic suppositories (peeled clove of garlic wrapped in gauze) and live cultured yogurt inserted into the vagina may also help keep infections at bay.
Candida infections may respond nicely to potassium sorbate which is a preservative when home-brewing beer. Mix a solution of dry potassium sorbate and about a pint of water. You may insert the soaked tampon into the vagina for a few hours (preferably at night and remove it in the morning).
Get as much rest as you can to keep your immune system ready to fight infections and if you have a male partner, get him to use the antifungal cream to his penis twice per day for a couple of weeks. Uncircumcised men tend to carry the infection beneath the over-skin, so he needs to make sure he cleans properly.
A simple thing, but one you may need a reminder about is to always wipe from front to back and keep the vulva clean, dry and cool. Avoid using toilet paper that’s scented or uses dyes as they may irritate the vulva.
Hot boric acid compresses and sitz baths which include comfrey may soothe the area – and be sure to wear cotton underwear and use cotton or pure linen towels in the bathroom.
Cold compresses with live-cultured cottage cheese might help to prevent itching and soothe the area. Using a non-irritating lubricant like K-Y jelly or Astroglide during sex may keep the genital area from becoming irritated and if itching occurs, use calamine lotion.
Don’t use any commercial substance in the genital area which may cause irritation or itching. Take precautions to prevent occurrences of vaginal infections – and if you can’t find a prevention method on your own, make sure you seek help from your healthcare provider.