Vaginal infections, also known as vaginitis, or inflammation of the vagina, are very common among women. Most women will experience this during their lifetime. Symptoms of vaginal infection or vaginitis may include vaginal discharge, itching, burning, pain, and a strong smell of the vaginal discharge. Some of the vaginal infections are caused by sexually transmitted infections. Some of these infections begin during sex. Some women are more susceptible to vaginal infections as compared to others, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.
Causes of vaginal infections
Bacteria and yeast are forever present in your vagina, even if it’s healthy and doesn’t have an infection. Several factors can alter the environment in the vagina, which might encourage bacterial or yeast overgrowth and result in discomfort. The common causes of vaginal infections include:
- Rinsing or douching the vagina with water or other liquids
- Changes in your hormones
- Taking antibiotics for long periods
- Vaginal intercourse
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Soap, body wash, and perfume
- Tight-fitting or synthetic clothing
- Detergent and fabric softener
Types of vaginal infections
1. Yeast infection
The most common type of vaginitis, a yeast infection, is caused by one of the many types of fungus known as candida. Candida albicans is the most common type of fungal infection.
Normally, candida lives harmlessly in your body in small numbers, including in the vagina. However, an overgrowth of candida occurs sometimes and may lead to some vaginal infections. Those conditions might include changes in your hormones due to birth control pills, pregnancy, or menstruation. Some other conditions that raise the risk of vaginal yeast infection include having chronic high blood sugar and having lowered immunity because of a medical condition like HIV or AIDS.
Symptoms of vaginal yeast infections include a thick, white discharge resembling cottage cheese. Yeast infections can also cause vaginal itching and redness of the vulva and vagina.
2. Bacterial vaginosis
Vagina has normal bacterial flora called lactobacilli. Less number of lactobacilli in the vagina can lead to a condition called Bacterial Vaginosis. The bacterium most frequently linked to bacterial vaginosis is Gardnerella. The symptoms of infection are brought on by an overpopulation of these other bacteria and a deficiency in lactobacilli. With bacterial vaginosis, a woman may get thick or whitish discharge which may be slippery and clear. It is not likely to itch or burn. A fishy smell may appear, especially during intercourse.
Also called trichomonas vaginitis, this is mainly a sexually transmitted infection. This infection is passed from one partner to another during intercourse. The symptoms of trichomoniasis are similar to other vaginal infections – burning, irritation, redness, and swelling of the vulva, with a yellow-grey or greenish vaginal discharge, possibly with a fishy smell. Some women may also experience pain during sex.
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Chlamydia is another sexually transmitted disease that can cause inflammation of the vagina. Some women will have a discharge with chlamydia and some will not. Women may experience bleeding between periods or after vaginal intercourse if the infection spreads beyond the vagina and cervix. Sexually active women up to age should be tested annually for chlamydia because it so often comes without symptoms and can linger and can damage to fallopian tube & affect fertility.
Gonorrhoea is another, highly contagious sexually transmitted infection that causes vaginal discharge, pain during urination, and pain during vaginal sex. Women who have gonorrhoea often may also have chlamydia, so a woman who tests positive for one of these bacterial infections will often also be treated for the other.
6. Viral vaginitis
Viruses also can cause vaginal infections. Most viruses that directly affect the vagina are spread through sexual contact. The herpes simplex viral infection is a common cause of viral vaginosis.
7. Non-infectious vaginitis
Non-infectious vaginitis occurs when the vagina becomes sensitive to an irritant, such as scented tampons, perfumed soaps, or fabric softeners. This is not an infection, so avoid using all the things which cause this condition. In some cases, additional treatment, such as steroids, might be the next treatment.
Another form of non-infectious vaginitis is called atrophic vaginitis, and it typically occurs when female hormone levels decrease around the time of menopause, and the vaginal walls become thinner, drier, and less flexible.
Treatment for vaginal Infections
All of these conditions can be treated, but it’s important to know which type of infection or other conditions are present so they can be treated correctly.
- Metronidazole tablet, gel or cream.
- Clindamycin in cream or gel form to treat a bacterial infection.
- Antifungal creams or suppositories are used to treat a yeast infection.
- Metronidazole or tinidazole tablets are use to treat trichomoniasis.
- Estrogen creams or tablets help to treat severe vaginal dryness and irritation associated with atrophic vaginitis.
Depending on your symptoms, consult a gynaecologist consultations and they will help you choose the right course of treatment:
- Always perform a pelvic examination to look for irritation and inflammation.
- May collect a sample of vaginal discharge for culture and antibiotic analysis.
- Should take a swab from the cervix to test for STIs, like gonorrhoea or chlamydia.
- Also, take a urine sample to test for another sexually transmitted disease.
How to prevent vaginal infections?
Not all vaginal infections can be prevented, but the following tips can help to reduce the chances of developing vaginal infection.
- Avoid using scented period products, including tampons, pads, and Pantie liners.
- Avoid douching, vaginal deodorants, and any scented sprays or perfumes on or in the vagina.
- Always bathe in plain water only, since bubble baths and scented body washes can affect vaginal pH.
- Wash sex toys after every use and avoid sharing them with other people.
- Wear cotton underwear, to help improve airflow and prevent vaginal irritation and inflammation. Change your underwear at least once each day, or after exercising.
- Wear tights, leggings, pantyhose, and workout bottoms that have a cotton crotch.
- Change swimsuits and damp workout clothes as soon as possible to help prevent excess moisture.
- Switch to unscented soaps, or one designed for sensitive skin, and do not use perfumed fabric softener.
Using a condom during sex can also help to lower your chances of developing a vaginal infection, even though not all vaginal infections are caused by intercourse.
Condoms do not just protect against STIs but they help prevent changes in vaginal pH that could shift the balance of bacteria in the vagina.
It is always recommended to get treatment from a doctor for any vaginal infection if you are pregnant or believe you could be pregnant. Untreated vaginal infections can get worse, and some can develop complications during pregnancy and delivery.
Untreated vaginal infections can cause plenty of discomfort, but they aren’t serious. Once the right diagnosis is done the treatment becomes easy and they generally improve quickly.