An Overview of Vaginal Infections

What is Vaginal infection?

Vaginal infection is a condition where there is an infection or inflammation of the vaginal. A similar term for vaginal infection is vaginitis. It is very common for women to get vaginal infections. One-third of females will develop vaginal infections at some point in their life. Vaginal infections can happen at any time, but they are most common happening during the reproductive years which is from the late teen to early 40s. A vaginal infection is not the same as a sexually transmitted disease. Females can get a vaginal infection without any sexual activity. However, there is an increased risk of vaginal infection if you are sexually active.

Symptoms of Vaginal infection

Vaginal infection doesn’t always cause symptoms. Thus, some women never experience any symptoms even though they are infected. Most women will seek medical help when they present with the symptoms below:

  1. Vaginal or vulvar itching 
  2. Vaginal or vulvar soreness or burning sensation
  3. Inflamed vaginal and vulvar
  4. Increase in the amount of vaginal discharge
  5. Change in the color (whitish/greenish/yellowish) of vaginal discharge 
  6. Pain and burning sensation during urination
  7. Pain during sexual intercourse 

Type of Vaginal Infection

There are different types of vaginal infections. Vaginal infection shares a lot of similar symptoms which makes it difficult to recognize it without a lab test. However, each type of infection has a few unique symptoms.

  1. Yeast/fungal infection: 

Yeast infections usually involve both vaginal and vulvar. There will be itching, soreness and burning sensation. Sometimes, it will cause swelling in the labia. Usually, the discharge will be thick, white, and non-odorless.

  1. Bacterial vaginosis (BV):

Bacterial vaginosis usually only involves the vagina. It often causes a thin grey/greenish or yellow discharge and the discharge can have a fishy smell. Usually, no itchiness will be noticed but some women tend to feel itchy with bacterial vaginosis as well.

  1. Trichomoniasis: 

This infection typically will cause both vaginal itching and a fish-like odor. The discharge usually is frothy and greenish to yellow color. Trichomoniasis usually will cause pain during vaginal sex, lower abdominal pain and painful urination.

What are the causes of a vaginal infection?

Vaginal infection usually happens if the usual balance of bacteria and yeast in the vaginal is disrupted. 

  1. History of recently taking antibiotics. While treating the infection, antibiotics will kill the good bacteria in the vaginal as well. Good bacteria help to keep the balance with yeast. Once good bacteria is killed, the balance is disrupted and will lead to a yeast infection.
  2. Using hormonal contraceptives or during pregnancy. The changes in hormones can disrupt the balance of yeast in the vagina and lead to infections.
  3. Have a weakened immune system ie HIV infection, diabetes or with medications that can suppress the immune system 
  4. Soap and body wash. Washing the vagina with soap or body wash will disrupt the natural pH and will make infections more likely to happen.
  5. Using spermicidal contraceptives. This method of birth control will cause vaginal irritation and inflammation to some women and lead to vaginal infection.

How are vaginal infections diagnosed?

Usually, your doctor will take a thorough history to find out what are the causes of vaginal infection. Your doctor will perform a pelvic exam to look for irritation and inflammation. A swab sample will be taken from the vagina and sent out for analysis. Usually, a sexually transmitted disease test will be taken as well if you are sexually active. 

How are vaginal infections treated?

Usually, antifungals and antibiotics will be prescribed based on the type of infection. Oral, topical cream and suppositories will be prescribed based on your symptoms.

How to prevent recurrent vaginal infections?

Not all vaginal infections can be prevented. But women can help to prevent or reduce the recurrent rate by practicing the tips below:

  1. Avoid using scented tampons, pads or liners
  2. Avoid douching, vaginal deodorants and any scented body wash that will affect vaginal pH
  3. Wear cotton underwear to help improve airflow and prevent vaginal irritation and inflammation.
  4. Maintain good vaginal hygiene
  5. Take probiotics daily. Taking probiotics can help to prevent or reduce the recurrence rate of vaginal infection. 

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