The 4 most common vaginal infections
1. Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
Bacterial Vaginosis the most common women’s health infection. It is a type of inflammation caused by an imbalance in natural vaginal bacteria that often results in irritation of the labia.
Symptoms: “Fishy” vaginal odor, itching surrounding the pubic area, burning or discomfort during urination, and change in normal discharge (such as discharge has turned watery and changed color to grey, white, or green).
Causes: This occurs when there is a disruption in the pH balance of the vagina. Douching, multiple sexual partners and unclean sex toys can increase risks of this infection.
Treatment: Doctors typically prescribe a topical or oral antibiotic. It’s important to get it treated to avoid other complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease (which can result in infertility).
Prevention: Avoid douching – it’s unnecessary and generally an abrasive way to clean your vagina. Instead, use gentle cleansers when bathing that don’t contain endocrine disrupting chemicals or fragrances.
2. Yeast Infection
Yeast Infections are a type of vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina) caused by a fungal infection due to overgrowth of yeast in the vagina. These types of infections may cause irritation, itchiness or irregular discharge.
Symptoms: Itchiness and burning during urination or sex are the most common signs. Some women may also have a change in their discharge where it becomes white and chunky, similar to cottage cheese.
Causes: Overgrowth of natural vaginal yeast (candida albicans). This can be caused by antibiotics when estrogen levels are disrupted (such as during pregnancy, hormone therapy or during the second half of the menstrual cycle). Allowing your vulva to stay moist for long periods of time may also result in a yeast infection.
Treatment: Usually treated with over-the-counter antifungal suppositories or creams.
Prevention: Avoid sitting in a wet bathing suit or workout clothes for extended periods of time. If you need handy wipes to freshen up after the gym, check out Healthy Hoo Hoo wipes. You should also avoid using scented bath products near your vulva.
Some studies have found enriching a diet with probiotics is also correlated with a reduced risk of yeast infections [ii] –although the yogurt thing is a myth so don’t waste your time eating tons of it. If you want to stack up on probiotics, try supplements or drinks like Kefir.
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are sexually transmitted infections are most common in young adults and people with multiple sexual partners.
Symptoms: Most people do not experience symptoms. However, in some cases, women may experience a change in their vaginal discharge or a burning sensation while urinating.
Causes: Vaginal, oral and anal sex.
Treatment: A doctor will need to diagnose you and would provide you with antibiotics. Although these infections are easily treated, they should not be taken lightly. Gonorrhea is adapting to become resistant to antibiotics [iii] and both Gonorrhea and Chlamydia can leave you at risk for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) and can cause pregnancy complications. If you’re diagnosed, you’ll want to tell your partners so they can seek testing and treatment too. Remember to wait until you’re done with your antibiotic regimen before having sex, otherwise, you and your partner(s) will just continue to pass the infection back and forth.
Prevention: Using latex barriers (such as condoms) when engaging in sexual contact.
Trichomoniasis, also called ‘trich’ (pronounced ‘trik’), is a parasite acquired via sexual contact. It is another form of vaginitis and most commonly occurs among women 16-35 with multiple sex partners.
Symptoms: Most women do not show symptoms, but in some cases, they may have yellowish-greenish vaginal discharge, a foul odor, pain during sex, or general discomfort around their vulva and in their vagina.
Causes: Oral, anal or vaginal sex. There have also been some cases found in hot tubs and poorly chlorinated swimming pools.
Treatment: A doctor will need to diagnose you and will give you oral medications. If your partner(s) are also infected, they will need to seek treatment before you begin having sex again, otherwise, you can become re-infected. Trich has the ability to live in your vagina for years, so it’s important to get treated properly to prevent it from lingering.
Prevention: Use condoms when having sex and avoid sketchy pools or hot tubs.
We hope this overview is helpful. Please note that this is just general information and you know your own body best. If you EVER notice changes in your body or get that gut feeling that something is “off”, always check with a medical professional.
Note for pregnant women: If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you’ll want to check in with your doctor to ensure you get checked and use medications that are safe during pregnancy. Some infections are especially dangerous for pregnant women if left untreated, so schedule an appointment if you are concerned!
[ii] Vaginal colonisation by probiotic lactobacilli and clinical outcome in women conventionally treated for bacterial vaginosis and yeast infection. Sonal Pendharkar, Erik Brandsborg, Lennart Hammarström, Harold Marcotte and Per-Göran Larsson BMC Infectious Diseases 201515:255 http://doi.org/10.1186/s12879-015-0971-3
[iii] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2017)