Vaginal infections are actually rather common, and most women experience them at least once in their lifetime. While it’s true that some types of vaginal infections are the result of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the ones that are considered relatively common aren’t. Some women tend to be more prone to developing female infections, but there’s no apparent reason as to why that is.
If you believe that you’re experiencing vaginal infection symptoms, such as unusual vaginal discharge, pungent odor, and itching/burning sensation, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at University Park OBGYN and benefit from our gynecology services in Sarasota, FL.
What Could Disturb Regular Vaginal Ecosystem
A healthy vagina still has a certain number of bacteria and yeast. An infected vagina often occurs due to the said bacteria and yeast overgrowth. Several different things could affect the regular vaginal environment and create an imbalance followed by the typical vaginal infection symptoms. These include:
- Fluctuating hormonal levels
- Engaging in sexual intercourse
- Taking antibiotics
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding
While the majority of things that could affect the vaginal ecosystem can’t be avoided, there’s no need to douche and potentially disturb the vaginal pH levels unless instructed to do so by the doctor.
The Most Common Types of Vaginal Infections
While several different conditions could lead to an infected vagina, there are three types of vaginal infections that are the most common, namely yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, and a sexually transmitted disease called trichomoniasis.
Among the female infections that affect the vaginal area, yeast infection is undoubtedly the most common one. It’s caused by candida, a type of fungus that exist naturally in the body, vagina included. However, in the event of excessive candida growth, it’s possible to experience vaginal infections.
The overgrowth of candida can be triggered by fluctuating hormonal levels due to pregnancy, menstruation, birth control, etc., as well as some other chronic conditions that weaken one’s immune system.
Yeast vaginal infection symptoms include redness and itching of the affected area as well as thick and white vaginal discharge.
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
Together with yeast, there are also friendly bacteria in the vagina, called lactobacilli. When these bacteria levels drop too low, a woman might suffer from an infected vagina, namely bacterial vaginosis. While it’s not explicitly clear what causes the drop of lactobacilli, it’s known that the infection-causing bacteria called Gardnerella tend to replace them. It’s the overgrowth of Gardnerella that creates the conditions for female infections in the vaginal area, or BV, to be specific.
The common accompanying symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include a fishy odor and unusual vaginal discharge – either clear and slippery or white and thick. Usually, there’s no burning or itching sensation in this case.
Another common vaginal infection is a sexually transmitted infection called trichomoniasis or trich for short. It can be contracted through sexual intercourse, where one partner can pass the Trichomonas vaginalis parasite to the other partner.
Trichomoniasis symptoms are more or less similar to the symptoms of other vaginal infections, such as fishy odor, unusual discharge that’s often on the greenish or yellow-grayish side, redness and irritation of the affected area, and burning sensation. It’s also possible to feel pain when urinating.
Other Conditions That Affect the Vagina
While the mentioned three vaginal infections are definitely the most common ones for women to experience, they are not the only ones.
Vaginal inflammation can be caused by a sexually transmitted disease known as chlamydia. This particular STD can spread beyond the vagina and cervix, which can then cause severe pelvic pain as well as bleeding after sexual intercourse and in-between periods.
However, before the situation becomes this severe, the symptoms of chlamydia may not show up at all. If left untreated, it can significantly reduce one’s chances of conceiving. This is why chlamydia testing is recommended for all sexually active women aged 26 and under.
Another sexually transmitted infection is gonorrhea. Gonorrhea can be completely asymptomatic, but in some women, it can cause symptoms such as pain during sexual intercourse and urination, and vaginal discharge.
It’s interesting to note that women affected by gonorrhea often have chlamydia as well. Therefore, a positive test for one infection usually warrants testing for the other.
Irritants in skin care products, detergents, soaps, fabric softeners, etc., can cause skin sensitivity in the vaginal area, known as noninfectious vaginitis. The solution to this issue lies in identifying the problematic product and removing it from regular use.
There’s another type of noninfectious vaginitis known as atrophic vaginitis. This condition typically affects menopausal women as their decreasing estrogen levels make the vaginal walls dryer and thinner.
Vulvodynia refers to an unexplained yet persistent discomfort and pain of the vulva. The woman may experience the symptoms all the time or occasionally, such as soreness, burning, swelling, etc.
Vaginal infections can also be triggered by viruses, commonly contracted through sexual intercourse. For instance, the herpes simplex virus is one of the most common viral vaginosis causes. The most prominent symptom, in this case, involves the sores on the vagina and vulva. However, in case the sores are not on the outside, only the gynecology exam can identify the issue.
The Diagnosis of Vaginal Infections
At-home vaginal pH tests that are available at drugstores and online can be used to check whether you have a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis on your own. However, if you’re experiencing vaginal infection symptoms for the first time or tend to have recurring infections all too frequently, it’s essential to make an appointment with your doctor.
To identify the issue, you will have to be very open about your medical history as well as answer all of the doctor’s questions in regards to your hygiene and sex life honestly. Based on the symptoms you have, it may also be necessary to test for STIs, collect a vaginal discharge sample for further analysis, and do a pelvic examination.
Vaginal Infection Treatment Options
In order to get the proper treatment, it’s necessary to identify the cause and type of vaginal infection. That said, the most common prescription options include:
- Clindamycin or metronidazole in gel or cream forms for the treatment of bacterial infections
- Antifungal suppositories and creams to treat yeast infections; it’s also possible to get OTC meds in this case
- Tinidazole or metronidazole tablets for the trichomoniasis treatment
- Estrogen creams to minimize vaginal dryness when affected by atrophic vaginitis
It’s also recommended to avoid any skincare and cleaning products that contain ingredients that could potentially cause vaginal irritation.
The symptoms of vaginal infections can be uncomfortable, but in most cases, there’s no reason to worry too much. After all, most women happen to deal with some of the common vaginal infections at least once in their life. As long as you seek medical help in a timely manner, the appropriate treatment should provide efficient relief. If you have any questions or concerns about your gynecological health, feel free to contact us at University Park OBGYN.