Vaginal Infection - Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
When you have a vaginal infection, the symptoms can quickly become uncomfortable. That’s why if you have any of the symptoms these infections cause, you want relief as soon as possible. Read on to find out more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment for two of the most common types of vaginal infection in women, bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is a common type of infection that occurs when there is an imbalance of vaginal bacteria. There is bacteria all throughout your body, including in your vagina, and is usually harmless. Bacteria only cause issues if an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria develops.
Most of the bacteria in your vagina is helpful, but if there is more unhelpful bacteria than helpful, infections like BV can occur. The exact cause of this imbalance is unknown, but there are some common risk factors that make a person more likely to develop an infection.
Bacterial Vaginosis Risk Factors
Even though BV isn’t a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it’s more common in women who are sexually active, have recently had a new partner, or have sex with multiple partners. BV can also make you more susceptible to getting an STI.
Other risk factors include:
- Using perfumed products in or around the vagina
- Wearing tight clothing
- Having an IUD
- Not using a condom during sex
- Being pregnant
Up to 50-75% of women with BV don’t realise they have it because the infection can often present with little to no symptoms. If you do get symptoms, the most common symptom is unusual vaginal discharge.
Symptoms of BV:
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Thin, watery discharge
- Grey or white discharge
- Burning or itching in the vagina
- An unpleasant or strong odour from the vagina
- BV Complications
Bacterial vaginosis isn’t a serious condition, but there is a chance of it leading to other complications, especially if it goes untreated.
If you are pregnant and have BV, you may be at a higher risk of issues during the pregnancy. Potential complications include:
- Premature delivery
- Postpartum endometritis
- The amniotic sac breaking open too early
- Birth defects in the baby
If you are trying to conceive, BV is believed to negatively impact fertility, the chances of IVF working, and the potential of developing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is an infection of the upper female genital tract that can make it difficult to conceive.
Another common vaginal infection is a yeast infection. A yeast infection, also known as thrush or vaginal candidiasis, is a fungal infection caused by a fungus called candida albicans. Like bacteria, your body has a balanced mix of yeast within it that can cause symptoms if it becomes unbalanced.
Causes of Yeast infections
An overgrowth of candida is the most common cause of vaginal yeast infections. An overgrowth can happen due to:
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- A lowered immune system
- Hormonal birth control
- A hormonal imbalance
Similar to BV, vaginal yeast infections can cause unusual discharge. Discharge is perfectly normal and can change in appearance during a woman’s cycle, but discharge caused by a yeast infection tends to be lumpy, similar in appearance to cottage cheese.
Yeast Infection Symptoms
- Redness or a rash
- Pain during intercourse and urination
- Watery discharge
How to Prevent Yeast Infections and BV
There are several easy lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your chance of developing vaginal infections. Warm, moist areas of your body are perfect environments for yeast and bacteria to thrive so you should avoid wearing tight clothing, or at least avoid wearing tight clothing too often.
You should also:
- Wear cotton underwear or other natural fabrics
- Limit your exposure to hot baths and hot tubs
- Avoid the use of scented soaps, feminine products, bubble baths, or douches in and around your vagina
- Frequently change out pads and tampons
- Avoid using douches
- Only use antibiotics when necessary
- Use unscented washing powder made for sensitive skin
- Change out of wet clothes, sweaty clothes, and bathing suits as soon as possible
How to Treat Yeast Infections and Bacterial Vaginosis
If you suspect you have a vaginal infection and see your GP, they may perform a pelvic exam, ask about your health and sexual history, or test your vaginal secretions for fungus or bacteria. Once diagnosed, there are several effective medications and treatments available to clear up your symptoms.
- For mild to moderate yeast infections:
- Anti-fungal creams, ointments, or suppositories that are used inside the vagina
- Oral antifungal medications
- Single dose oral medications like fluconazole
- If these treatments don’t work, your symptoms return within 2 months, or you have a more severe yeast infection, speak to your GP or pharmacist as you may need more intensive treatment.
For Bacterial Vaginosis:
BV is usually treated with antibiotics, either in a topical form or as a tablet. Topical antibiotics may come as a cream or gel and are inserted directly into the vagina to treat the affected area. Antibiotics work by killing off the bacteria that causes BV.
Whether you’re taking treatment for BV or a yeast infection, it’s important to take your medication exactly as prescribed and to finish the entire course. This is still the case, even if your symptoms seem to have gone away. Otherwise you’ll be more likely to develop recurrent infections.
It’s important to note that it’s not uncommon for BV to come back within 3-12 months, even after treatment. Why this happens isn’t fully understood, but if this does happen to you speak to your GP about further treatment.
If your sexual partner is female, they may need treatment since these types of infections can be passed between female sexual partners. Male sexual partners most likely won’t need to seek out treatment, but if you have any concerns speak to your GP or pharmacist.
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