Vaginal infection can be classified into two types. Infection in the vagina alone, called Vaginitis. Or infection or inflammation of both vagina and the vulva (the outer part of the vagina) is called Vulvovaginitis.
How to know if your vagina is infected?
Symptoms of vaginal infection include:
- Itching near or around the vagina
- Discharge from the vagina (usually more discharge can be seen)
- The colour of discharge will be different
- Pain or burning sensation during urination
- Pain during intercourse
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting
The symptoms vary depending on the type of infection. Bacterial infections usually cause gray to white coloured or yellow coloured discharge. The discharge may give out fish-like odour. The smell can be easily noticed after sex. Yeast infections produce itching. If yeast infection causes discharge, that will be thick and white. Similarly, Trichomoniasis causes itching and odour. The discharge in this case will be in greenish-yellow colour and may be frothy.
As soon as you notice any of these symptoms, you must contact your gynaecologist immediately. Though the infection is not life threatening, you need address it before it affects the quality of your life. If you develop a fever, rash or had unsafe sex with a new partner or if you are experiencing any other symptoms, rush to your gynaecologist immediately. Some infections may be treated at home but it is advisable to get doctor’s opinion and then start the treatment at home.
Causes of Vaginal Infections:
Bacterial Infections: Inside a vagina, bacteria are already present all the time. When the bacteria overgrow, that results in Bacterial Vaginosis. This infection can occur to women of any age but mostly seen in women who are in their reproductive age. Though the exact reason is still unknown, unprotected sex and douching are believed to cause bacterial infections in the vagina. Symptoms include discharge, bad odour, itching and burning during urination.
Yeast Infections: When the anti-fungal bacteria count inside the vagina goes down, fungi starts developing resulting in infection. This can be due to the antibiotics that you may be using. A fungus called ‘Candida Albicans’ causes yeast infection. The symptoms are similar to bacterial infection but the thickness of discharge is high and the odour will be very less comparitively.
Trichomoniasis: This infection is caused by protozoa, typically transmitted during unsafe sex. Men with Trichomoniasis usually don’t show any symptoms. Having unprotected sex with an infected man can transmit the infection. This too leads to foul smelling vaginal discharge, burning and itching etc.
Vaginal Atrophy: Reduced levels of estrogen in the body cause vaginal atrophy. Vaginal walls become thin and dry leading to inflammation. The reduction of estrogen hormone can be due to menopause or sometimes during breast feeding.
External Irritants: Soaps, Perfumes, vaginal contraceptives, chemicals used on condoms etc can irritate your vagina. Even the type of clothing can also irritate your vagina.
A condition when the gynaecologist may not be able to determine the cause of the infection, it is termed as ‘Non-specific Vulvovaginitis’.
Diagnosis of Vaginal Infections
- Your doctor may ask you about your health history and if you are on any medication.
- He/she may ask about your sexual activities (if you had sex with an unknown/ new partner or if your partner has any known infections etc) to check for any sexually transmitted infection.
- Doctor may also perform pelvic examination.
- Discharge from your vagina may be collected and sent to lab for testing.
Treatment of vaginal infections:
- If your gynaecologist determines that the problem is because of your changed clothing or the tightness, he/she may advice you to change it.
- If the problem is caused due to any bacterial or yeast, appropriate antibiotics will be prescribed.
- Estrogen creams or tablets may be prescribed if the reason is due to less estrogen / vaginal atrophy.
What can you do to avoid vaginal infections?
- A healthy life style and maintaining good hygiene, especially when it comes to your private parts.
- Always practice safe sex when having sex with a new partner.
- Prefer undergarments made of soft cotton than those that are tight and made of un-breathable fabric.