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Vaginal Infections: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

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Vaginal infections or vaginitis is a common condition that almost all women undergo at least once in their life. Itchiness, discharge, and odor are the three symptoms of vaginal infections. There are 3 main types of infections.

  • Yeast infections
  • Bacterial infections
  • Sexually transmitted diseases

Here are essential facts you need to know about all types of vaginal infections.

1. Yeast Infection

Vaginal Infections: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Normally, your vagina has small amounts of yeast. This healthy balance is controlled by “good” bacteria. But when the “bad” bacteria takes over, yeast can overgrow. Here’s what happens.

Causes Of Yeast Infection

1. Antibiotics

One of the main causes of vaginal yeast infections is taking antibiotics for a different infection. Sometimes antibiotics end up killing both the bad and good bacteria. This makes it easy for the fungi Candida albicans to overgrow, leading to a yeast infection.1

Your initial infection doesn’t have to do with the vagina. It can be anything, from bronchitis to staph. All kinds of antibiotics pose a risk for vaginal infections.

2. Weak Immune System

When you’re sick, the immune system has a hard time fighting off infections. The body’s normal balances are also thrown off, including the ratio of good and bad bacteria. So it’s not uncommon to see yeast infections in people with weak immunities.

Chemotherapy patients and people with HIV have a high risk. Some individuals are born with a weak immune system or autoimmune disorders. In some cases, being sick for a long time can harm the immune system.2

3. Poor Eating Habits

Yeast lives off of sugar. So if you eat a lot of sugary foods, you’ll help your vagina’s normal yeast overgrow. Unsurprisingly, diabetics with uncontrolled sugar have recurring yeast infections. Even non-diabetics who have impaired glucose tolerance can see this happen.3 It emphasizes the importance of a well-rounded diet.

4. Lack Of Sleep

Your body needs sleep to stay healthy. Even your cells need to rest! But the lack of sleep can disrupt your vaginal flora. It harms your T-cells, the immune cells that work to protect you.4 Yeast will have an easy time overgrowing, so be sure to get enough rest.

5. Stress

Stress isn’t one of the direct vaginal yeast infection causes, but it can lead to some of the conditions above. When you’re stressed, you’re more likely to eat unhealthy foods. Ordering take-out usually seems like the better idea.

Being stressed also messes with your sleep cycle. These habits suppress your immunity, making it easier for bad bacteria to take over. You’ll be more susceptible to all kinds of infections, including ones from yeast.5

Learning how to manage chronic stress can reduce your risk. Find emotional support from loved ones and take time for self-care. Regularly exercising can also help.

6. Uncontrolled Diabetes

Diabetes with uncontrolled sugar levels creates the perfect environment overgrowth. This applies for both type 16 and type 27! Luckily, managing sugar levels can lessen the frequency of yeast infections. It’s another reason to keep up with medication, proper diet, and a healthy lifestyle.

7. Pregnancy

Pregnancy brings on significant hormonal changes, leading to changes in the vaginal wall. It also alters the fungi balance, making way for a yeast infection.8 A pregnant woman is actually more likely to get a yeast infection than any other time in her life.9

If you’re pregnant and get a yeast infection, talk to your doctor about the best option for treatment. The infection won’t harm the baby, but it can be annoying to deal with.

8. Menstrual Period

Before your period, estrogen and progesterone take a nosedive.10 This change of hormones can lead to a fungi imbalance and therefore, a yeast infection. Premenstrual syndrome symptoms like stress, sleep problems, and poor eating habits are also common leading up to a period.11

Symptoms Of Yeast Infection

1. Itchiness

Symptoms of vaginal yeast infection commonly include intense itching in and around the vagina.12 It usually starts out as a tingling feeling early on. But try your best to avoid itching the area, because this will only increase irritation and the risk of bleeding.

For cooling relief, apply an over-the-counter cream, aloe vera, or coconut oil. It also helps if you wear loose clothing during this time.

2. Burning

A burning sensation is also common.13This can crop up when you’re peeing, walking, or just hanging out! It can also be painful and distracting.

3. Thick Discharge

Yeast infections usually produce a thick odorless discharge that looks like cottage cheese. However, keep in mind that not all yeast infections cause a lot of discharge. Some might be pretty mild and barely noticeable.14

4. Soreness

Your vagina will likely feel sore and painful. The skin outside may look red and feel “raw”. Swelling of the skin can also occur, so be sure to wear loose cotton clothing. Tight underwear and jeans will worsen it.15

5. Pain During Sex

Because the vagina is already irritated, sex will be painful. Intercourse can just make it worse, so be careful. Yeast infections can also be passed back and forth during sex.16

Home Remedies For Yeast Infection

1. Tea Tree Oil

To treat vaginal yeast infections, use tea tree oil for its antifungal properties. To make a relaxing bath, fill a tub with 1 cup baking soda or 2 cups apple cider vinegar. Add 5 to 10 drops tea tree oil. Soak for at least 15 minutes, repeating daily until the infection goes away.

A tampon can also be soaked in a homemade tea tree oil cream. Combine 5 drops of tea tree oil with 1 tablespoon aloe vera, ½ cup water, or 1 tablespoon coconut oil. Dip the tampon into the mixture and insert for at least 3 hours daily.

2. Garlic

Garlic is considered as a strong antifungal. To make a suppository, cut a garlic clove in half. The more that it’s exposed, the stronger it will be. You can insert it as is or wrap it up in gauze for easy removal. Leave it overnight and repeat for several nights.

It also helps if you eat lots of garlic. Crackers, bread, and pasta pair well with minced garlic. You can also take a spoonful if you’re brave. Garlic tea and supplements are other options.

3. Boric Acid Suppository

If you have chronic yeast infections, try boric acid. You can make a suppository by filling a gelatin capsule with boric acid, which can be bought over-the-counter. Place it in your vagina for seven nights. Be aware that it may cause even more skin irritation.

4. Yogurt

Yogurt is full of good bacteria called probiotics, making it a good remedy for a vaginal yeast infection. They can re-balance the bacterial flora in the vagina. To use it, dip a tampon into unflavored and unpasteurized yogurt and insert. You can also use a small spoon to directly apply it. Wear a pantyliner and leave overnight. Repeat for seven nights.

Eat more yogurt in smoothies or by itself. The plain kind is best because added sugars can feed the yeast.

5. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has strong antifungal properties. One tablespoon can be mixed with five drops tea tree, lavender, or cinnamon oil for quick healing. Insert it with a small spoon or tampon. You can also soothe the irritated skin with some coconut oil.

2. Bacterial Infection

Vaginal Infections: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

When bad bacteria grows excessively, a bacterial infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV) can develop. The pH level of the vagina also increases. It’s very common, especially in women aged 15 to 44.

Causes Of Bacterial Infection

1. Douching

Whatever you do, don’t douche. “Cleaning” out the vagina is unnecessary because it already does it naturally. Even worse, it can mess with the natural bacterial balance. BV can develop when this balance is thrown off.17

2. Sex

While BV isn’t sexually transmitted, it can be caused by sex. Having new or multiple partners may be a reason. But if you aren’t sexually active, you don’t have a risk for getting BV.18

3. Pregnancy

Thanks to the hormonal changes of pregnancy, bacteria can be disrupted. In fact, BV is seen in about 25 percent of women.19 Treatment is crucial. Otherwise, preterm labor and premature birth are likely.

4. Intrauterine Device

Having an intrauterine device (IUD) can cause BV, especially if there’s irregular bleeding. But the highest risk is right after you insert it. Over time, BV is less likely to happen.20

Symptoms Of Bacterial Infection

1. Milky Or Gray Discharge

BV discharge can be milky white or grayish color. Unlike yeast infections, it usually has a strong fishy odor. A watery or foamy consistency is also common.21

2. Irritation

Signs of a vaginal infection caused by bacteria brings about pain, burning, and itchiness. The burning gets especially bad when you pee. The skin outside of the vagina may also feel bothered and itchy.22 But keep in mind that some cases of BV might not cause any discomfort at all.

3. Worse Symptoms After Sex

Both the fishy smell and amount of discharge get worse after sex. The burning sensation may get worse, too. If you have BV, avoid sex until it is completely cured.

Home Remedies For Bacterial Infection

1. Boric Acid Suppository

Boric acid is also an antibacterial. So it could help relieve your BV. To use it, put boric acid into a gelatin capsule. Use this for seven nights repeatedly.

2. Apple Cider Vinegar

When you have BV, the pH level of your vagina isn’t balanced. But the acidity of apple cider vinegar can make it better. It’s also an antibacterial, so it can help kill the bad guys. Try it as a soak by adding two cups of apple cider vinegar to a warm bath.

3. Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil has amazing antibacterial properties. Add 5 to 10 drops on a tampon and insert it for at least three hours. You can also add some coconut oil for relief.

4. Acidophilus

Probiotic pills are made of “good” bacteria called Lactobacillus acidophilus. Take them once a day to help bring your levels back to normal. You can also get this bacteria from eating plain yogurt.

5. Fenugreek

Aside from boosting your immunity, fenugreek is great for improving vaginal pH balance. Try boiling one teaspoon of fenugreek seeds to make tea. This can be taken two or three times a day until symptoms improve. To make it taste better, add lemon and honey.

3. Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Vaginal Infections: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

 

There are many types of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Some types, like HIV and hepatitis B, can only be detected in the blood. But the following infections cause direct symptoms in the vagina

Causes Of STD

1. Unprotected Sex

Having sex with someone who has STD makes it risky. And if you don’t use protection, vaginal, oral, and anal sex can spread an STD.23 If you have unprotected sex, make sure you and your partner are tested first.

2. Multiple Partners

Sleeping with more than one person boosts the risk for STDs. If you have unprotected sex, make sure you and your partner are tested first. If you choose to do this, always be safe. Always use protection or get to know the sexual activity of your partner(s).

3. Genital Contact

You can still get an STD through genital contact. If you have unprotected sex, make sure you and your partner are tested first. Penetration doesn’t even need to happen, so keep this in mind. All it takes is a simple exchange of bodily fluids.

Symptoms Of STD

1. Strange Discharge

With chlamydia and gonorrhea, discharge is one of the most common vaginal infection symptoms. Trichomoniasis can cause a discharge with a foul-smelling yellow-greenish hue. Sometimes, an STD doesn’t produce any discharge at all.24

2. Pain

Chlamydia and gonorrhea may both cause pain, especially during sex and urination. Bleeding after sex is also possible. But pain is not a symptom that is always present.25

3. Itching

Feeling itchy is likely with chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. It might even be one of the first sensations you have. For gonorrhea, earlier symptoms may be quite mild in women.26 Redness may also present.

4. Sores

When syphilis is first contracted, it causes a small and painless sore. This eventually turns into a rash if it’s left untreated. Swollen lymph nodes are also common.27

Herpes can also cause a cluster of sores known as blisters. They can come and go, often with symptoms similar to the flu. This STD is caused by a virus.28

Home Remedies

1. Neem

Neem is an amazing antibacterial and antiviral that can also improve the immune system. It can be taken as a herbal tea, along with lemon and honey for better flavor. A tampon can also be dipped into a mixture of coconut oil and five drops of neem oil. If you prefer bath soaks, add 5 to 10 drops to a tub of warm water.

2. Tea Tree Oil

It’s no surprise that tea tree oil can also treat STDs. Its strong antibacterial and antiviral properties are powerful. Use it on a tampon or bath soak following the methods mentioned earlier.

3. Hops

To stimulate your immunity and relieve STD symptoms, take hops. This herb is available as tea, capsule, and extract. Take it orally or add 4 to 5 tea bags to the tub. Repeat every day until your symptoms subside.

4. Echinacea

This immune-boosting herb also has antibacterial properties. It’s even considered to be as good as antibiotics. Take it orally as a capsule or tea. You can also soak a tampon in strong saturated Echinacea tea.

Prevention Of Vaginal Infections

A healthy lifestyle can reduce your chances of developing vaginal infections. If you’re sexually active, using condoms will limit STD risk. It’s also a good idea to avoid douching, which can disrupt the balance of your vagina. It can even up your risk of contracting an STD. And, as always, a well-rounded diet full of fruits and veggies will keep your immune system strong.

Make it a point to regularly examine your vagina. It’s always good to pay attention to normal discharge and sensations. You’ll be more likely to notice when something goes wrong!

References   [ + ]

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2. Who Gets Fungal Infections?, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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4. Besedovsky, Luciana, Tanja Lange, and Jan Born. Sleep and immune function. European Journal of Physiology 463.1(2012):121-137.
5. 5 Things You Should Know About Stress, National Institute of Mental Health
6. Atabek, Mehmet Emre, Nesibe Akyürek, and Beray Selver Eklioglu. Frequency of Vagınal Candida Colonization and Relationship between Metabolic Parameters in Children with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus. Journal of Pediatric & Adolescent Gynecology 26.5(2013):257-260.
7. Gunther, Luciene Setsuko, Helen Priscila Rodrigues Martins, Fabrícia Gimenes, André Luelsdorf Pimenta de Abreu, Marcia Edilaine Lopes Consolaro, and Terezinha Inez Estivalet Svidzinski. Prevalence of Candida albicans and non-albicans isolates from vaginal secretions: comparative evaluation of colonization, vaginal candidiasis and recurrent vaginal candidiasis in diabetic and non-diabetic women. San Paulo Medical Journal 132.2(2014):116-120.
8. Genital / vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC), Centers for Disease Control Prevention
9. Pregnancy Complications, Women’s Health
10. The Menstrual Cycle, UCSF Medical Center
11. Premenstrual syndrome, Women’s Health
15. Vaginal yeast infection, MedlinePlus
16. Vaginal yeast infection, Women’s Health
17, 19. Bacterial vaginosis,Women’s Health
18. Bacterial Vaginosis-CDC Fact Sheet, Centers for Disease Control
20. Madden, Tessa, Jaclyn M. Grentzer, Gina M. Secure, Jenifer E. Allsworth, and Jeffrey F. Peipert. Risk of Bacterial Vaginosis in Users of the Intrauterine Device: A Longitudinal Study. Sexually Transmitted Diseaseas 39.3(2012):217-222.
21. Bacterial vaginosis, Women’s Health
22. Bacterial Vaginosis – CDC Fact Shee, Centers for Disease Control
23. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Womenshealth.Gov
24, 25, 28. Pregnancy and Complications, Oklahoma State Department of Health
26. Gonorrhea, MedlinePlus
27. Syphilis, MedlinePlus