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Vaginal Infections: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Vaginal infections could be caused due to bacteria, fungi, parasites, or viruses. Antibiotics, poor eating habits, lack of sleep, and stress can trigger yeast infections. Pregnancy, douching, and intrauterine devices might cause bacterial infections. Sexual intercourse might pass on viral and parasitic infections. Symptoms of these infections include itching, burning, and pain during sex. Tea tree oil, garlic, yogurt, fenugreek seeds, neem, and coconut oil can relieve symptoms.

Vaginal infections are uncomfortable, what with all the itchiness, discharge, and odor that comes with them. Unfortunately, almost all women undergo one or most of them at least once in their life. If you suspect that you’ve got a vaginal infection, here’s everything you need to know about them.

Causes Of Vaginal Infections

Depending on the microorganism that’s behind the infection, vaginal infections can be divided into the following:

Yeast Infections

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 are the causes of yeast infections

  • Antibiotics: Sometimes antibiotics end up killing both the bad and good bacteria in the body, making it easy for the fungi Candida albicans to overgrow, leading to a yeast infection.1
  • Weak Immune System: A weak immune system throws off the body’s ratio of good and bad bacteria. This is why people with weak immune systems, HIV, and autoimmune disorders as well as chemotherapy patients have a higher risk of developing yeast infections.2
  • 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 and people with an impaired glucose tolerance have recurring yeast infections.3
  • Lack of sleep: Lack of sleep can disrupt your vaginal flora and cause harm to your T-cells, the immune cells that work to protect you.4 Compromised immunity will in turn, as discussed earlier, make it easy for yeast to overgrow.
  • Stress: When you’re stressed, you’re more likely to eat unhealthy foods and have a disturbed sleep cycle. This, in turn, suppresses your immunity, making it easier for bad bacteria to take over and eventually cause a yeast infection.5
  • Uncontrolled diabetes: Diabetes with uncontrolled sugar levels creates the perfect environment for yeast overgrowth. This applies to both type 1 and type 2 diabetes6 7
  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy brings on significant hormonal shifts, leading to changes in the vaginal wall. It also alters the fungi balance, making way for a yeast infection.8
  • Menstruation: Before your period, estrogen and progesterone take a nosedive.9 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.10

Bacterial Infections

Some sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea, syphilis, pubic lice, and chlamydia are caused due to bacteria.

When bad bacteria grows excessively, a bacterial infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV) might develop. This increases the pH level of the vagina as well. BV is very common, especially in women aged 15–44. The causes of this infection are

  • Douching: “Cleaning” out the vagina is unnecessary because it already does it naturally. Even worse, it can mess with the natural bacterial balance and cause an infection.11
  • Sex: While BV isn’t sexually transmitted, certain studies indicate that having sex, especially with new or multiple partners might upset the balance of bacteria in the vagina.12 However, sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea, syphilis, pubic lice, and chlamydia are also caused due to bacteria.
  • Pregnancy: Thanks to the hormonal changes of pregnancy, bacteria can be disrupted. In fact, BV is seen in about 25% of women.13 Treatment is crucial. Otherwise, preterm labor and premature birth are likely.
  • 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.14

Viral Infections

Viral infections are often spread through sexual contact. These infections include herpes simplex virus (HSV) and human papillomavirus (HPV).15

Parasitic Infections

Like viral infections, Trichomoniasis (trich) a parasitic infection is sexually transmitted. It is caused by a one-celled parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis.16

Symptoms Of Vaginal Infections

1. Itchiness

While herpes might not have any symptoms, viral STDs like HSV might cause pain and itchiness due to genital sores.

Symptoms of vaginal yeast and parasitic infections commonly include intense itching in and around the vagina.17 It usually starts out as a tingling feeling and worsens with time. With a bacterial infection, the itching is accompanied by pain.18 But keep in mind that some cases of BV might not cause any discomfort at all. With viral vaginitis, you might experience pain in the genital area from sores, if the cause is HSV. Herpes generally doesn’t have any symptoms and needs to be tested for.

Try your best to avoid itching the area, because this will only increase irritation and the risk of bleeding. It also helps if you wear loose clothing during this time.

2. Burning

A burning sensation is also common with yeast infections.19 This can crop up when you’re peeing, walking, or just hanging out. It can also be painful and distracting. Bacterial and parasitic infections also cause a burning sensation which gets especially bad when you pee.20

3. Thick Discharge

Parasitic STDs might lead to frothy, greenish-yellow fluid from the vagina.

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.21 Bacterial infections, meanwhile, might cause thin, white fluid or thick, gray or green fluid from the vagina. This discharge might smell fishy. 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. Parasitic infections cause frothy, greenish-yellow fluid from the vagina that smells musty.22

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.23

5. Pain During Sex

Because the vagina is already irritated, sex will be painful during a yeast, bacterial, and fungal infection. Intercourse can just make it worse, so be careful. Yeast infections can also be passed back and forth during sex.24 Parasitic infection might even cause light bleeding after sex.

6. Swelling and Redness

Yeast infection can cause redness of the vulva and vagina. Parasitic infection can also cause swelling and redness at the opening of the vulva.25

Home Remedies For Vaginal Infections

1. Tea Tree Oil

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

Some people also recommend soaking a tampon in a homemade tea tree oil cream. To do this, 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. However, this could lead to allergic reactions or further infections, so be sure to consult a professional before you try it.

2. Garlic

Garlic is considered as a strong antimicrobial. 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. As with the earlier remedy, do consult a professional before trying this.

Alternatively, you could try eating lots of garlic. Crackers, bread, and pasta pair well with minced garlic. You can also take a spoonful of it if you’re brave. Garlic tea and supplements are other options.

3. Boric Acid Suppository

If you have chronic yeast or bacterial infection, you 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.

However, be sure to use boric acid powder and not the crystals. Despite that, this remedy might cause further irritation. Additionally, pregnant women should not try this remedy.26

4. Yogurt

Yogurt is full of good bacteria called probiotics, making it a good remedy for vaginal and bacterial yeast infections. 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. If you notice any irritation, do consult a professional.

Alternatively, you could eat more yogurt by having it as is or adding it to smoothies. 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. If you get an allergic reaction, discontinue use and consult a professional.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. Lifestyle Changes

Apart from maintaining a healthy diet and managing your blood sugar levels, be sure manage your stress. Find emotional support from loved ones and take time for self-care. Regularly exercising can also help you beat stress and keep your immunity intact.

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   [ + ]

1. Vaginal yeast infections.Women’s Health
2. Who Gets Fungal Infections? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
3. Donders, Gilbert GG, Hans Prenen, Geert Verbeke, Reinhilde Reybrouck. Impaired tolerance for glucose in women with recurrent vaginal candidiasis. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. 187.4(2002):989-993.
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. The Menstrual Cycle. UCSF Medical Center
10. Premenstrual syndrome. Women’s Health
11, 13. Bacterial vaginosis,Women’s Health
12. Bacterial Vaginosis-CDC Fact Sheet, Centers for Disease Control
14. 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.
15, 20. Vaginitis in Teens. University Of Rochester Medical Center.
16. Vaginitis. University Of Rochester Medical Center.
17. Vaginal yeast infections.Women’s Health.
18. Bacterial Vaginosis – CDC Fact Shee, Centers for Disease Control
19, 21. Vaginal yeast infections. Women’s Health
22. Bacterial vaginosis. Women’s Health
23. Vaginal yeast infection. MedlinePlus
24. Vaginal yeast infection. Women’s Health
25. Vaginitis. University Of Rochester Medical Center.
26. Boric Acid for Recurrent Vaginal Yeast Infections. University of Washington School of Medicine.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.