What Are Vaginal Infections?

Vaginal infections are the most common gynecologic disorder. Many of the agents that cause vaginal infections are normally found in the vagina in small numbers. The normal vaginal flora generally keeps the agents from overgrowing. Whenever there is an imbalance in the normal vaginal flora, a vaginal infection can develop.

Symptoms of vaginal infections can range from mildly annoying to extremely uncomfortable.

The key to successful treatment lies with an accurate diagnosis of the agent causing the infection. With the treatment for vaginal yeast infections now available over the counter, it is important to be sure the infection you are treating is caused by yeast before buying the medication.

The Most Common Vaginal Infections

  1. Yeast Infections
    Yeast infections are caused by a fungus called Candida. Yeast may be found in small amounts in the normal vagina. When there is an imbalance in the normal vaginal flora, the yeast can take hold and overgrow.Taking antibiotics that may kill the lactobacilli found in a normal vagina can cause this imbalance. Lactobacilli excrete hydrogen peroxide, which is a natural disinfectant that acts to maintain the normal balance of organisms in the vagina.Other factors that may lead to the imbalance are pregnancy, taking oral contraceptives, steroid use, obesity, diabetes, wearing clothing that traps heat and moisture (such as nylon), and a diet high in sugars and starches.

    The classic symptoms of a yeast infection include vulvar itching, redness and irritation. In severe cases, the vulva may be swollen with fissures, or breaks, in the skin. Another symptom is a thick, white and ?cheesy? or curd-like vaginal discharge. Your physician can diagnose the infection by vaginal culture, or looking at a drop of the vaginal secretions under a microscope.

    There are many treatments for yeast infections including oral and vaginal medications, prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

  2. Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal infection. The bacteria that cause the infection occur naturally in the vagina. However, when there is an overgrowth and the balance of natural bacteria is disrupted an infection occurs.The primary symptom of BV is a thin, white, or grayish discharge with an unmistakable fishy odor. The odor usually increases after intercourse or during menstruation. There may be mild irritation or itching.Your doctor can diagnose BV by checking the vaginal pH (it is abnormally high with BV), evidence of the discharge upon exam, the fishy odor, and the abnormal appearance of cells that line the vaginal wall.

    BV is treated with oral or intravaginal antibiotics. These medications are only available with a prescription. It is important to finish all the antibiotics as prescribed.

  3. Trichomoniasis Trichomoniasis, or Trich, is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by a protozoan. Although it is usually transmitted through sexual intercourse, in rare instances it has been passed through wet towels, washcloths or bathing suits.The symptoms include a yellow-green vaginal discharge that may be frothy; irritated, red and itchy labia; spotting after intercourse and a foul vaginal odor. If the infection involves the urinary tract, there may be burning with urination. Symptoms, when they occur, usually appear 4 to 20 days after exposure.Trichomoniasis is usually diagnosed by identifying the protozoan under a microscope. Sometimes the infections may be picked up on Pap Smear. The infection is treated with oral antibiotics for the woman and her partner. It is important that both be treated so as to prevent re-infection.


How Can I Prevent Vaginal Infections?

The vagina is a delicate ecosystem. Douching may disrupt this balance, leading to an overgrowth in yeast or bacteria. If you already have an infection, douching can make it worse. Using scented toilet paper or sanitary napkins, feminine deodorants, spermicides, harsh soaps or detergents can cause irritation which may lead to infection.

Always change out of a wet bathing suit immediately, the yeast and bacteria that cause vaginal infections love moisture. Dry yourself thoroughly after bathing or showering. Avoid tight clothing, especially while exercising, and always wear cotton undergarments that absorb moisture.

Keep the vaginal area clean, always wipe from the labia towards the rectum after a bowel movement to avoid spreading organisms from the rectum to the vagina.