Vaginal Health

Vaginal Health Fact Sheet

There are a few simple things women may do to keep their vaginas healthy. They include washing the genital area daily; avoiding the use of perfumed soaps, deodorant sprays, wipes and talcum powder on the vaginal area; wearing cotton underwear and avoiding tight jeans and other tight clothing; wiping from front to back after urinating and after a bowel motion; avoiding the use of deodorised panty shields, or douching or over using bath products, and bubble bath solutions which interfere with the pH balance of the vagina.

Vaginal Thrush

Vaginal thrush is a very common yeast infection that will affect most women at some point in their lives. For some women it is a recurring and distressing problem that can affect and disrupt their sex lives. Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of yeast known as Candida albicans that is present in the intestines, vagina, mouth and skin where it is normally kept under control by naturally occurring harmless bacteria. If conditions change and the pH (acid-alkaline) balance is disrupted, the yeast can increase rapidly and cause extremely unpleasant symptoms such as itching and soreness around the vagina.

Causes

Thrush is caused by a change in the natural balance in the body’s bacteria.

This can occur as a result of:

  • the use of antibiotics
  • a weakened immune system
  • an increase in sugar levels which encourage the growth of bacteria
  • the contraceptive pill
  • pregnancy
  • periods
  • products that change the natural acidity of the vagina such as vaginal deodorants, sprays, gels and wipes, perfumed bubble baths, and douching
  • clothing that is too tight and prevents air from circulating which creates a warm, moist place for thrush to develop
  • stress

Symptoms

The most common signs of thrush are painful itching, soreness and swelling of the vaginal area, a chalky white yeasty-smelling discharge, pain during sexual intercourse, and pain when urinating due to the urine stinging the inflamed tissues.

Treatment

Thrush is caused by a fungus, so antifungal drugs can be used to treat the infection. These medications stop the growth of yeast infection without affecting the friendly bacteria in the vagina. The treatment is simple and can be offered in several ways. There are a number of over the counter remedies available for thrush. However, some of the symptoms of thrush are the same as those of other vaginal infections so the only way to be certain that you have thrush is for a doctor or nurse to take a swab from the inside of the vagina and look at the vaginal area. The test for thrush is usually very accurate in women.

Vaginal Dryness

Vaginal dryness is one of the most commonly reported symptoms of menopause. It is caused by a reduction in oestrogen levels. However vaginal dryness can also occur as a result of childbirth, during periods of stress, and as a result of taking birth control pills. It is characterised by vaginal discomfort or soreness and sometimes (but not always) by vaginal dryness even when sexually aroused. There are various ways of overcoming the discomfort caused by vaginal dryness that do not involve the use of hormone therapy. They include increasing your fluid intake by drinking lots of water, avoiding products that change the natural acidity of the vagina such as vaginal deodorants, douches or perfumed bubble baths that may irritate sensitive vaginal tissue. There are also topical products available in the form of creams and gels which may relieve ongoing vaginal dryness. Women who suffer from vaginal dryness during sex can use water based lubricant.

Vulval Pain  or Vulvodynia

Vulvodynia is the term used to refer to chronic pain in the vulva, the exterior tissue of the vagina and urethra. Symptoms of vulvodynia include chronic pain, burning, stinging, itching or irritation. The cause is currently unknown and it is thought that multiple factors may be involved.There are a wide variety of treatments available, although there have been few controlled trials testing the efficacy of them. As each woman’s experience is different, what works for one woman may not work for another. Treatments can include topical medications such as oestrogen cream; avoiding or discontinuing all soaps, douches, perfumed deodorants, and bubble baths; taking oral medications; physical therapies; dietary changes; acupuncture; pelvic floor therapy; and for those with vulvar vestibulitis syndrome, surgery.Vuloduynia is a condition that is very difficult to diagnose and diagnosis is usually made after other conditions, including psychological and relationship issues, have been investigated and ruled out. It is important to see a health practitioner whom you trust who has experience in treating this condition for a diagnosis.