“Vaginal itchiness” is classified as a medical emergency in most hospital A&E departments. In fact, some women can have it so bad that the resultant excessive discharge (soaked pantyliners) and endless irritation (think itches that you can’t scratch in public) make it quite impossible to work - or even think straight. The culprit?
Vaginitis, or in plain English, inflammation of the vagina.
YEAST OR BACTERIA?
Our bodies make ideal homes for many organisms, including yeast and bacteria. Due to the abundance of warmth and moisture, certain areas, such as the mouth, foot and vagina are particularly densely populated by these organisms.
A slightly acidic healthy vagina makes for a comfortable home for yeasts and bacteria, and all healthy women maintain a population of these in their vagina. This isn’t actually a bad thing, as some bacteria like lactobacilli produce lactic acid, which prevents the growth of other harmful bacteria.
However this environment can be disrupted due to the intake of drugs, including antibiotics and birth control pills, a change in diet, especially an increase in intake of sugar, or hormone imbalances. These result in the overgrowth of yeast.
YEAST AS NASTY AS IT SOUNDS
Vaginal infections are usually caused by Candida albicans, a type of yeast. However, vaginal infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses and other parasites as well as some sexually transmitted diseases (see box).
The main way of diagnosing which infection is at work is through the colour of the discharge, or a lab test, which requires takes a few days at the very least.
GO COMMANDO ON VAGINITIS!
To prevent vaginal infections, try to follow these tips:
TYPICAL FEMALE INFECTIONS
Symptoms: Itching or burning sensation, with or without thick, curd-like odorless discharge.
Treatment: Antifungal drugs taken orally, applied directly to the affected area, or used vaginally.
Symptoms: Itching and redness with unpleasant fish-like odor and grayish vaginal discharge
Treatment: Two different antibiotics namely metronidazole or clindamycin are commonly recommended.
Symptoms: Foul smelling yellow-green vaginal discharge, irritation and itching of the vagina and pain during sexual intercourse or urination.
Treatment: Antibiotics - either metronidazole or tinidazole taken orally - but avoid sex until both you and your partner have finished the treatment to prevent re-infection.