If you’re a person that has a vagina, chances are there has come a day where you’ve felt that maybe something just isn’t right downstairs. It could’ve been a change in your discharge or natural odour, or perhaps you felt the insatiable urge to itch like crazy so bad that it drives you to distraction. As amazing as vaginas are, they can be highly sensitive and temperamental organs that can all too easily get a little out of whack. Two extremely common reasons you might be feeling that something is amiss down under could be thrush or bacterial vaginosis, both extremely common but too little spoken about conditions. So let’s pour ourselves a cup of tea and get fully acquainted with aunty thrush and our cousin B.V.
Thrush is an extremely common infection caused by the overgrowth of yeast or candida albicans. It effects about 75% of women in their lifetime, so chances are, if yo haven’t already you will probably get thrush at some point. Thrush can also occur in other areas of the body like the mouth and throat. While usually harmless, the symptoms of thrush can have you feeling pretty darn uncomfortable. These can include:
- an itching or burning sensation
- a thick white discharge that may resemble cottage cheese and have a yeasty smell
- redness or swelling of the vulva or vagina
- splits in the skin of your vagina
- stinging or burning during sex or while urinating
Pleasant! But hey, the good news is that thrush is very easily treated with over the counter medication. Usually a 1 time only tablet and an antifungal cream to soothe any exterior itching will hit the nail on the head and have you feeling better soon. Tablets inserted into the vagina called pessaries can also be effective in treating thrush. Thrush veterans like myself, will know a case of thrush when it appears but if this is your first rodeo or you’re not feeling better after taking medication, it’s really important to see your GP in order to rule out any more serious infections. Your doctor will ask you a few questions about your symptoms and may take a swab for testing or perform an examination.
But how do you get thrush in the first place? First of all, thrush is not an STI and is not sexually transmitted. You can still have sex while you have thrush but it might feel uncomfortable. Partners with penises may experience some redness and irritation after sex. An overgrowth of yeast in your vagina may occur because of one of the below reasons but often the reason may not be identified:
- taking antibiotics for a different illness
- the contraceptive pill
- changes in your menstrual cycle
- illnesses like diabetes, iron deficiency and immune system disorders
- vulval skin conditions like eczema
None of this sounds great, so how can we help prevent ourselves from getting thrush in the first place? Here are some tried and tested tips to hopefully keep you in the clear.
The vagina is a self cleaning oven. You do not need to use scented and harsh soaps when washing the vagina. Warm water and maybe a flannel will do you fine. In no circumstances should you use antiseptics, douches or perfumed sprays in the vaginal area. Your vagina is meant to have a natural odour and vaginal douches were invented by the patriarchy to make women feel bad about their bodies and to part them from their hard earned money. If possible, avoid wearing tight fitting pants or synthetic underwear for long periods of time. And lastly, consider changing your laundry detergent to something hypoallergenic and unscented. Avoid fabric softeners like the plague.
Like thrush bacterial vaginosis, or B.V., is a vaginal inflammation cause by the overgrowth of bacteria naturally found in the vagina that upsets the natural balance. Its estimated that 29% of women will be afflicted with B.V. at some point in their lives. B.V. tends to effect women in their fertile years with the exact cause of the condition unknown, though there is a strong link between unprotected sex and its occurrence. However, B.V. is not sexually transmitted and is not an STI. Symptoms of B.V. can include:
- watery, white or grey discharge from the vagina
- a strong and unusual odour from the vagina, commonly described as a fishy smell
While B.V. usually causes no discomfort, the strong smell can be quite confronting for sufferers. On the bright side B.V. is not serious and easily treated by a visit to your GP, who may perform a swab and prescribe an antibiotic called metronidazole. Unfortunately, recurrences of B.V. are quite common, with half of women diagnosed having another episode within 6 to 12 months. With no known cause, it’s hard to say definitively how you can prevent yourself acquiring this little nasty. However, it has been shown that use of condoms during sex seem to decrease the incidences of B.V.