It’s part of our body, so we really must know firsthand how to take care of it properly such that it does not “fall ill”. Yes, I’m going there, it’s the vagina talk! This is a subject area I believe ladies should be reminded of from time to time as we need to be concerned about our vaginal health; when your vaginal health is compromised, it can affect your overall health and well being!
Our vagina, when healthy, is naturally acidic, containing rich quantities of beneficial bacteria, which help protect it from infections and help maintain its normal pH level. It is designed to keep itself clean thanks to natural secretions or discharge. Each woman’s vagina is unique, having its own smell and amount of discharge, which varies with the woman’s menstrual cycle. A normal discharge could be clear or whitish with a distinct, but not bad, odour.
If and when the balance of bacteria in the vagina is disturbed, infection and inflammation occurs. When the pH of the vagina increases (becomes less acidic), the quality or amount of the bacteria which helps maintain its pH balance (lactobacilli) falls, allowing other bacteria to multiply. This can lead to infections with symptoms including itching, irritation and abnormal discharge. Infections that can cause vaginal discharge to change include,
– Yeast infection, which causes the volume of regular vaginal yeast to increase. Vaginal discharge becomes thick and white like cottage cheese. Intense itching of the vagina may occur as well as painful urination and painful sexual intercourse.
– Trichomoniasis (“Trick”), which causes a frothy discharge that can be green, yellow or gray in colour, with a foul smell. This infection also causes itching and irritation of the vagina, discomfort during sexual intercourse, and burning with urination. Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection.
– Bacterial vaginosis (Gardnerella or BV), which causes a white or gray discharge with an unpleasant fishy odour. Burning during urination may occur as well as itching around and outside of the vagina.
Your vaginal health can also be affected by antibiotics and naturally occurring bacteria, which sometimes alter the normal acidic pH of the vagina. Illness, stress as well as hormone changes are also culprits that can make your vagina more vulnerable and susceptible to infections.
The following tips can help you avoid or prevent vaginal infection
- Wash your vaginal area at least once a day with plain water or a mild, unperfumed soap, ensuring you rinse well and dry thoroughly. During your period, it would be helpful to wash your vaginal area more than once a day.
- Wipe from front to back after urinating or having a bowel movement, to avoid spreading bacteria from the anus to the vagina.
- During your period, change your pads or tampons regularly (at least every four to eight hours). If you use tampons, try to alternate with pads and remember to remove the last tampon used during your period.
- Try not to wear tight fitting clothes (e.g. skinny or tight jeans) as this can cause the vaginal area to stay warm and most, making it an excellent place for the growth of yeast cells.
- Wear cotton underwear during the day and avoid thongs.
- Change out of wet swim wear and sweaty workout clothes as quickly as possible.
- Avoid using vaginal sprays and other perfumed products as these may cause irritation or allergic reaction.
- Having multiple sex partners will increase your risk of sexually transmitted infections or diseases, which may increase your risk of a vaginal infection amongst other things.
- Avoid douching as it washes out everything that is in the vagina, including all the healthy bacteria.
- Urinate after sex, and rinse your vaginal area with cool water.
- Intense exercises that can irritate the vulva should be limited.
- If you have frequent vaginal infections, which you believe may be related to your mode of birth control, speak with your doctor about other birth control options.
Know your body’s unique cycle and pay attention to your vagina. When you become familiar with your unique and normal discharge and odour, you would be able to tell immediately when something is wrong. Do not attempt to self diagnose if you have any abnormal or increased discharge accompanied by itching, burning sensation when you urinate, irritation or soreness, unpleasant odour, painful intercourse or any symptom that just does not feel right with your vagina. Seek medical attention immediately as some conditions if left untreated will create bigger health problems in the future.
Take good care of yourself.
Kunbi Okanlawon is currently studying for a PhD in medicines Research. She is an expert in Pregnancy and Childcare, General wellness and healthy eating. She is also a communication expert and freelance writer.