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VAGINAL INFECTIONS – YEAST OR BACTERIAL?

Vaginitis is a term that describes various conditions that cause infection or inflammation of the vagina. These conditions can result from a vaginal infection caused by organisms such as bacteria, yeast, or viruses, as well as by irritations from chemicals in creams, sprays, or even clothing that is in contact with this area. A woman's vagina normally produces a discharge that usually is described as clear or slightly cloudy, non-irritating, and odor-free. At one time of the month there may be a small amount of a very thin or watery discharge and at another time, a more extensive thicker discharge may appear. All of these descriptions could be considered normal. A vaginal discharge that has an odor or that is irritating usually is considered an abnormal discharge. The irritation might be itching or burning, or both. The itching may be present at any time of the day, but it often is most bothersome at night.

Three Common Types of Vaginal Infections

  1. Yeast infections caused by Candida
  2. Bacterial vaginosis
  3. Non-infectious vaginitis

1. YEAST INFECTIONS

Close to 75 percent of women have had at least one yeast infection in their lifetime. This common condition occurs when the normal acidity of your vagina changes, allowing Candida to multiply. Hormonal changes can encourage yeast infections, as can pregnancy, diabetes, use of antibiotics and use of corticosteroid medications. Yeast infections usually make themselves known with intense itching, burning with urination and sometimes a thick, white discharge. While any woman can get a yeast infection, they are much more common among people with weakened immune systems (men can also experience genital Candidiasis). As with all yeast-related problems, the infection is caused by a fungus called Candida that already exists in your body living in small numbers in the vagina, mouth and digestive tract. When your immune system becomes run down or out of balance the Candida multiplies out of control, causing illness. Some of the common symptoms of a yeast infection include:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor
  • Burning during urination
  • Itching around the outside of the vagina

Some things will increase your risk of getting a yeast infection, including:

  • Recent treatment with antibiotics. For example, taking an antibiotic to treat an infection the antibiotic kills the good bacteria that normally keep the yeast in balance. As a result the yeast overgrows and causes a yeast infection
  • Uncontrolled diabetes. This allows for too much sugar in the urine and vagina
  • Pregnancy which changes hormone levels
  • Birth control pills
  • Disorders affecting the immune system even simple things like seasonal allergies
  • Thyroid or endocrine disorders
  • Corticosteroid therapy such as asthma medications

Yeast Infection Home Remedies

Yeast infections are most often treated with over the counter medicine applied directly to the vagina. This medicine may be in cream or suppository form. Medicine in a pill form is also available by prescription. However, these work over time and may not provide the immediate relief needed. To relieve the pain and itching that often accompanies yeast infections try the following natural solutions:

  • Inserting one Boric acid powder capsule into the vagina morning and evening for three to seven days for an acute infection, and 14 to 30 days for a chronic infection. Studies show the effectiveness of Boric acid is very high especially in women with chronic yeast infections. If irritation occurs protect the surrounding tissue with vitamin E oil
  • Inserting a garlic clove into your vagina in the morning and an acidophilus capsule in the evening for three to seven days
  • Preparing a retention douche with bentonite clay, Pau D' Arco tea or plain yogurt
  • Tea tree oil and goldenseal and douche two times a day for seven to 10 days

*Please note it is important to see your doctor if there has been a change in the amount, color, or smell of the discharge.

Ways To Prevent Infections:

  • Wear loose clothing made from natural fibers (cotton, linen, silk)
  • Avoid wearing tight pants
  • Don't douche. Douching can kill bacteria that control fungus
  • Limit the use of feminine deodorant
  • Change out of wet clothing, especially bathing suits, as soon as you can
  • Avoid frequent hot tub baths
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Eat yogurt
  • If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible

2. BACTERIAL VAGINOSIS (BV)

Although yeast is the type most commonly thought of regarding vaginal infections, bacterial vaginosis is actually the most frequent type of vaginal infection in women of reproductive age. BV is caused by a combination of several bacteria. These bacteria seem to overgrow in much the same way as do Candida when the vaginal balance is upset. The exact reason for this overgrowth is not known. Up to 50% of the women who have bacterial vaginosis do not have any symptoms. Most women learn they have the infection during their annual gynecologic exam. But if symptoms appear, they can include:

  • White or discoloured discharge
  • Discharge that smells fishy
  • Pain during urination
  • Itchy and sore vagina

Your doctor can tell you if you have bacterial vaginosis by viewing vaginal fluid under a microscope. Bacterial vaginosis can only be treated with drugs ordered by your doctor. Over-the-counter remedies will not cure BV. These medications may be taken as a pill or used as a vaginal cream or gel.

3. NON-INFECTIOUS VAGINITIS

The most common cause of non-infectious vaginitis is an allergic reaction or irritation from vaginal sprays, douches, or spermicidal products. The skin around the vagina also can be sensitive to perfumed soaps, detergents, and fabric softeners. Another non-infectious form of vaginitis results from a decrease in hormones because of menopause or because of surgery that removes the ovaries. In this form, the vagina becomes dry. This is referred to as atrophic vaginitis. The woman may notice pain, especially with sexual intercourse, as well as vaginal itching and burning.

Self Diagnosing A Vaginal Infection

Although each of these vaginal infections can have different symptoms, it is not always easy for a woman to tell which type she has. In fact, diagnosis can even be tricky for an experienced doctor. Part of the problem is that sometimes more than one type of infection can be present at the same time. And, an infection may even be present without any symptoms at all. If you experience vaginal symptoms that you think are a vaginal yeast infection home testing can help you rule out other types of vaginal infections before trying home healing methods or over the counter medications. To perform the test, hold the pH test paper against the wall of the vagina for a few seconds. Next, compare the color of your pH test paper to the color chart. Normal vaginal pH is 3.8 to 4.5, slightly acidic. The home vaginal pH test kit measures pH on a scale of 1 to 14. If your vaginal pH is above normal, the most likely reason is that you have bacterial vaginosis (BV) and not a yeast infection. In this case, don't use OTC medications for vaginal yeast infections because the medication does not treat BV. You'll need to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. On the other hand, if your vaginal pH is normal or below normal and you've had previous vaginal yeast infection diagnosed by a doctor you can try one of the OTC medications or home remedies for vaginal yeast infections. If these medications don't cure your vaginal symptoms or infection, then see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

A Healthy And Balanced Immune System Is The Key

A strong immune system is more than capable of balancing yeast in the body and therefore helping to avoid yeast infections. Remember too that good health habits are important and that having a complete gynecologic exam including a Pap smear every year, unless otherwise directed by your doctor, is also a wise choice.