What unpleasant experience will 75% of women experience in a lifetime? A vaginal infection. More than 75% of women in a lifetime will experience one or more vaginal infections such as a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis. Unfortunately, more than half of us will get the infection again at some point (source). Clearly, every woman should know about the signs and symptoms of a vaginal infection as well as the methods to heal and protect themselves.
Let’s say you had a fantastic day at the beach with your friends. You went in and out of the water, stayed in your swimsuit all day and ate junk food like you were 15 years old again. The next morning, you woke up and put on some tight yoga pants on for a quick run. You only got a little sweaty so you didn't go home and change. You kept your yoga pants on all day while running errands. Later that evening, when you stop to use the restroom, you noticed that there was quite a bit of discharge on your underwear. That night after sexy time with your partner, you find the itchiness is nearly intolerable and the pain a bit alarming after urination. In the morning you go online and learn that you may have a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis or some other infection.
For women reading this who have experienced repeated vaginal infections, or you are a health care professional, you were probably cringing while reading the above scenario and knew the entire time that a vaginal infection was looming. Wearing a wet swimsuit, eating unhealthy food and wearing tight and damp pants after a workout all threaten to disrupt the vagina’s system of healthy bacteria that fight off infection. When this balance between the good bacteria and bad bacteria (or fungus) is disrupted, an infection may occur. In fact, an infection will occur for nearly every single woman at some point in her lifetime. More than 75% of women in a lifetime will experience one or more vaginal infections (source).
The Yeast Infection:
While yeast infections typically do not cause any long term damage, they are uncomfortable and the treatment may take a couple of days to start working. If you are trying to conceive, the biggest pitfall of having a yeast infection is that intercourse is not recommended and you may not feel like having sex anyway until you are healed. This of course may cause you to miss your fertile window for a month. There is no medical reason, however, for not engaging in intercourse, so if you really don't want to miss your fertile window, you can still have sex.
Can I still get pregnant while with a yeast infection?
You can still get pregnant when you have a yeast infection, however, some creams used to treat the infection may make it more difficult for the sperm to travel to the egg. Intercourse is not recommended in general 1) because it’s too painful and 2) while rare, you don’t want the slim chance that you will give it to your partner and then your partner will keep giving it back to you.
Can a yeast infection heal on it's own?
Yeast infections rarely heal on their own. Prescriptions from your doctor, over the counter medications, as well as natural alternatives are used to treat yeast infections. Before you head to the store to buy over the counter medication, however, it’s important to know that many who think they have yeast infections, actually have bacterial vaginosis (BV). Yeast infections are the second most common infection, while BV infections are the most common.
The Most Common Vaginal Infection: Bacterial Vaginosis (BV):
Even more common than a yeast infection is bacterial vaginosis (BV). While yeast infections are an overgrowth of yeast (fungus), BV is caused by bad bacteria which flourishes when the vaginal pH is elevated. For about 50% of women infected with BV, no symptoms are present. When symptoms are present, they can be similar to yeast infection symptoms such as itching, burning and excess discharge. There are more serious health consequences of BV compared to a yeast infection (source).
Why you need to see your doctor for BV:
Complications from BV are not common, but they are possible. If BV is left untreated and does not heal on it’s own, BV can spread to the reproductive organs and may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). If a woman develops PID because of infection with BV, she is more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy and PID can also increase a woman's chances of becoming infertile. BV can also lead to pregnancy complications including premature birth and low birth rates (source).
If you do end up using over the counter medication for a yeast infection and it turns out you have BV, your BV symptoms may get significantly worse. Your doctor will likely give you a prescription for antibiotics to treat the BV infection.
Can I still get pregnant while having a BV infection?
When it comes to intercourse, the same principles apply as to yeast infections. Please see here for the Mayo Clinics recommendations on having sex when experiencing a vaginal infection. Since the side effects of a BV infection are more serious and can cause pregnancy complications, your doctor should test to make sure the infection has cleared appropriately.
How do tell if it’s BV or a Yeast Infection:
The best way to tell if you have a yeast infection, BV, other type of infection (or simply irritated tissue) is by going to your doctor for a proper test.
As mentioned, BV does not always have symptoms, but if there are symptoms present some of them are similar to a yeast infection. The symptoms include itchiness, burning, increased discharge and painful intercourse. One major difference is the discharge look and smell.
Yeast infections can an increase in white discharge which is characterized by a‘cottage cheese’ look. The discharge will either be odorless or have a yeast smell (i.e. the smell of bread or beer). BV, on the other hand, may cause thin, white or grayish discharge that coats the vaginal walls and has a distinctive strong fishy odor.
Help! How to Relieve Pain from a Vaginal Infection
So it’s Sunday and you have to wait until Monday afternoon to see your doctor and every minute is miserable? Here are some tips to survive while you wait:
- Take an Apple Cider Bath: Place two tablespoons in a warm bath and soak
- Yogurt Tampons: Dip a tampon in yogurt and wear twice a day for a couple of hours
- Take quality Probiotics (highly recommended)
- Eliminate sugar and highly processed foods (eat foods that support the good bacteria such as yogurt, garlic and fermented foods).
- Use natural suppositories: Boric acid and tea tree oil suppositories can do wonders for helping alleviate symptoms and healing chronic infections.
Prevent Recurrent Vaginal Infections:
Cleaning up your diet and eliminating other habits such as using scented soaps may help to keep your vaginal pH and bacteria healthy.
Here are several recommendations to prevent future infections:
- Stop feeding the yeast and bad bacteria and feed your good bacteria with a diet high in fruits and vegetables (source).
- Watch out for sugar in drinks, sauces, dressings, soups and bars. If you aren’t eating dessert, than you probably don’t want the extra sugar anyway. Select products that don’t add sugar where you don't want it to be.
- If you have to take antibiotics, take probiotics!
- Consider taking probiotics and eating yogurt (plain yogurt with no added sugar)
- Do not douche
- Use fragrance free soaps and detergents
- Change out of workout clothes and a wet swim suit as soon as possible
- Urinate after intercourse
- When wearing underwear, make sure it's 100% cotton
- Use chemical free tampons and pads or a menstrual cup
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