Vaginitis and Vaginal Bacterial Infections
“Vaginitis” is a medical term used to describe various conditions that cause infection or inflammation of the vagina. These conditions can result from an 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. In some cases, vaginitis results from organisms that passed between sexual partners. Some infections are associated with more serious diseases. The five vaginal infections listed below are most common:
- Candida or “yeast” infections.
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Trichomoniasis vaginitis
- Chlamydia vaginitis
- Non-infectious vaginitis
Although each of these vaginal infections can have different symptoms, it is not always easy for a woman to figure out 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.
Candida (Yeast Infections)
Yeast infections of the vagina are what most women think of when they hear the term “vaginitis.” Vaginal yeast infections are caused by one of the many species of fungus called Candida. Candida normally lives in small numbers in the vagina, as well as in the mouth and digestive tract, of both men and women.
Yeast infections can produce a thick, white vaginal discharge with the consistency of cottage cheese although vaginal discharge may not always be present. Yeast infections usually cause the vagina and the vulva to be very itchy and red. Yeast infections are not usually transmitted through sexual intercourse and are not considered a sexually transmitted disease. A few things will increase your risk of getting a yeast infection, including:
- Recent treatment with antibiotics.
- Uncontrolled diabetes.
- Pregnancy which change hormone levels.
- Other factors include:
- Oral contraceptive (birth control pills).
- Disorders affecting the immune system.
- Thyroid or endocrine disorders
- Corticosteroid therapy.
Although “yeast” is the name most women think of when they think of vaginal infections, bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common 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 unknown.
Bacterial vaginosis is not transmitted through sexual intercourse but is more common in women who are sexually active. It is not also a serious health concern but can increase a woman’s risk of developing other sexually transmitted diseases an.d can increase the risk of pelvic
inflammatory (PI D) following surgical procedures such as abortion and hysterectomy. Some studies have shown. an increased risk of early labor and premature births in women who have the infection during pregnancy.However, more recent investigations do not support this
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 discolored discharge
- Discharge that smells “fishy.”
- Pain dining urination
- Itchy and sore vagina
Your doctor can tell you if you have bacterial vaginosis. He or she will examine you and will take a sample of fluid from your vagina. The fluid is viewed under a microscope. In most cases, your doctor can tell right away if you have BV.
There are several vaginal infections that are transmitted through sexual contact. Trichomoniasis, caused by a tiny single-celled organism that infects the vagina, can cause a frothy, greenish-yellow discharge. Often this discharge will have a foul smell. Women with trichomonal vaginitis may complain of itching and soreness of the vagina and vulva, as well as burning during urination. In addition, there can be discomfort in the lower abdomen and vaginal pain with intercourse. These symptoms may be worse after the menstrual period. Many women, however, do not develop any symptoms.
Chlaiuvdia is another sexually transmitted form of vaginitis. Unfortunatel, most women with chlamydia infection do not have symptoms, which makes diagnosis difficult. A vaginal discharge is sometimes present, but not always. More often, a woman might experience light
bleeding, especially after intercourse, and she may have pain in the lower abdomen and pelvis. Chlamydial vaginitis is most common in young women (18-35 years) who have multiple sexual partners. If you fit this description, you should request screening for chlamydia
during your annual checkup. If left untreated, chlamydia can cause damage to a woman’s reproductive organs, and can make it difficult for a woman to become pregnant.
Occasionally, a woman can have itching, burning, and even a vaginal discharge without having an infection. The most coiumon cause 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.
Preventing Vaginal Infections
There are certain things that you can do to decrease the chance of getting vaginal infections. If you suffer from yeast infections, it usually is helpful to avoid garments that hold in heat and moisture. The wearing of tight jeans can also lead to yeast infections. Good hygiene also is important. In addition, doctors have found that if a woman eats yogurt that contains active cultures (read the label) she may get fever infections.
Because they can cause vaginal irritation, most doctors do not recommend vaginal sprays or heavily perfumed soaps for cleansing this area. Likewise, douching may cause irritation or, more importantly, may hide a vaginal infection. Douching also removes the healthy bacteria that help keep the vagina clean. Removing these bacteria can result in, or worsen, vaginitis.
Safe sexual practices can help prevent the passing of diseases between partners. The use of condoms is particularly important. Good health habits are important. The American College of Physicians suggest that a woman have a complete gynecologic exam, including a pap smear
every 3 years, for ages 21 to 29; and every 3 years or a combination of a pap and HPV test eve l’y years, for ages 30 to 65. If you have multiple sexual partners, you should request screening for sexually transmitted diseases.
Curing Vaginal Infections Without The Use Of Medication
Think of the vagina as an ecosystem. Living on the inside and the outside are many different types of flora-strains of good-for-you-bacteria that protect you against bacteria and organisms that are not so good. These “bad” bacteria can invade the area, causing one or more of the
symptoms of infectious vaginitis: soreness, irritation, inflammation, discharge, burning, swelling, redness, urinary discomfort, and pain during sex.
Conventional doctors try to solve the problem by killing the bad organisms with drugs, which is a must if the infection is severe or chronic. Alternative doctors, however, prefer remedies that improve the vaginal ecosystem so that the bad organisms can’t live there. These remedies help the good flora return to the vagina; restore the normal pH, or chemical balance, of the tissues; and decrease inflammation and irritation as well as kill off the infecting organisms.
Correct treatment depends on knowing which organism is causing your problem; it’s usually either bacteria, the fungal yeast Candida albicans, or the protozoa Trichomonas vaginitis. Thus, the following remedies should be used only after having a diagnostic test to identify the infecting organism.
“Nothing is more key to the health of the ecosystem of the vagina than the bacteria lactobacillus,” says Tori Hudson, N.D., a naturopathic physician and medical director of A Woman’s Time clinic – and no food is richer in lactobacillus than yogurt. She recommends that for 2
weeks, women with BV, candidiasis, or Trichomoniasis eat 8 ounces daily of unsweetened yogurt with Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria and take three capsules of a supplement of the bacterium between meals. You can use the same regimen to prevent a recurrence. Dr. Hudson
also advises women with BV to use the capsules of L. acidophilus as vaginal suppositories, inserting one capsule each morning for 2 weeks. Look for capsules that contain 1 to 5 billion live organisms each, she says. Lactobacillus acidophilus is a great remedy for non-infectious vaginitis, as well.
Garlic is antibacterial and antifungal, so it can fight both BV and candidiasis, Dr. Hudson says. Look for a garlic supplement that’s high in allicin—one that contains about 5,000 micrograms of allium, the major infection-fighting chemical in the herb. She recommends taking two
500-milligram capsules once or twice a day.
The chemical berberine in goldenseal fights off bacteria and candida in the mucous membranes of the vagina, Dr. Hudson says. It also strengthens the immune system. She recommends taking two 500-milligram capsules once or twice a day.
Dr. Hudson cites a study in which 100 women with yeast infection who hadn’t been helped by antifungal medications were given the suppository twice a day for 2 to 4 weeks; 98 percent were cured. Regular use of the suppositories also helps prevent recurrences. “Clinical effectiveness doesn’t really get any better than this,” she says.
If you have been diagnosed with an acute yeast infection, insert a 600-milligram capsule of boric acid powder into your vagina twice a day, in the morning and evening, for 3 to 7 days, says Dr. Hudson. For a chronic yeast infection, use the regimen for 2 to 4 weeks. To prevent a recurrence, insert one capsule daily at bedtime for 4 days a month, during your menstrual period, for 4 months.
Over-the-counter boric acid suppositories, such as Yeast Arrest, are available in drugstores. Or you can ask a pharmacist to fill size “o” gelatin capsules with 600 milligrams of powered boric acid each.
The suppository can cause burning in tissue that’s already irritated by an infection, Dr. Hudson warns, but you can prevent this by coating the irritated tissues with vitamin E oil before inserting the suppository. If you want to try this treatment, be sure to inform your doctor first, and don’t use it if you’re pregnant, says Dr. Hudson.
Using a gelatin capsule of vitamin E as a suppository is very soothing to vaginal tissue, decreasing irritation, redness, swelling, and congestion, Dr. Hudson says. Insert a capsule once or twice daily for 7 days.
Echinacea contains active substances that can directly destroy yeast and other kinds of fungi, says Dr. Hudson. In fact, a laboratory study reported in “Medical Mycology” in 2009 showed that Echinacea attacked the cell wall of the fungus, which may explain its usefulness in treating fungal infections. Echinacea also contains chemicals that boost the activity of your immune system, relieve pain, reduce inflammation and have antioxidant effects.
Tea Tree Oil
Using tea tree oil is an effective remedy as it is a powerful natural antibacterial substance, the most powerful one known to date. Topically applied tea tree oil has been studied and used successfully as a topical treatment for trichomonas, Candida albicans, and other vaginal infections. Tea tree oil should be diluted when used as a vaginal douche, and should only be used for this purpose under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner. Some physicians suggest using tea tree oil by mixing the full-strength oil with vitamin E oil in the proportion 1/3
tea tree oil to 2/3 vitamin E oil. An organic cotton tampon is saturated in this mixture or the mixture is put in a capsule to be inserted in the vagina each day for a maximum of six weeks.
“When you want to feed bacteria in a scientific experiment, you coat the petri dish with glucose, or sugar,” says Amy Rothenberg, N.D., a naturopathic physician in Enfield, Connecticut. That’s why she tells her patients with bacteria vaginosis, or By, to avoid sugar as well as refilled carbohydrates and alcohol, both of which turn into glucose ill the body. You should also avoid these foods if you have vaginitis caused by candida or a trichomonas infection.
There’s a lot of stigma attached to the vagina causing women to believe that tile vagina is dirty and in constant need of cleaning (you may be surprise to know that the vagina is cleaner than tile mouth). Many women feel pressured to have their vagina to look or smell a certain way. Despite what some feminine ads may have you believe, the vagina was never designed to smell like fruit or perfume. It’s supposed to have an odor, but not an offensive order. If your vagina has an offensive or noticeable odor, soap and water won’t do the trick. Contact your medical provider to find out if you have an infection.
Dr. Lorene Garcia is a Gynecologist (OB-GYN) based in Miami, Florida who has more than 10 years experience gynaecology. I’m a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and love to help women with gynecological problems.