The Truth: Vaginal Health and Hygiene Myths Revealed
Sometimes as women, things feel a little off. There can be an odor, or an itch, or a discharge that doesn’t feel like our normal self. This can be extremely worrisome and make one very self conscious. Here are some common issues women deal with, and some helpful home remedies to try before visiting the M.D.
First of all, our vaginas can be a very good barometer for our overall health. Dealing with chronic yeast infections? This can sometimes be associated with borderline diabetes. Constant Bacterial Vaginosis? Stress, new partners and pregnancy can cause that. Itching around the vagina? Perhaps a manifestation of some eczema lurking in the background. Although it is important not to ignore any chronic health concerns, know that the majority of the time you can help to reduce the occurrence of these symptoms.
Bacterial Vaginosis: Our vaginas have a “polymicrobial” environment. This means there are millions of good and healthy bacteria present to keep the vagina’s pH at an acidic 4.5. If something throws the bacteria off, the pH is also affected, and this leads to the multitude of symptoms described above. Although a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) can cause bacterial vaginosis, BV is NOT an STI. One of the best things to do is monitor when these infections bother you the most. If it’s after your menses, evaluate your feminine hygiene products. After using certain brands of laundry detergent/ body wash/ wearing certain underwear? Maybe time to switch some of those things. An important tip to remember is that the vagina is a self cleaning oven. It does not need to be washed out. This includes douching! Douching is NOT ever recommended, with water, vinegar, yogurt, etc. Warm water to rinse the area is sufficient. Mild soap on the outside is also adequate. Certain dietary items also seem to trigger changes. Fried and greasy foods, sugary drinks, coffee and alcohol can all affect the pH. One great tip is to stay hydrated. Drinking a lot of water (60-100 ounces) per day is recommended. Wearing loose clothes at night can help the area breathe, and preventing prolonged exposure to moisture also helps reduce imbalance of pH.
Yeast infection: Along with bacteria, our vaginas have yeast present. When the bacterial types and quantities get thrown out of balance, the yeast also can overpopulate and cause the typical signs of thick, white discharge, intense itching and vulvar edema or swelling (yeast overgrowth can be present without this classic discharge as well). Although some over the counter treatments help, if you experience chronic yeast, or the OTC treatments do not help, it is advised to meet with your provider for a prescription. Antibiotics (taken for anything) can trigger yeast because of the imbalance in bacteria they cause. If this tends to be an issue for you, ask whomever is writing your antibiotic prescription to also give you something to prevent yeast.
The Lichens: There are also some pesky skin conditions that can affect the external genitalia (the vulva, groin). Lichen Sclerosus and Lichen Planus are two skin disorders that cause itching, plaques and thinning of the skin. Some women even wake themselves up from sleep because of the itch-scratch cycle (the itch causes you to scratch, which leads to more inflammation that causes more itch). Staying hydrated also helps to keep the external skin balanced, however these conditions usually require topical steroids and should be evaluated by either a dermatologist or a gynecologist. If there is no improvement or resolution of symptoms, make sure you have a biopsy done to rule out any other underlying pathology.
Remember. Not everyone’s vagina reads the textbook. If your issues are not resolved with the suggestions listed above, please see your gynecologist and discuss these concerns with them.