Vaginal infections are among the most common infections that women experience during their lifetime. It is estimated that 1 in every 2 women will have a vaginal infection at some point in their life. A woman’s vagina maintains a balanced environment between the hormonal changes they experience and the normal bacteria and yeast that are naturally found there. Vagina clears itself by making a moderately cloudy discharge, which varies from woman to woman, and during menstrual cycle. Vaginal infections occur when this balanced environment is altered and you experience vaginal inflammation. Usually, when one has a vaginal infection she will notice a change of the amount, color and smell of discharge, itching, redness, pain during sex, rash, sudden urge to urinate etc. There are many different kinds of vaginal infections and symptoms and their treatments vary based on the type of vaginal infection. The most common causes of vaginal infections are usage of antibiotics, birth control treatments (oral and topical), vaginal medications, stress, hormonal imbalance, douches, sexual intercourse, STI (sexually transmitted diseases), frequent change of partners etc. Some of the vaginal infections are sexually transmitted. This article will explore the most common vaginal infection:
- Vaginal yeast infection
Vaginal yeast infection
A vaginal yeast infection is also known as vulvovaginal candidiasis (VVC) and is caused Candida albicans, which is estimated to cause around 92% of all yeast infections. Candida is a dimorphic fungus (it grows as a fungus and yeast) normally found in our body, especially in moist and warm areas of our body. As previously mentioned, vagina keeps a balanced environment of mixed yeast and bacteria. A bacterium called lactobacillus is responsible for producing an acid that stops overgrowth of yeast. However, this balance sometimes might be disrupted and yeast will overgrow causing vaginal itching, discharge, irritated skin, redness, pain and some other typical symptoms of yeast infections. There are some factors that increase your risks for yeast infections such as antibiotic use, increased estrogen levels, weak immune system, uncontrolled diabetes, pregnancy, sexual activity (even though yeast infections are not classified as sexually transmitted infections, you can get the fungus through sexual contact from a partner that has the infection and this will disrupt your vaginal balance of yeast which will result in a yeast infection latter on).
There are a number of treatments available for yeast infections, which depend on the severity of the infection. If you have a yeast infection that is not very severe, exhibiting mild to moderate symptoms, your doctor would most likely prescribe antifungal medications, which might vary from 1-7 days. Medications that cure yeast infections include clotrimazole, butoconazole, miconazole and terconazole. Some of these drugs are available over-the-counter while some others you will need a prescription by your doctor. Another way to treat yeast infections when they are not severe is prescription of a single-dose oral medication. Diflucan, one of the most common antifungal drugs prescribed for this purpose, is a fluconazole which could also be taken twice with three days apart in cases of severe symptoms.
In cases when you have severe symptoms and the yeast infection is more complicated some other drugs are more effective and common. Your doctor might prescribe you a regiment for 7-14 days of azole medications, which clear yeast infections. Azole medications can be in the form of tablet, ointment, vaginal cream, or suppository.
There are also some studies being done to test the validity of alternative therapies that can be used to treat vaginal infections such as boric acid and yogurt. Boric acid is a prescribed drug that is inserted in the vagina and has been shown to treat uncommon strains of candida that are resistant to azole drugs. Yogurt has been reported to lessen the severity of yeast infection symptoms either by eating it or by applying it in the vagina. Studies have shown that yogurt could be more effective than some drugs like applied clotrimazole or placebo but these studies included a small number of women and the validity of these results is being investigated.
Yeast infections are very common however there are very simple daily routines that can prevent you from getting a yeast infection. Your diet is very important. Eating a well balanced diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, nonfat dairy product and whole grains is very helpful. Controlling blood sugar levels, and avoiding the usage of unnecessary antibiotics can control vaginal yeast growth. Proper clothing reduces risks for yeast infections as well. It is recommended that you wear loose-fitting pants, skirts and cotton underwear. Avoid hot baths and wet clothing. Change your swimsuit and exercising clothes quickly. During your menstrual cycle replace pads or tampons frequently. Avoid usage of feminine douche products because they affect the balance of vaginal organisms and lead to yeast infections.
Vaginal infections exhibit very similar symptoms but they are caused by different organisms and their treatment varies. It is very easy to misidentify a vaginal infection thus, it is very important that you consults with a doctor before using any kind of treatment. The information provided in this article is not intended by any means to replace the advice of a doctor but rather to enrich your knowledge about yeast infections.
COPYRIGHT: This article is property of We Speak Science, a non profit institution co-founded by Dr. Detina Zalli (Harvard University) and Dr. Argita Zalli (Imperial College London). The article is written by Detina Zalli and Kristjana Frangaj (Cornell University-Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics).
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