Yeast Infection / Vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina that can cause a discharge, itching or pain. The cause is usually a change in the normal balance of vaginal bacteria or an infection. Vaginitis can also result from reduced estrogen levels after menopause.
The most common types of vaginitis are:
- Bacterial vaginosis.
This type results from overgrowth of one of several organisms that are normally present in your vagina, upsetting the natural balance of vaginal bacteria. Nearly one in six pregnant women in the United States have bacterial vaginosis, though many aren’t aware of it.
- Yeast infections. A naturally occurring fungus called Candida albicans causes this type of vaginitis. An estimated three out of four women will have a yeast infection at least once before they reach menopause.
This type is caused by a parasite and is commonly transmitted by sexual intercourse. It affects five million Americans annually.
- Atrophic vaginitis.
This type results from reduced estrogen levels after menopause. The vaginal tissues become thinner and drier, which sometimes leads to itching, burning or pain.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of vaginitis may include:
- Change in color, odor or amount of discharge from your vagina
- Vaginal itching or irritation
- Pain during intercourse
- Painful urination
- Light vaginal bleeding
Additionally, you may have these signs and symptoms depending on the type of vaginitis:
- Bacterial vaginosis.
You may develop a grayish-white, foul-smelling discharge. The odor, often described as fish-like, may be more obvious after sexual intercourse.
- Yeast infections.
The main symptom is itching, but you may have a white, thick, discharge that resembles cottage cheese.
This infection can cause a greenish-yellow, sometimes-frothy discharge.
The cause depends on the type of vaginitis you have.
Bacterial vaginosis results from an overgrowth of one of several organisms that are normally present in your vagina. Usually, “good” bacteria outnumber “bad” bacteria in your vagina. But if bad bacteria become too numerous, they upset the balance and bacterial vaginosis results. This type of vaginitis can spread during sexual intercourse, but it also occurs in people who aren’t sexually active. Women with new or multiple sex partners, as well as women who douche or use an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control, have a higher risk of bacterial vaginosis.
Occur when certain internal or external factors change the normal environment of your vagina and trigger an overgrowth of a microscopic fungus called Candida albicans, not considered a sexually transmitted disease. Besides causing most vaginal yeast infections, Candida albicans also causes infections in other moist areas of your body, such as your mouth (thrush), skin folds and fingernail beds. The fungi can also cause diaper rash.
Factors that increase your risk of Candida albicans include:
- Medications such as antibiotics and steroids
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Hormonal changes, such as those associated with pregnancy and birth control pills
Bubble baths, vaginal contraceptives, damp or tight-fitting clothing and feminine hygiene products such as sprays and deodorants don’t cause Candida albicans, but they may increase your susceptibility to infection.
Trichomoniasis is a common, sexually transmitted disease caused by a microscopic, one-celled parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. The organism spreads during sexual intercourse with someone who already has the infection. The organism usually infects the urinary tract in men, but often causes no symptoms in men. Trichomoniasis typically infects the vagina in women.
Vaginal sprays, douches, perfumed soaps, scented detergents and spermicidal products may cause an allergic reaction or irritate the delicate skin around your vagina. Vaginal itching and burning also can result from vaginal dryness caused by a drop in your hormone levels after menopause or surgical removal of your ovaries.
Good hygiene may prevent some types of vaginitis from recurring and may relieve some symptoms:
- Rinse soap from your outer genital area after a bath or shower, and dry the area well to prevent irritation. Avoid other irritants such as scented tampons or pads.
- Wipe from front to back after using the toilet to avoid spreading bacteria to your vagina.
Other things that may help prevent vaginitis include:
- Don’t douche. The vagina doesn’t require cleansing other than normal bathing. Repetitive douching disrupts the normal organisms that live in the vagina and can actually increase the risk of vaginal infection. Douching won’t clear up a vaginal infection.
- Use a condom to avoid infections spread by sexual contact.
- Wear cotton underwear and pantyhose with a cotton crotch. Don’t wear underwear to bed. Yeast thrives in moist environments.
- Eating yogurt that contains active lactobacillus cultures may help reduce recurrent vaginal infections. Lactobacillus is a type of “good” bacteria that’s common in your vagina.
Infection Treatment & Alternative Medicine
The type of medication used to treat vaginitis, depends on which type you have:
- Bacterial vaginosis. For this type of vaginitis, metronidazole (Flagyl, MetroGel) or clindamycin (Cleocin) as pills or vaginal creams may be prescribed.
- Yeast infections. Usually are treated with an antifungal cream or suppository, such as miconazole (Monistat, Vagistat 3) and clotrimazole (Gyne-Lotrimin). May also be treated with an oral antifungal medication, such as fluconazole (Diflucan). The advantages of over-the-counter treatment for a yeast infection are convenience, cost and not having to wait to see your doctor. The catch is you may be treating something other than a yeast infection. It’s possible to mistake a yeast infection for other types of vaginitis or other conditions, which need to be treated differently. Using the wrong medicine may delay a proper diagnosis and lead to complications.
- Trichomoniasis. Your doctor may prescribe metronidazole tablets (Flagyl) to lesson yeast infection symptoms.
- Atrophic vaginitis. Estrogen, in the form of vaginal creams, tablets or rings, can effectively treat atrophic vaginitis. This treatment is available by prescription from your doctor.
- Noninfectious vaginitis. To treat this type of vaginitis, you need to pinpoint the source of the irritation and avoid it. Likely sources include new soap, laundry detergent, sanitary napkins or tampons. Though these may seem nominal these changes may assist infection irritation.
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