The female sexual anatomy consists of the same parts: clitoris, labia, vulva and mons pubis.
But did you know that vaginas vary in physical appearance? Dr. Suzy Elneil of London’s University College Hospital wisely tells us that “vaginas are like people. No two are the same.”
Regardless of how your vagina looks, what’s important is that it’s healthy. As women, vaginal health is a crucial part of total wellness. Vaginal health is influenced by changes in a woman’s hormonal levels, diet, medication or stress.
A healthy vagina is elastic, usually acidic pH and naturally lubricated. Women are expected to have small amounts of discharge, which is the usual way for a healthy vagina to shed vaginal and cervical cells. A normal functioning vagina also has moderate quantities of beneficial bacteria and yeast.
At times, however, your vagina won’t always be in the pink of health (yes, that’s a pun). There may be noticeable changes visible to the eye – it may have unusual discharge, have a few ugly bumps or look reddish in colour. It may have a burning or itchy sensation or even a strong musty scent. Take extra precaution when you experience these, as they may be symptoms of vaginitis, also known as vaginal infection.
What is vaginal infection?
Vaginal infections refer to the inflammation of the vagina. Common vaginal infections are classified into three categories: yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis.
Yeast infection or vaginal candidiasis is a fungal infection that is common among women. It’s likely to occur to you, as three out of four women experience it. Females usually experience at least two episodes during their lifetime.
A small amount of candida albicans – that’ what you call the yeast in your vagina– is harmless. It’s natural. But when you’ve got alarming presence of candida albicans, or yeast overgrowth that triggers yeast infection.
Symptoms of vaginal candidiasis include swelling, rash, and redness of the vulva (vaginal lips), itching and thick odour-free discharge that looks like cottage cheese. When urinating or having intercourse, women with vaginal yeast infection may experience a painful burning sensation.
The normal bacteria flora in the vagina produces lactic acid to make the vagina slightly acidic. This acidity is what prevents bad bacteria from growing in the vagina. When the normal levels of lactobacilli drop, a woman’s vagina becomes less acidic, making it a perfect home to bad bacteria, called gardnerella. When gardnerella flourishes, it leads to bacterial infection, also known as bacterial vaginosis.
Bacterial vaginosis is a common vaginal infection among child-bearing females, ages fifteen to forty-four years. Unlike yeast infection, the vaginal discharge in bacterial vaginosis is slippery, watery and may be greyish or whitish in colour. It also has a strong, unpleasant fishy scent, especially during intercourse.
Trichomoniasis or “trich” is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a protozoan parasite called “trichomonas vaginalis”. The infection is prevalent among men and women who are sexually active. It occurs when the tiny parasite passes from one infected person to another uninfected person during sexual intercourse. This means that when you have unprotected sex with someone infected with trich (even if they don’t have symptoms), you’ll likely get infected too.
Women with trich develop the following symptoms: unusual thick or frothy vaginal discharge which is yellowish-green in colour, foul-smelling discharge, soreness or itching around the vagina and discomfort when urinating or having sex.
Risks of Self-Medication
There are dangers to self-treatment and buying over-the-counter medication in treating vaginal infections. Some pitfalls of self-medication practices include incorrect self-diagnosis of disease, inappropriate use of antibiotics and other antifungal drugs, improper administration or dosage and adverse drug reaction. Delay in seeking professional treatment may also result in complications.
Visit Your Gynaecologist for Proper Diagnosis and Treatment
To avoid misdiagnosis and misuse of medication, it’s best to visit your gynecologist. Seeking medical treatment is highly advisable when it’s your first time to experience these symptoms. Gynaecologists are trained to diagnose vaginal infections and provide effective treatment based on symptoms and causes.