When your vagina isn’t feeling quite right, it’s easy to assume the worst. Googling your symptoms can lead to increased anxiety, and a Google image search may cause you to cringe. But a lot of common vaginal health problems are easily prevented or treated.
1. Yeast Infections
There’s a good chance that if you have a vagina, you’ll have a yeast infection at some point in your life. They affect 75 percent of women. Yeast infections are caused by an imbalance of yeast and bacteria, resulting in an overgrowth of yeast (also known as candida). They’re not considered a sexually transmitted infection, since women who are not sexually active get them.
If you’ve ever had one, you know they’re not fun. Yeast infections cause itching, burning, and sometimes painful urination. Your doctor will prescribe either a topical or oral antifungal to clear it up.
To prevent a yeast infection? Wear breathable, cotton underwear to keep the area around your vagina dry. Be sure to change your clothes as soon as you can after exercising or swimming. Probiotics may also help prevent yeast infections.
Roughly 50 percent of postmenopausal women experience vaginal dryness as a result of decreased estrogen. As estrogen levels drop, so does your vagina’s ability to maintain moisture and elasticity. If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness, you may feel sensitivity, itchiness, and pain during sex.
To prevent vaginal dryness, avoid products with ingredients that could potentially irritate your most sensitive bits, including artificial fragrances and dyes. Use water only to clean your vagina — not soap.
To treat vaginal dryness, choose a high-quality, water-based vaginal moisturizer with hyaluronic acid. Use it as much as you need to throughout the day to restore moisture.
3. Bacterial Vaginosis
Like yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis is another vaginal health problem caused by an overgrowth of bacteria. While it’s most common in women during their reproductive years, it can strike at any age. Some women who develop bacterial vaginosis will have no symptoms, but others notice a change in their discharge, a strong odor, itching, and burning during urination. Be sure to see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
Since bacterial vaginosis can be triggered by irritation, avoid douching and only use unscented soaps, tampons, and pads.
4. Noninfectious Vaginitis
If you have noninfectious vaginitis, that means you may have some of the symptoms of other common vaginal health problems, including burning, itching, and sensitivity. But noninfectious vaginitis isn’t caused by an infection; it’s an allergic reaction to products like douches, soaps, fabric softeners, detergents, spermicides, or vaginal sprays. It can be triggered by the decrease in estrogen as a result of menopause as well.
Treating noninfectious vaginitis can be tricky. Pay close attention to your symptoms and consider which products could be causing irritation. Keeping your vagina clean and dry will help reduce irritation. See your doctor if your condition persists.
5. Sexually Transmitted Infections
If you’re thinking, “An STI? At my age?!” here is something you should know: STIs are on the rise for all age groups, including older adults. In fact, chlamydia doubled in people ages 55 to 64 between 2012 and 2016. And because older adults are less likely to suspect that they have an STI, they’re less likely to get screened.
So how do you know if you have one? The symptoms of many STIs are the same as other vaginal infections: burning, itching, unusual discharge, and pain, though some people won’t have any symptoms. The most common STIs in women are HPV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and genital herpes. Your doctor can do an STI screening at your normal check-up, but if you suspect you have an STI, see a physician right away.
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