Keeping the vagina healthy is crucial for a woman’s overall wellness. However, bad habits and choices can cause this body part to become unhealthy, making it prone to infections that come with uncomfortable symptoms and severe disorders.
Some of the common types of vaginal infections women can develop because of unhealthy and incorrect habits or practices are:
● Yeast infection
This type of infection is caused by the overgrowth of candida, a specific variety of yeast, in the vagina. This overgrowth can be caused by changes in hormonal levels due to pregnancy, use of birth control pills, menstruation, and chronic or frequent high blood sugar levels.
Symptoms of a yeast infection include thick and white discharges, vaginal itching, and redness of the vulva or the external female genital area.
● Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
Lactobacillus species, which are called the good bacteria, also live in the vagina. When their number gets too low and bad bacteria outnumber them, it can lead to bacterial vaginosis.
Common symptoms of BV include discharges that are thick or whitish or slippery and clear with a fishy odour.
Trichomoniasis or trichomonas vaginitis is a sexually transmitted infection. It is caused by a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis and passed from partner to partner during intercourse.
Common symptoms of trichomoniasis include yellow-grey or greenish vaginal discharges, burning sensations, irritation, redness, and swelling of the vulva.
When these problems recur, specialists in gynaecological oncology say that they can cause chronic pain in the vaginal area.
Additionally, these conditions can have an impact on one’s self-esteem and affect relationships.
Improving and Maintaining Vaginal Health
Keeping these infections at bay depends greatly on maintaining good vaginal health. Below are six tips for doing so:
1. Follow a healthy diet.
A balanced diet is crucial to one’s overall wellness. It also plays a vital role in experiencing optimum vaginal and reproductive health.
Because of this reason, eat more foods rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and probiotics.
Doing so can help balance vaginal pH, lower risks for infections, and even ease premenstrual symptoms or PMS.
Fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients and antioxidants. As such, they should be part of every woman’s daily diet.
On the other hand, probiotics and fibre can be found in fermented foods like yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and tempeh.
Specialists may also recommend probiotic supplements geared towards improving vaginal health. These can be taken orally or used as suppositories.
Drinking water regularly is also a must for better vaginal health. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water every day to get the most benefits from this practice.
2. Do pelvic floor strengthening exercises.
The pelvic floor is made of tissues, muscles, and ligaments that support the organs in the pelvis, including the bladder, cervix, uterus, and vagina.
The pelvic floor usually becomes weaker during pregnancy and after vaginal delivery. This condition can make new mums susceptible to a lowering of the organs in the pelvic area, and urinary and gastrointestinal dysfunctions.
However, there are certain exercises that can strengthen the pelvic floor and keep it toned.
These include Kegel exercises, which help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and lower the strain on pelvic organs. Kegels improve bladder and bowel function as well.
Squats, glute bridges, posterior pelvic tilts, and similar exercises also help strengthen the pelvic floor.
3. Practise good hygiene.
Good hygiene goes a long way in maintaining vaginal health.
Here are some best hygiene practices for protecting vaginal health:
- Wipe from front to back to avoid bacterial spread after each bowel movement. This habit can help reduce the risk of bladder infection.
- Change sanitary pads and tampons frequently throughout the day. Avoid using the same one for several hours.
- When washing, use unscented soap and water as much as possible. Scented soap and vaginal washes contain chemicals that may irritate the vagina.
- Change underwear when it becomes moist due to vaginal discharge. This reduces the likelihood of infections and discomfort.
4. Wear the right underwear and clothes.
Certain types of outfits and fabrics can create warm, moist conditions in the vagina, which can encourage the growth of yeast and increase your risk of developing infections.
Start by wearing cotton underwear all or most of the time. Cotton allows the vaginal area to breathe, making it the ideal and healthier underclothing material.
Additionally, this type of fibre has moisture-wicking properties that limit the amount of wetness that can encourage bacterial growth.
When possible, opt for plain white cotton undies that are not too tight since dyes in clothing can also irritate the sensitive tissue in the vagina.
Avoid wearing thongs and minimise the use of tight-fitting pants since they can make the vaginal area warm and moist even under normal conditions.
5. Avoid overusing antibiotics.
The unnecessary or overuse of antibiotics can significantly impact vaginal health since these medicines kill both good and bad bacteria in the body. This, in turn, can change the balance of flora in the vagina, causing yeast and other infections to develop.
As such, take antibiotics only when prescribed by a specialist. Avoid using it as a preventative treatment and buying it without advice and prescription by a medical practitioner.
Also, while on an antibiotic treatment course, it is best to consume more food or take supplements rich in probiotics to help maintain vaginal flora balance.
6. Know when to see a specialist.
Although it is possible to go the DIY route to treat yeast infections, there will be instances this won’t work all the time.
If the symptoms don’t go away after implementing DIY treatment, or they keep coming back throughout the year, the best course of action is to see a specialist immediately.
Certain symptoms also warrant an immediate visit to a doctor.
Examples of these symptoms are:
- Sudden or abnormal bleeding
- A mass or lump in the vaginal area
- Vaginal infection symptoms with fever or abdominal pain
- Bladder leakage
- Frequent itching not caused by an infection
- Heavy menstrual periods with severe pelvic pain and vomiting (symptoms often associated with endometriosis – a condition in which tissues similar to the uterine lining grow in other parts of the body)
Pregnant women also need to see their obstetrician-gynaecologist immediately if they experience any of the above symptoms and vaginal infection-related problems.
Maintaining good vaginal health is never a one-step process. It involves developing healthy habits and consulting a specialist regularly to take care of this sensitive body part.