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What’s up with my vagina?

 
A candid introduction to vaginal infections for moms and their daughters.
By Leanda C. Retief

Pic: Shutterstock

Article originally in Parent24
So you recently noticed an irritating itchiness down there and you have probably heard about a vaginal infection. Vaginal infections are a reality for any female and affect both the young and old. The causes, symptoms, treatment and precautions stay the same no matter what the age – so it is important that you know about vaginal infections for yourself, or for your daughters.

What are vaginal infections?

Women usually get one of two types of vaginal infections. The first one is called a bacterial vaginal infection or bacterial vaginosis and it is caused by an overgrowth of normal bacteria in the vagina. The main symptom is a thin, white vaginal discharge; usually foul or fishy smelling. It usually does not cause itchiness and is not really that common. It is treated with simple antibiotics.

The most common vaginal infection, however, is a vaginal thrush infection – also called vaginal candidiasis. This is caused by a very common and opportunistic type of fungus called Candida albicans. Candida is normally lives in the mucus membranes in your body, for instance the mouth, eyes, ears, sinuses, digestive tract and vagina. Sometimes it starts multiplying out of control, and that cause overgrowth with leads to candidiasis.

What causes candidiasis?

There are many reasons why candida can overgrow in a woman’s body. Candida is really just an attack on the body’s immune system, so anything that compromises the immune system, has the possibility to cause candidiasis. One of the most common triggers is the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics destroy the “good bacteria” in the body that also controls the growth of candida. Hormone fluctuations are another common cause, therefore this condition is very common during pregnancy or when taking birth control pills, and why candida is so common in menopausal women. Diabetics or woman who suffers from pre-diabetes also tends to get this kind of infection more often, because candida just loves sugar.

Signs and symptoms of candidiasis

You will probably know when you have candidiasis. The first and foremost symptom is usually itching – and it can be quite severe as well. Small girls may not always be able to tell that it is itchy down there, but you will see them scratching or touching their genitals. The itching is usually accompanied by an abnormal vaginal discharge – usually white and quite thick. The discharge can be odourless, but sometimes can smell like yeast or bread. Most often the vulva (folds of skin outside the vagina) will be red as well.

Treatment options

Treatment is usually centred around the symptoms, but not really the cause. There are oral and topical options. Oral treatments include anti-fungal medications such as flucanazole, while topical medications include over-the-counter antifungal creams or suppositories (e.g. Medaspor or Canesten) which you apply to the genital area and in the vagina. Never use antibiotics to treat candidiasis – it will make the problem even worse.

Precaution is better than cure

Because candidiasis usually has some kind of trigger, there are a few things that you can do to reduce your chances of getting this irritating condition:
  • Watch what you eat. Candida loves sugar, so try to limit the intake of sugar and carbohydrates. And do not think that artificial sweeteners are safe – the only sweeteners allowed on a candida diet are Stevia or Xylitol.
  • If you get candidiasis frequently, you can try to follow a “candida diet” – it is a strict diet limiting all carbohydrates and sugar, foods containing yeast or other fungi such as beer, mushrooms, bread, coffee, cheese and alcohol. What the diet does is starve the candida from the foods that it usually feeds off, thus killing it in the process.
  • Always take a good probiotic when you are taking antibiotics. In fact, if you get candidiasis frequently, you might want to consider taking one every day. Also try to eat some yoghurt regularly – the cultures in yoghurt is excellent for candida. (Actually, yoghurt is so good, that one of the home remedies for itchiness is to apply some cold yoghurt to your genital area if you do not have anything else at hand.)
  • You can also try supplements: Garlic apparently has anti-fungal properties, but also boost the immune system. Vitamin C (minimum of 2000mg per day), grapeseed extract, coconut oil and Omega 3 and 6.
  • Check your blood sugar regularly. Candidiasis is a problem in diabetics and people whose blood sugar is not under control.
  • Relax more often – stress attacks your immune system and makes you more susceptible for candida overgrowth.
Do you have any tips on managing vaginal infections?

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