When something isn’t feeling quite right down there, it’s easy to jump to conclusions and assume the worst. Googling your symptoms can only lead to increased anxiety, especially with all of the myths you’ll find about vaginal health. (A Google image search of your symptoms can be equally cringe-worthy.)
But the truth is, a lot of vaginal health problems are incredibly treatable and 100% preventable. Also, they are nothing to be ashamed of, as many of them are very common. Here are 5 of the most common vaginal health problems and how you can prevent them.
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% of women. Yeast infections are caused by an imbalance of yeast and bacteria, resulting in an overgrowth of yeast (also known as candida). They are not considered to be a sexually transmitted infection since women who are not sexually active can get them at any time.
If you’ve ever had one, you know they’re not fun: yeast infections cause itching, burning, and sometimes pain during urination. Your doctor will prescribe either a topical or oral anti-fungal medication to clear it up.
So how do you prevent yeast infections? 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 to avoid the build-up of excess moisture down there. Probiotics may also help prevent yeast infections.
2. Vaginal Dryness
Roughly 50-60% of postmenopausal women experience vaginal dryness at some point, making it another common vaginal health problem. Vaginal dryness happens as a result of a decreased level of 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 dryness, sensitivity, itchiness, and pain during sex.
If you want to prevent vaginal dryness (and who doesn’t?) you’ll need to avoid any products with ingredients that could potentially irritate your most sensitive bits, including artificial fragrances and dyes. You should use clean water only to clean your vagina, so ditch the douche if you haven’t already.
Finally, 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 that is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina. 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 will notice a change in their discharge, a strong odor, itching, and burning during urination. Be sure to see your doctor if you notice any of these signs.
As for prevention, bacterial vaginosis can be triggered by irritation. That means you should avoid douching, and only use unscented soaps, tampons, and pads.
4. Non-infectious Vaginitis
If you have non-infectious vaginitis, that means you may have some of the symptoms of other common vaginal health problems, including burning, itching, and sensitivity. But non-infectious vaginitis isn’t caused by an infection, instead, 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 non-infectious vaginitis can be tricky. You’ll want to pay close attention to your symptoms and consider which products could be causing your irritation. Keeping your vagina clean and dry while avoiding excess moisture down there will help reduce the irritation. See your doctor to help rule any other possible causes of irritation.
5. Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
If you’re thinking, “STIs? 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 55-64 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 might have one? The symptoms of many STIs are the same as other vaginal infections: burning, itching, unusual discharge, and pain. Some people won’t have any symptoms at all. The most common STIs in women are HPV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and genital herpes. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are the most common, and your doctor may check for both during a normal check-up. If you suspect you have an STI, see your doctor right away.
Arm yourself with knowledge about the most common vaginal health problem
Any change in your vaginal health can seem alarming, but don’t panic: most vaginal health problems are completely treatable. Just be sure to check with your doctor, as opposed to Google.
To learn more about vaginal health, read our post, Everything You Need to Know About Common Vulvar Skin Conditions.