The vagina is an elastic, muscular canal about 3 to 6 inches long which connects the cervix, lower part of the uterus to the outside of the female body. The vulva and labia form the entrance of the vaginal opening. It is also known as the birth canal in women who have given birth vaginally.
Vaginal health is an important part in a woman’s overall health. Vaginal problems have led to fertility issues as well as relationship problems - low libido and self-esteem issues. Generally, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as walking, running and having a healthy diet helps maintain a healthy vagina.
Various factors can affect the health of the vagina. Unprotected sexual intercourse can result in various forms of sexually transmitted diseases, whereas forceful or violent sex can lead to pelvic floor injury or trauma. Vaginal tears or laceration are common during childbirth. The muscles of the vagina lose its tone after a vaginal delivery. Hormonal changes can also affect the health of the vagina. During menopause and during breastfeeding, the hormone oestrogen is low, causing the vagina to experience vaginal dryness and/or vaginal wall to be thin, causing painful intercourse. Certain medical conditions that require prolonged usage of antibiotics causes an increased risk of yeast infection. Excessive vaginal douching can also lead to a change in the vaginal flora, thereby increases the risk of vaginal issues.
Function Of The Vagina
During vaginal sexual intercourse, a man's penis is inserted into the vagina. The vagina serves as a passageway for a man's sperm to reach a woman's egg, which can result in pregnancy.
When a woman is aroused, the vagina expands, and its walls lubricate to reduce friction. The nerve endings near the entrance of the vagina may provide pleasure during sexual activity.
The vagina also acts as the route for delivering a baby — known as the birth canal — and for the exit of menstrual blood from the body.
What Is Vaginal Infection?
Most common issues affecting women of any age group would be an abnormal vaginal discharge or vaginal irritation.
Vaginal infection or vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina that creates discharge, odour, irritation, or itching. It is difficult to diagnose because vaginitis has many causes. Women use a variety of over the counter medications to treat the itching, discharge, and discomfort of these conditions.
What Causes Vaginal Infection?
The vagina creates its own environment and maintains a balance among the normal bacteria found there and the hormonal changes in a woman's body. Some vaginal discharge is quite common and normal for women of childbearing age. Normally, the cervical glands produce a clear mucous secretion that drains downward, mixing with bacteria, discarded vaginal cells, and Bartholin gland secretions at the opening of the vagina. These substances may (depending on how much mucous there is) turn the mucous a whitish colour, and the discharge turns yellowish when exposed to air. There are times throughout the menstrual cycle that the cervical glands produce more mucous than usual, depending on the amount of oestrogen produced. This is normal.
Vaginitis occurs when the vaginal ecosystem has been changed by:
- Certain medications such as antibiotics, hormones, contraceptive preparations (oral and topical)
- Vaginal medication
- Sexual intercourse
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Change in sexual partners
Some vaginal infections are transmitted through sexual contact, but others such as yeast infections probably are not.
Vaginitis means inflammation and is often caused by infections but may be due to hormonal changes (especially when a woman is going through menopause).
What Are The Symptoms Of Vaginal Infection?
- Vaginal pain
- Vaginal itching
- Vaginal burning
- A foul odour from your vagina
- Painful urination
- Any vaginal discharge that is different from your normal discharges such as thick and white, cottage cheese-like, or yellowish-green
If you suspect you have a vaginal infection, contact your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
When To Visit Your Gynaecologist
- A change in the colour, odour or amount of vaginal discharge
- Vaginal bleeding between periods, after sex or after menopause
- A mass or bulge in your vagina
- Pain during intercourse
- Vaginal burning or pain
- Green or yellow vaginal discharge
- Thick vaginal discharge that resembles cottage cheese
- Vaginal discharge that smells bad
- Persistent vaginal itching
- Or any concerns about your vaginal health
Never douche before you visit your doctor!!
Some Common Vaginal Infection.
- Trichomoniasis is caused by a flagellated protozoan, Trichomonas vaginalis. It is always sexually transmitted.
- Bacterial vaginosis is the most common cause of vaginitis and vaginal discharge.
- Vulvovaginal candidiasis is caused by overgrowth of yeasts where 70-90% of cases are secondary to Candida albicans.
Prevention (Dos and Don'ts)
DO: Wash Your vagina Once a day, using luke warm water.
DO: Wipe Yourself from Front to Back. It is very easy to transfer bacteria from anus to the vagina when wiping from back to front.
DO: Whether you choose to shave or wax, always make sure to hydrate your skin prior to the procedure, and apply a natural soothing product to the area in order to prevent skin irritation.
DO: Pat instead of rubbing. After showering, use a soft clean towel and pat your pubic area gently to dry it completely.
DON’T: Use any products containing irritants or allergens.
DON’T: Use Soap. Soap is highly alkaline and very aggressive for gentle, sensitive skin of the vagina.
DON’T: Wear synthetic, tight underwear. Synthetic fabrics don’t allow the skin to breath. Tight garments create friction, which can cause micro tears in the skin.
DON’T: Use fragrance or deodorant to make your vagina smell better. Every vagina has a unique smell, and unless there is a problem, it shouldn’t smell bad. A strong odour can be a sign of infection.
DON’T: Spend a whole day wearing the same panty liner. Panty liners are not intended to be used for prolonged periods of time. The same goes for sanitary pads and tampons, especially due to the menstrual blood that stays in close contact with the skin. Always change your panty liners, pads and tampons every 3 to 4 hours, right before going to bed and as soon as you get up.
DON’T: Stay too long in wet clothes / swim wear
DON’T: Douche the vagina
What Women Should Know About Vaginal Douches
A vaginal douche is a process of rinsing or cleaning the vagina by forcing water or another solution into the vaginal cavity to flush away vaginal discharge or other contents. Vaginal douches are available over the counter and are made in a variety of fragrances by several manufacturers; they are also available by prescription to treat certain conditions or prepare for certain procedures.
Why Do Some Women Use Vaginal Douches?
Women choose to use douches for a variety of reasons. Many of these are related to myths or misinformation about what vaginal douches can do.
A woman may use a douche to:
- Rinse away any remaining menstrual blood at the end of the monthly period. This is not necessary since the body will clean itself.
- Avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases following sexual intercourse. However, it is important to note that douching is neither a contraceptive nor a preventative measure against STDs or other infections. It can, in fact, increase the risk of developing an infection.
- Reduce vaginal odours. Women who have an unusual vaginal odour needs to see their clinician for proper diagnosis since extreme odour may be a sign of an infection or other serious problems. Using a douche may only complicate the condition.
- Feel "cleaner." The vagina cleans itself so vaginal douches are not necessary for hygiene.
Is Douching Healthy?
Regular vaginal douching changes the delicate chemical balance of the vagina and can make a woman more susceptible to infections. Douching can introduce new bacteria into the vagina which can spread up through the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes, leading to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). Women who douche regularly experience more vaginal irritations and infections such as bacterial vaginosis, and an increased number of sexually transmitted diseases.
Furthermore, regular users of vaginal douches face a significantly higher risk of developing Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) -- a chronic condition that can lead to infertility, or even death, if left untreated. Bacterial vaginosis and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) can have serious adverse effects on pregnancy including infections in the baby, labour problems, and preterm delivery.
Patients with bacterial vaginosis should avoid vaginal douching, use of shower gel and antiseptic agents or shampoo. Patients with vulvovaginal candidiasis should avoid tight fitting synthetic clothes and the use of vaginal douching.
Therefore, douching is no longer recommended as a safe or healthy way to routinely clean the vagina. The only safe and healthy way to clean the vagina is to let the vagina clean itself.
How Does The Vagina Clean Itself?
The vagina cleans itself naturally with its own mucous secretions. When bathing or showering, use warm water and gentle unscented soap to cleanse the outer areas of the vagina. Feminine hygiene products such as soaps, powders, and sprays are not necessary and may lead to irritation of sensitive tissues.
How To Maintain A Healthy Vagina?
Regular check-ups and cervical screening with your Gynaecologist, can help diagnose vaginal problems earlier, prevent, as well as provide early treatment of cervical cancer. Discuss with your doctor about any vaginal discomfort or discharge, however minor.
Vaccination against HPV as well as Hepatitis B infection can reduce the risk of cervical cancer and liver infection respectively.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, limiting the amount of alcohol, and doing regular Kegel’s exercise are some ways ensure vaginal health. Kegel’s exercise can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, preventing vaginal prolapse.
It is important to keep in mind that the skin covering the vaginal area is thin and very delicate. Any sort of harsh treatment, such as over-washing, rubbing, friction or strong detergents can cause irritation and infection.