A friend, who will be anonymously referred to as Lisa Joel, shared her encounter at the hospital and how she was stereotyped as having poor personal hygiene because she had a vaginal infection.
This made her isolate herself whenever she had an infection to avoid being shamed or called out. Several ladies like Ms Joel are stereotyped because of the misconception that vaginal infection is due to poor hygiene.
What is Vaginal Infection?
A vaginal infection is also known as an infection that can cause itching, changes in the colour or amount of discharge or pain during urination.
This common condition can cause irritation, inflammation, discharge, and general comfort of the vagina. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says up to a third of women will develop a vaginal infection at some point.
Vaginal infection is also referred to as Vaginitis or inflammation of the vagina. Some of its symptoms include itching, burning, pain, and a strong odour. It is, however, important to note that a vaginal infection may not always present symptoms.
What are the Causes of Vaginal Infection?
Although people have different misconceptions about the causes of vaginal infection, most people attribute it to poor personal hygiene. This is, however, not the major cause of vaginal infection. Its causes and manifestations are yeast infection, bacteria infection, sexually transmitted disease, and viral infection.
The most common type of Vaginitis, a yeast infection, is caused by one of the many types of fungus known as candida. Viginitis is also known as ulvovaginal candidiasis or vaginal candidiasis. There are many species of yeast or candida. Normally, candida lives harmlessly in the body in small numbers, including in the vagina. But under certain conditions, an overgrowth of candida can occur, causing a vaginal infection. Those conditions might include hormone level changes due to pregnancy, birth control pills or menstruation.
Some other conditions that raise the risk of vaginal yeast infections include having frequent or chronic high blood sugar and having lowered immunity because of a medical condition like HIV or AIDS. Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include a thick, white discharge that some women describe as resembling cottage cheese. Yeast infections also can cause vaginal itching and redness of the vulva (the lips of the external female genital area) and vagina.
Another cause is a bacterial infection. Along with yeast, “friendly” lactobacilli live in the vagina. When lactobacilli are too low, it can trigger bacterial vaginosis. Why bacteria levels change is unknown, but other infection-causing bacteria can replace the normal lactobacilli. Gardnerella is the bacteria most often associated with bacterial vaginosis. It is the lack of lactobacilli and overgrowth of these other bacteria that cause the symptoms of infection. With bacterial vaginosis, a woman may see a thick or whitish discharge or one that is slippery and clear. It is not likely to itch or burn. A fishy odour may be noticeable, especially during intercourse.
- Sexually Transmitted Disease (STI)
Sexually transmitted diseases can also cause vaginal infection. Trichomoniasis is the most common STI that leads to vaginal infection. Commonly called “trich,” it is caused by a single-celled parasite, trichomonas vaginalis, and is passed from partner to partner during intercourse. The symptoms of trichomoniasis are similar to other vaginal infections: burning, irritation, redness, and swelling of the vulva, with a yellow-grey or greenish vaginal discharge, possibly with a fishy odour. Some women also experience pain during urination.
Gonorrhoea is another highly contagious sexually transmitted infection. It often has no symptoms but can cause vaginal discharge, pain during urination, and pain during vaginal sex. Women with gonorrhoea often also have chlamydia, so a woman who tests positive for one of these bacterial infections will often be treated for the other.
Another cause of vaginal infection is viral infection. Viral vaginitis is inflammation caused by a virus, like the herpes simplex virus (HSV) or human papillomavirus (HPV), which spreads through sex. Sores or warts on the genitals can be painful.
- Allergic Reactions
The last is the non-infectious vaginal infection. Noninfectious vaginal infection occurs when the vagina becomes sensitive to irritants, such as scented tampons, perfumed soaps, or fabric softeners. This is not an infection, so the first line of defence is to remove whatever you are reacting to. Sometimes, that may not be enough, and additional treatment, such as steroids, might be the next step. While it’s not always easy to pinpoint the cause, some common offenders include products with dyes or fragrances, such as vaginal sprays and douches, soaps, detergents, and fabric softeners.
- Hormonal Imbalance
Another form of noninfectious vaginitis is called atrophic vaginitis. It typically occurs when female hormone levels decrease around menopause, and the vaginal walls become thinner, drier, and less flexible. Fluctuations in estrogen can lead to an overgrowth of yeast and, eventually, a yeast infection.
How can vaginal infection be treated?
People have opinions on vaginal care and hygiene, but the same idea stands out; natural and synthetic (drugs). These methods have proved very effective but still show some signs of inefficiency when used improperly or too much. Both methods are frequently used and well-established means of curing vaginal infections.
The natural means:
- Greek Yoghurt: A major example of natural means is Greek yoghurt, which contains probiotics because probiotics can be effective against Candida Albicans. Yoghurt can be considered a probiotic because it contains live bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus. These bacteria help promote a healthy environment in your vagina and can help address an overgrowth caused by an imbalance.
Studies suggest that eating yoghurt helps expand your gut microbiome, which can help reduce yeast in your body. If you don’t like yoghurt, you can take a probiotic supplement or try other probiotic foods. When using yoghurt for a yeast infection, opt for plain Greek yoghurt that does not contain any added sugar, flavouring, or fruit because added sugar can fuel the growth of the Candida fungus.
- Clove: This is a versatile spice that adds flavour while also providing numerous health benefits. It is rich in antioxidants and can help regulate blood sugar. It also kills bacteria, making it a treatment option for vaginal infections.
- Essential oregano oil: Oregano isn’t the same as common oregano or Origanum marjoram, which you’ll usually find in your grocery store’s spice section. Search for oregano oil made from wild oregano or Origanum vulgare to ease a yeast infection. Studies suggest oregano essential oil may prove effective for altering the growth of C. Albicans. Mix three to five drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil, such as olive or sweet almond oil. Then, apply it to your skin by massaging or inhaling it using a diffuser. Don’t apply this essential oil near your vagina.
NOTE: Never ingest essential oils. Essential oils are meant to be inhaled as part of aromatherapy or diluted with massage oil to use during massage. They’re also not meant to be used internally but externally.
- Coconut oil: This is a fatty oil derived from the flesh of the coconut. The oil has many health benefits, including antifungal properties. Research suggests coconut oil is effective against Candida Albicans, making this home remedy one of the few with supportive evidence behind it. To treat a vaginal yeast infection using coconut oil, buy pure, organic coconut oil. You can apply the oil directly to the affected area.
Other remedies that may seem natural but are not outright herbs are Boric acid, apple cider vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. These are effective means as well.
Synthetic Means (Drugs)
- Antifungal medications: Antifungal medications treat most vaginal yeast infections. The specific medication depends on the severity of the infection. Antifungal medications work by fighting yeast overgrowth in your body. Medications are either oral (usually given in one dose of fluconazole by mouth) or topical (used daily for up to seven days). You may apply topical medications to your vaginal area or place them inside your vagina (suppository) using an applicator. Some common antifungal medications are miconazole and terconazole. Your healthcare provider will give you information about each form of medication and directions on how to use each one properly. It’s important to always follow your provider’s instructions when using these medications to ensure the infection is fully resolved and doesn’t return. If you’re taking medication for a yeast infection, it is best to avoid sex. Sex can cause more irritation, and certain antifungal medications can weaken the materials used in condoms and diaphragms.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics are used for the treatment of bacterial infections. Metronidazole (Flagyl, Metrogel-Vaginal, others). This medicine comes as a pill or topical gel. You swallow the pill, but the gel is inserted into your vagina. Avoid alcohol while using this medicine and for a full day afterwards. It might cause nausea or stomach pain. Check the instructions on the product. Clindamycin (Cleocin, Clindesse, others). This medicine comes as a cream that you insert into the vagina. Or you can use the pill or suppository form. The cream and suppositories may weaken latex condoms. Avoid sex during treatment and for at least three days after you stop using the medicine. Or use another method of birth control—estrogen creams or tablets to help treat severe vaginal dryness and irritation associated with atrophic vaginitis.
A medical officer at Maitama District Hospital, Hussayn Hussaini, said the causes of vaginal infection are an imbalance of the PH and Sexually transmitted infections. Though rare diabetes, HIV and prolonged use of antibiotics can also lead to vaginal infection. He also added that there is a three per cent chance of poor hygiene being a cause of vaginal infection.
“Some antibiotics may prove ineffective, so knowing the patient’s history is important. There are some cases of drugs worsening the condition, but I believe it to be other factors like wrong prescription or improper use,” he explained.
Although poor personal hygiene can cause vaginal infection, it is not the major cause. Published research and expert comments have shown that poor hygiene is not the major cause of vaginal infection.