Ladies, if you’re walking around feeling extremely uncomfortable because of an itch “downstairs,” well don’t worry, because you’re not alone; nearly 75 percent of women experience a vaginal yeast infection. According to several gynaecologists, yeast infections are among the most common forms of infection of the female genitalia. Here’s what you should know.
“Yeast infections can be extremely uncomfortable and cause severe itching. Women need to know that it is a common problem that millions of women experience. Many times, the onset of a yeast infection has a lot to do with a woman’s immune status or is the result of hormonal changes,” explains Dr Bhawana Mishra, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist from Motherhood Hospital in Bengaluru’s Banashankari area.
The vaginal physiology is comprised of natural pathogenic reservoirs which help maintain an acidic pH in the environment. This aids in keeping invading pathogens out of the body and also ensures that your vagina and vulva are healthy. However, in some instances when the growth of these organisms is too much, it can result in an infection. A yeast infection or candidiasis, occurs when there is excess proliferation and growth of a fungus from the Candida family, usually Candida albicans.
The vaginal environment is usually maintained at an acidic pH, which keeps it clean and healthy. In some instances, if there is a disturbance to the pH balance, it may end up creating the optimal environment for the commensal organisms (ones which are normally present in the body but do not usually cause harm) to grow in excess and cause an infection.
“Some women may also additionally experience a minor infection between their period cycles as a result of the hormonal shifts which take place in the body,” adds the doctor, “many women will also present with such infections during pregnancy, for which they need to be treated accordingly.”
What are the symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection and how can this be treated?
Often times women will notice a curdy white discharge, which may cause intense itching. The itching in turn can lead to scratching and breaking of the skin barrier, which may worsen the infection. There may also be redness and swelling of the outer areas of the genital areas. Additionally, many women complain of pain or a burning sensation when passing urine, while several others experience intense discomfort following sexual intercourse.
Maintaining basic hygiene and not using harsh soaps in the genital region, will help keep the area generally healthy. However, in the event of excess or foul smelling discharge, it is advisable to visit the gynaecologist for a thorough check up.
“An examination of the region will help us determine why the infection is occurring. In some cases, a local examination will allow us to infer whether the infection is due to a bacteria based on the appearance and odour,” explains Dr Bhawani.
If necessary, the doctor may do a pap smear test and may also collect samples to send for lab testing to determine the exact organism which is causing the infection.
“We generally give the woman an oral antifungal tablet along with a cream to apply to the affected region,” she adds. In extremely severe cases the doctor may opt to insert a pessary, a small block which will deliver the medication in the local region, thereby ensuring that the medication is released in the affected area.
What are some protective measures you can take?
It is advised to avoid wearing tight clothing and underwear and to opt for loose fitting, cotton clothes alternatively. Do not apply talcum powder or other fragrant substances to the genital region directly. Change out of swimsuits and gym clothes as soon as possible, as sweat and friction can cause the condition to worsen. Doctors also advise against any sexual contact as this may also aggravate the infection.
As an added measure, they may also want you to get some basic blood work done, including getting your sugar levels checked, as undetected diabetes may sometimes cause such infections to flare up. In the event that the infection remains persistent, the doctor may also look into the possibility of any immune system disorder (autoimmune disorder) which may be causing the body to attack itself.