Female Hygiene 101
Many women have been affected by a vaginal infection at one point or another in their lives. For some, recurrence is a problem. There are numerous factors that can play a role in the development of vaginal infections. The fact that the vagina is a warm, moist organ requiring a delicate balance of certain environmental factors and that it is closely situated to the anus makes it prone to infections. Vaginal infections are usually manifested by itching, burning, malodor, and/or abnormal discharges. Symptoms may range from mild discomfort to symptoms severe enough to hamper one’s lifestyle or daily routine. For some women, symptoms could be a source of embarrassment and disruption of intimacy with their sexual partners.
While the vagina may be prone to infections, practicing these simple tips could significantly reduce your risk of getting a vaginal infection:
- Wear 100% cotton panties. Cotton allows the genital area to breath and helps the vaginal area stay dry. It’s also a good idea to wear panties only during the day and not at night when you are sleeping.
- Use cotton tampons instead of synthetic fiber tampons if you prefer tampons over pads. Superabsorbent tampons and those left in more than 12 hours will stop natural drainage and encourage bacterial growth. Another idea: Use pads at night and tampons during the day.
- Don’t use vaginal douches.
- Don’t use petroleum jelly or oils for vaginal lubrication. This can create a good breeding ground for bacteria to grow.
- Avoid contact of vagina/vulva to products that can cause irritation such as feminine hygiene products, perfumed or deodorant soaps, powders, lotions, and bubble baths. Some women have very sensitive vaginal/vulvar areas that using a hypo-allergenic laundry detergent is advisable.
- Use plain white, unscented toilet paper. Dye is another chemical with chafing potential.
- Avoid prolonged wearing of tight-fitting clothing such as pantyhose, bathing suits, exercise wear, jeans or pants.
- Avoid scratching. Oftentimes, vaginal infections can cause intense itching–scratching infected areas could make the inflammation worse.
- Always use condoms during sexual intercourse unless you are in a long-term, monogamous relationship.
- If you are being treated for a vaginal infection, use all the medication as directed even if you think you are better.
- If your period starts while you are using vaginal creams or suppositories, continue your regular medication schedule during your period and don’t use tampons–use pads instead.
- Don’t have sexual intercourse during treatment for a vaginal infection and until you have no more symptoms. Intercourse can further irritate the inflammation. Also, your infection (yeast for example) can spread to your partner, who may reinfect you later.
- Always wipe from front to back after urination or having a bowel movement. Improper wiping easily spreads bacteria to the vagina and urethra and may lead to vaginal infection and/or urinary tract infection (UTI).
- If you are self-treating a vaginal infection and your symptoms are not improved with treatment, see your doctor for a vaginal exam. Don’t use any vaginal products or treatments for 48 hours before your appointment.
- Good basic hygiene, plenty of sleep, and well-balanced nutrition with an appropriate fluid intake are always good idea for vaginal health, as well as for your overall health and well-being.
Doctors often take a culture or examine vaginal discharge under a microscope because not all vaginal infections or discharges are caused by relatively harmless microorganisms. Anything from a forgotten tampon to a sexually transmitted disease to life-threatening pelvic inflammatory disease can cause similar symptoms: itching and an abnormal discharge. While the chance of a life-threatening diagnosis is unlikely in the setting of symptoms limited to solely itching and abnormal discharge, it is always a good idea to get a professional diagnosis when symptoms arise and especially if they persist.