Many people confuse vaginal thrush (Candidal albicans), also known as vaginal candidiasis with bacterial vaginosis. Although, they share some similarities in symptoms but these are two different types of vaginal infections that affect women. Before I elaborate on these two vaginal infections, you need to understand what vaginitis is.
Vaginitis is a medical term that is used to describe different types of disorders caused by vaginal infections or inflammation. One of the examples of vaginitis is vulvovaginitis which is caused by the inflammation of both the vulva and the vaginal (the external female genitals).
Vaginitis is caused by organisms such as bacteria, yeast or viruses. These organisms can be spread in the following ways:
- Sex:- This is the most common way organisms are spread. An infected partner can transfer the organisms to the other and after few days or weeks, the symptoms will start manifesting and in some cases might be asymptomatic. The most susceptible people are those with multiple sexual partners or a new sex partner.
- Chemicals:- Some chemicals in soaps, creams and sprays can cause irritation in the vaginal area. These chemicals disrupt the pH (it is the measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution) of the vaginal. When this happens, the normal bacteria that protect the vaginal and maintain the pH value become less effective causing the growth of bad bacteria which will eventually leads to itching, bad odour, bacterial infections etc.
- Douching:- It is the washing or rinsing of the vaginal (vaginal irrigation). Douching can interfere with the vaginal's pH levels causing the reduction in the acidity and disrupting a healthy vaginal biome.
- Vaginal Dryness:- It is common in older women above 50. This is due to change in the body system. As we get older there will be decrease in the production of oestrogen (the primary female sex hormone that is responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics).
- Tight Fitted Clothes:- Normally the pH of the vaginal is 3.8-4.5,when tight fitted clothes come in contact with the vaginal, this can trigger the growth of bad bacterias and when this happens, the acidic level of the pH will be reduced making the vaginal susceptible to some organisms.
- Abuse of Antibiotics:- The misuse of antibiotics has been associated with the disruption of the vaginal pH causing vaginal infections.
Vaginitis is common in adult women, especially women of childbearing age and is uncommon in prepubertal girls. Bacteria vaginosis accounts for 40-50% of vaginitis cases, while vaginal candidiasis 20-25%.
Also known as vaginal thrush is a fungal infection caused by a yeast. Candida exists in small amounts in the gut and is normally kept in check by normal gut bacteria. Yeast infections occur when there is an overgrowth of a fungal organisms (C. Albicans) in your vaginal and also in other moist areas of your body, such as in your mouth, skin folds and nail beds.
The symptoms of Candida albicans are: vaginal itching or irritation, red and swollen vaginal, white and thick discharge that resembles cottage cheese, painful urination, pain during sex, diaper rash.
Since Candida albicans are caused by yeast infections, antifungals creams (Ketoconazole) and medicines (Fluconazole), Oestrogen cream (as a lubricant for dry vaginal) are used for the treatment.
This is the most common cause of vaginitis that results from a change of the normal bacteria found in your vaginal, to overgrowth of the bad bacterias or several other organisms. Lactobacilli are the normal bacteria that are usually found in the vaginal, but when they are outnumbered by other anaerobes (organisms that don't require air or oxygen to live) in your vaginal, they upset the normal bacteria causing bacterial vaginosis.
This usually occurs to those that have multiple sex partners, new sex partner or in women who aren't sexually active.
The symptoms of bacteria vaginosis include:- grayish-white, foul-smelling discharge like a fishy odour, light vaginal bleeding or spotting, vaginal irritation, itching, pain during sex, pain urinating.
Treatments include; oral, topical and suppositories antibiotics, antibacterial creams.
There are some cases where some women have these two infections, then the treatment for this case will be the combination of antibiotics and antifungals drugs and creams. There are some drugs that contain both.
Pregnant women should consult their doctors before self medications because vaginitis can affect the foetus.
The following best practices will help prevent vaginitis:
- Avoid douching
- Practice safe sex
- Use antibiotics when necessary
- Good hygiene, using mild soap to wash the area
- Wearing loose clothing
- Wear cotton under wear
- Always wipe from front to back to avoid spreading bacteria from anus to the vaginal.