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July 28, 2016

Vaginal yeast infections: Understanding a common ailment

Vaginal yeast infections are a relatively common condition, with two out of three women developing some form of them at one point or another. This comes as no surprise since the vaginal lining is extremely sensitive. It has its own biochemical balance, which can be easily disturbed by any number of factors.

What type of vaginitis is ailing you? 

The term vaginitis refers to any inflammation of the vaginal lining. It typically involves irritation, itching and pain in the vulva or vagina.  It is often, but not always, caused by an infection. There are, in fact, various types. 

Non-infectious vaginitis    

Vaginitis is not always caused by a microbial infection. Here are two types of non-infectious vaginitis.

Irritative vaginitis. Irritative vaginitis has various causes, including sexual activity or the use of scented or irritating products, such as sanitary napkins, soaps, bubble bath, vaginal douches, spermicides and latex condoms.

Atrophic vaginitis. Vaginal atrophy is a condition where the vaginal lining becomes thin and fragile due to reduced estrogen levels in menopausal women. The lining then becomes more sensitive to inflammation. This is known as atrophic vaginitis. 

Infectious vaginitis

Vaginal yeast infections (or candida). Vaginal yeast infections are the ones we hear about most. The majority of cases are caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans, a fungus that lives in the vagina. Yeast infections can be due to the following factors: 

•    A hormonal imbalance (estrogen), during menopause or pregnancy for example 
•    Antibiotics or oral contraceptives 
•    Uncontrolled diabetes 
•    A weakened immune system
•    Poor eating habits  
•    Stress  
•    Fatigue

In other words, when the body is out of balance, the vaginal flora can also follow.

Bacterial vaginosis. Bacterial vaginosis results from an imbalance of the vaginal flora, leading to the proliferation of harmful bacteria (Gardnerella vaginalis) in the vagina. 

Trichomoniasis vaginitis.This type of vaginitis is generally caused by trichomonas vaginalis, a parasite transmitted during unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected partner. 

Yeast infections and their unpleasant symptoms 

Vaginal yeast infections have many telltale signs and symptoms. The most common include:

•    Redness of the vulva or vagina
•    Itching
•    A feeling of burning or irritation
•    Pain during urination or sexual intercourse
•    Whitish, odourless discharge 

Other signs and symptoms may indicate the presence of a vaginal inflammation not caused by a yeast infection:

•    Strong, foul smell
•    Coloured discharge
•    Blood in the urine
•    Fever 

Before treating any type of vaginitis, you need to consult a doctor to find out the exact nature and causes of the ailment. 

How to prevent vaginal yeast infections 

Here are a few tips to help you reduce your risk of developing a vaginal yeast infection:

•    Wear cotton underpants (avoid nylon fabric and G-strings). 
•    Avoid wearing tight clothing or garments made of synthetic fibres. 
•    Carefully clean the vulva and vaginal area with mild soap water. No harsh rubbing. 
•    Do not use irritating or scented products on the vaginal area.
•    Do not use vaginal douches.
•    If you experience vaginal dryness, use vaginal lubricant during sexual intercourse.
•    If you have diabetes, make sure your blood sugar is under control.
•    Take probiotic supplements, since they help prevent infections and preserve the balance of the vaginal flora.  

How to treat vaginal yeast infections 

If you think you have vaginitis, consult your doctor, especially if it is the first time. Only a doctor can determine the specific type of vaginitis you may have. The treatment options and prevention measures recommended will depend on the cause of your vaginitis. 

Women who have had a vaginal yeast infection in the past are usually able to identify its signs and symptoms. In such cases, a doctor’s visit may not be necessary. 

Various treatment options are available for vaginal yeast infections. 

There are vaginal creams, tablets or ovules available over the counter. The most common medicines in these formulas are clotrimazole and miconazole, two anti-fungal agents. Oral fluconazole is another non-prescription option available. It’s kept behind the prescription counter, so you’ll need to ask your pharmacist for it. 

Your pharmacist can give you all the information you need on the treatment options available to you and advise you on the one that will suit you best. He or she can also explain how to use the product to make sure your infection clears up as soon as possible. 

Unless you are having a relapse, it is best to seek medical attention before using these products. In the case of repeated infections, it is important to find the underlying cause and avoid such triggers as much as possible.

Pharmacy services

Do you think you have a vaginal yeast infection? You can always ask your family pharmacists for advice. They can prescribe medications for certain minor health problems, including vaginal yeast infections, when the treatment and diagnosis are already known. A consultation will be required so the pharmacist can make sure you meet the prescribing criteria.

To avail yourself of this service, you may need to book an appointment with your family pharmacist. Ask a member of the pharmacy team for more details. Some Uniprix-affiliated pharmacies also offer an online appointment booking service. To locate the store nearest you providing this service, click here

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