In this Article:01: What are the most common vaginal infections?02: What you need to know about bacterial vaginosis03: What you need to know about thrush04: Tips and advice for vaginal care and hygiene
What are the most common vaginal infections?
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common bacterial infection thought to affect approximately 1 in 3 women of childbearing age.
Thrush is a fungal infection that 75% of women are estimated to experience at least once in their lives.
What you need to know about bacterial vaginosis
Our vaginas have a delicate pH balance that tends to be slightly acidic (a normal range is between 3.8 and 5.0). When this balance is disturbed, bacteria can multiply and lead to an infection. You’re more likely to develop BV if you’re sexually active, have a change of intimate partner, have a contraceptive device fitted, or use strongly perfumed products around your genital area.
Although BV isn’t considered serious, it can cause unpleasant symptoms like strong-smelling discharge. You may also notice a change in colour or consistency of your discharge such as a watery, whitish grey. BV is also thought to increase your likelihood of developing a sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia.
Treatment for BV includes gels, creams, and in some cases antibiotics that will be prescribed by a GP or sexual health practitioner. Some gels and creams are available to purchase over the counter. If you’ve not used these before or are unsure whether you have BV, speak to a pharmacist before choosing your treatment. Recurring infections (4 or more in a year) might need a longer course of treatment. Consult your GP or visit your local sexual health clinic to chat to a specialist if this is the case. You should also tell your midwife or GP if you’re pregnant and think you may have BV.
What you need to know about thrush
Thrush is a fungal infection that can occur in response to certain changes in the body. The Candida fungus usually lives harmlessly in the genital area, but it can multiply and grow when bacteria levels change, causing thrush. Pregnant women often experience thrush, particularly towards the end of a pregnancy as the body changes. Taking antibiotics or experiencing high stress levels can also increase the chances of contracting thrush.
Symptoms of thrush include thick, sometimes lumpy, white discharge that tends to be odourless, itching and redness around the vagina, and tenderness or stinging during sex or when you go to the toilet.
Thrush treatment is usually quite straightforward, with over-the-counter creams or combinations of a cream and tablet or pessary (treatment inserted in the vagina). If you think you have thrush for the first time, or you contract it during pregnancy, speak to your pharmacist who can advise on the best treatment or signpost you to your GP.
Tips and advice for vaginal care and hygiene
While vaginal infections are common among women and are nothing to be embarrassed about, there are steps you can take to promote good vaginal health and help prevent the development of thrush and BV.
Opt for an unperfumed, low pH intimate wash that’s safe to be used daily and supports the natural pH balance of your vaginal area. Alternatively, use plain soap and water.
The NHS recommends showers instead of baths to help reduce the risk of vaginal infections.
If you’re a smoker, quitting can help reduce the risk of contracting BV along with a host of other health benefits. The NHS offers a resource hub to help you stay stopped.
Choose a gentle, non-bio detergent to wash underwear and avoid tight-fitting knickers.
Change sanitary pads or tampons regularly when you’re on your period.
Wipe from front to back after using the toilet to reduce the risk of spreading bacteria.
If you have concerns about intimate health symptoms, talk to a healthcare specialist such as your doctor, a pharmacist, or your local sexual health clinic.