It’s time to talk about those shudder-worthy words… thrush and bacterial vaginosis. Though both are incredibly common, they still somehow hold the same stigma as STIs, despite not being classed as such. We at Yoppie are all about tossing out that stigma and talking about all things vaginas! So, let’s break down everything you need to know about these annoying yet common conditions.
Bacteria are everywhere in your body - some good, some bad - but sometimes the bad begins to outweigh the good, and this is when problems arise. The majority of the ‘friendly’ bacteria found in the vagina are called lactobacilli, and they play a really important role in protecting the vagina from unwanted infections!
Firstly, they produce lactic acid that makes the inside of the vagina slightly acidic to prevent other bacteria from growing there. They also act as a protective barrier so other bad bacteria cant grow on the lining of the vagina instead. When levels of lactobacilli are lower, this allows other bacteria to develop, which is thought to be the reason conditions such as thrush and bacterial vaginosis thrive.
Thrush is essentially a yeast infection (cue the collective “ew!”) that can affect both men and women, and vaginal thrush can cause sensitivity and itching around the vagina. It’s very common, with around 75% of women experiencing it at some point in their lives, most commonly in their 30s and 40s. Thrush is generally harmless, but it’s not pleasant and can return again and again if not treated properly. Though it shares a lot of symptoms with some STIs (hence the stigma), Thrush is not contracted through sexual contact. Instead, it can be brought on by things like antibiotic use, pregnancy, poorly controlled diabetes, and a weakened immune system, among other things.
Bacterial vaginosis (sometimes shortened to BV) is the most common vaginal infection in women between the ages of 15 and 44, though it doesn’t usually cause any itching or pain. Instead, those with BV often find they get an unusual vaginal discharge - sometimes watery and grey - with a strong fishy smell - yikes! Although, around 50% of women with BV experience no symptoms at all, it’s important to check if you suspect anything, as living with BV can increase your risk of contracting STIs.
BV is more likely to occur when you have an IUD, have frequent oral sex, if you smoke, if you douche using perfumed products in or around your vagina, or are sexually active (though you can get it even if you have never had sex). Like Thrush, BV can become a recurring struggle for some women, usually returning within 3 months of treatment.
With both thrush and BV, you’ll want to simply watch out for any changes you notice “down there”. For example…
Women with thrush may experience:
Women with BV might experience:
It’s important to note that in both cases, sometimes there are no symptoms at all!
Some treatments for thrush are available at your local pharmacy, so if you can identify the infection and it is not too severe, this is a good place to start. However, you should see your doctor if over-the-counter medications aren’t working, you are uncertain about the reason for your symptoms or if your symptoms are particularly uncomfortable.
It is important to treat BV as soon as possible. If left untreated, it can increase your risk of contracting an STI such as chlamydia, HIV, or may lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. This is where bacteria from BV infects the uterus or fallopian tubes. It’s also worth noting that if you are in a same-sex partnership, you can pass it along to another woman during sex.
When you visit your GP for either thrush or BV, a doctor or nurse may be able to diagnose and recommend treatment just by asking about your symptoms, but if you have recurring infections they will usually do a swab test to check what kind of infection you have. This means a small cotton bud is inserted into the vagina to collect a cell sample to be sent away for checking - uncomfortable, but not painful.
Your doctor can then recommend an appropriate treatment based on the results, and will likely suggest other things like sticking to water and non-perfumed soap to wash your genital area, having showers instead of baths, avoiding strong detergents when washing your underwear, and quitting smoking.
Thrush medicines usually come in the form of a tablet to swallow, a vaginal cream, or a pessary - a tablet that is inserted into your vagina overnight - and it is always recommended that you finish the whole course of your treatment to avoid symptoms returning at a later date.
For BV, it’s usually antibiotic tablets or creams, and if your BV is recurring, you may need to take treatment for up to 6 months to ensure it really does the trick this time!
Have you ever experienced thrush or bacterial vaginosis? If so, what treatment worked for you? Let us know over on Instagram @itsyoppie. Don't forget that our personalised period subscription box can get organic cotton tampons, PMS supplements, and much more, delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox. That's a bit less to worry about, even when everything is status quo down there.
Torcia MG. Interplay among vaginal microbiome, immune response and sexually transmitted viral infections. Int J Mol Sci; 20. Epub ahead of print 2019. DOI: 10.3390/ijms20020266.
CDC. Vulvovaginal Candidiasishttps://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/candidiasis.htm (2015, accessed 24 September 2020).
Hay P, Patel S, Daniels D. UK National Guideline for the management of Bacterial Vaginosis. Br Assoc Sex heatlh HIV 2012; 1–15.
Fact checked by Doctor Brooke Vandermolen.
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