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.
It’s all about bacteria...
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. Bacteria found in the vagina are called lactobacilli, and they produce lactic acid that makes the inside of the vagina slightly acidic to prevent other bacteria from growing there. When levels of lactobacilli lower, this allows other bacteria to develop, which is thought to be the reason conditions such as Thrush and Bacterial Vaginosis thrive.
What is Thrush?
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.
What is BV?
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, use 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.
What signs and symptoms should I watch out for?
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:
- White discharge that can look a bit like cottage cheese (sorry to put you off your lunch!) but does not typically smell
- Itching and irritation in or around the vagina
- Pain or stinging during sex or when you urinate
- Rashes on other areas of skin like the armpits or groin
Women with BV might experience:
- Unusual looking vaginal discharge that is often a watery or milky white/gray
- A strong fishy odour, particularly after sex
- Burning sensation when you urinate
- In rare cases, there is itching around the outside of the vagina It’s important to note that in both cases, sometimes there are no symptoms at all!
How do I diagnose and treat Thrush or BV?
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, 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 even Pelvic Inflammatory Disease 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.