We can all agree that the only thing worse than dealing with itching, burning, or any other form of discomfort anywhere in the general vicinity of your vagina is not knowing what it is — or why it’s happening. Is the burning another urinary tract infection (UTI) or yeast infection? Is that unfamiliar smell a sign of bacterial vaginosis (BV), or something you ate? Or is the persistent itching and irritation something else entirely?
This general vulvovaginal discomfort is often referred to as vaginitis — an umbrella term used for many vaginal conditions that are caused by infection, inflammation, or pH imbalance, which means you might be dealing with an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast, a virus, or a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Now, keep in mind that some vaginal conditions, like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, are sexually associated, rather than sexually transmitted, meaning symptoms can flare up when your vagina comes in contact with different surfaces and fluids when you have sex, but they are not transmitted sexually. This just means that there was a disruption to your vaginal environment, otherwise known as your vaginal pH.
Your vaginal pH can be thrown out of balance from anything from the chemicals in soaps, lube, or detergent, to your diet, to those hot pants you thought were a good idea in the park last week, so figuring out the source of pain in your pubic area is the first step toward finding relief.
It's not always easy to figure out what's going on, because many BV, UTI, and yeast infection symptoms overlap due to the close proximity of the vagina and urethra, and you may need your doctor's help to properly diagnose and find a treatment that works with your body and lifestyle.
Let’s break down these vaginal health issues, their common and often confusing symptoms, and most importantly, symptom management and preventative care options.
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What is Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
BV stands for bacterial vaginosis, an inflammatory condition (not to be confused with a yeast infection, which is, well, an infection) resulting from an overgrowth of "bad" bacteria in the vagina which outnumbers the strain of good bacteria, altering your normal vaginal pH levels.
What are common BV symptoms?
Common BV symptoms include an abnormal amount of vaginal discharge, itching and irritation in or around the outside of the vagina, and a strong, unusual scent, which many refer to as “fishy”. There won’t be any swelling or redness around your vulva, so if you do experience those symptoms, you may have a yeast infection or UTI.
What are my BV treatment options?
Bacterial vaginosis is typically treated with antibiotics, but you should be wary of overusing prescriptions and over the counter treatments because they often kill all the bacteria, which can wreak havoc on your vaginal microbiome and may lead to recurring symptoms.
Read More: A Complete Overview of Bacterial Vaginosis Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options
What is a Yeast Infection?
The technical term for the terribly uncomfortable yet incredibly common yeast infection is vulvovaginal candidiasis or VVC for short. It occurs when a type of fungus known as Candida multiplies when there are changes in your vaginal environment that encourages its growth. Candida is not inherently bad (in fact, it’s found in the moist areas inside your body like the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina) but it becomes an issue when your vaginal chemistry gets thrown off balance and the yeast over-multiplies, leaving you itching and burning without much relief.
What are common symptoms of a yeast infection?
Along with itching and burning during sex or while urinating, you may notice whitish-gray and clumpy vaginal discharge, or a red and swollen vulva.
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What are my options for treating a yeast infection?
While yeast infections are typically treated with antifungal medications, you should be wary of overusing these as your only treatment option because they often kill all the yeast, or candida, which is necessary to maintain a healthy vaginal pH and may lead to recurring infections.
Read More: A Complete Overview of Yeast Infection Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options
What Is A Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Urinary tract infections occur when any part of the urinary system including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra become infected. Most often they’re infections of the bladder (cystitis) or urethra (urethritis). When harmful or foreign bacteria enter the urethra and multiply, they can cause irritation, itching, burning, and mental distress. Folks with vaginas tend to experience UTIs more often than those with penises because of the close proximity of the urethra, vagina, and anus.
Because the folds of your labia can harbor bad bacteria if not kept dry, normal activities like sex or exercise can cause UTIs if you’re not careful about peeing or rinsing after sex, or to change out of your sweaty clothes immediately.
What are common symptoms of a UTI?
Symptoms of a urinary tract infection are often confused with those of a yeast infection because both can cause burning while urinating and your vulva may appear red or swollen.
The bittersweet news is that cystitis and urethritis don’t always cause symptoms, but when they do, they can manifest as a frequent urge to pee (but unable to find relief because you’re usually producing very little urine with a UTI), cloudy or bloody urine, and pelvic pain or pressure. Other symptoms may include urine that smells like ammonia, and yellowish-green and thick, or clear and thin discharge. You may also experience body aches and pelvic pain.
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What are my options for treating a UTI?
Both antibiotics and over the counter medication are options to treat a UTI, but as previously mentioned, they may do more harm than healing if you repeatedly use them. Your best bet is drinking lots of water to help your body flush the infection out faster.
Studies have confirmed that cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (PACs), which help keep bacteria from sticking to the lining of the bladder. Plus, there’s no harm in drinking more liquid to get that urine flowing. Just be sure to look for organic cranberry juice options with as little added sugar as possible, because excess sugar consumption can worsen symptoms and possibly lead to an overgrowth of Candida, or yeast in your vaginal microbiome.
Read More: A Complete Overview of UTI Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options
Less Common (Though No Less Serious) Vulvovaginal Issues
Vulvodynia or vestibulitis, is another umbrella term used for chronic pain, burning or itching in the vulva that has not been otherwise diagnosed. Currently, vulvodynia is the the default diagnosis for any sexual pain, or inability to have penetrative vaginal sex until further tests are taken and a diagnosis has been determined.
Vaginismus is described as vaginal tightness, or involuntary tensing which causes discomfort, difficulty with penetration (toys, tampons, etc), or a complete inability to have penetrative vaginal intercourse due to painful sex (dyspareunia). Read a first-hand account and learn more about vaginismus symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
The Bartholin’s glands are two tiny glands located on both sides of the vaginal opening that lubricate your vagina to prevent chafing, dryness, and itching in our vulva. Like all skin ducts, there’s potential for the Bartholin’s glands to become blocked, and potentially infected. When these glands get clogged, the trapped fluids build up and create a hard, sometimes painful lump, or cyst, on the outside of your vagina. Many come and go without much drama and often unnoticed, but if infected, they can be extremely painful and may require medical attention. Learn more about Bartholin’s Cysts symptoms, treatment, and prevention options.
Chronic Pelvic Pain (CCP)
Chronic pelvic pain affects 1 in 5 people with vulvas and 1 in 10 people with penises at some point in their lives. It is defined as persistent albeit noncyclic pain occurring anywhere related to the pelvis including the abdomen, pubic, perineum, and rectal areas and lasts more than six months. The cause for CPP can be gynaecological, urological, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, psychoneurological, and in most cases, it’s a combination.
Many symptoms and conditions play a role in developing chronic pelvic pain, so we’ve compiled a list of some of the most prevalent chronic pelvic pain conditions, causes, and treatment options.
Lichen Scleroses (LS)
Lichen sclerosus is a skin condition that usually affects the vulva and appears as white patches, tearing, itchiness, redness, bleeding or blistering. The cause is still unknown, although symptoms may be managed through lifestyle and proper vulvovaginal care.
How to Soothe Symptoms Without a Trip to the Doctor
With a slurry of (mis)information on the internet, any confusion about your symptoms only makes the situation that more difficult to bear as you sit hunched over in the hopes of protecting your vaginal area from more pain. Just remember, these are all normal issues that affect all folks with vaginas. But you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) normalize dealing with them.
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If you’re struggling with symptoms and haven’t had a chance to schedule an appointment with your doctor to diagnose your condition, or you’re still experiencing recurring vaginal issues even after antibiotics and antifungal creams, know there are various natural homeopathic remedies that can help soothe your symptoms at home.
Momotaro Apotheca products are certified organic plant based treatment options that soothe the source of your symptoms without interfering with hormones, pheromones (aka your sex drive), pH balance, or other medications like birth control.
All products are free from fillers and harsh chemicals that can irritate skin including sulfates, silicone, parabens, phthalates, artificial dyes and fragrance, alcohol, and animal byproducts to ensure that our products are as gentle on your skin as they are for the planet.
Smooth the vitamin packed Salve directly on your vulva for an immediate cooling sensation courtesy of Tea Tree Oil. Natural anti-inflammatories Goldenseal, Echinacea, and Calendula help comfort symptoms while a coconut oil base helps protect your skin from everyday stressors. Any desire to itch down there is replaced by a fresh, cool feel.
Soak in a Tonic infused bath or sitz bath. The jojoba oil base helps protect your skin while Cedar Wood, Sweet Orange, and Oregon Grape are natural antibacterials that stimulate blood flow to your pelvic region so your body can heal itself faster.
Spritz our refreshing Hydrosol toning spray on your vulva after a workout or between tampons for hands-free relief. The water soluble toning spray is slightly acidic, courtesy of Rosemary and Orange Blossom and can strengthen your skin barrier.
Keep calm. Stress has so many physical side effects that can cause imbalance throughout our bodies.
How to Help Prevent Future Irritation, Inflammation, or Infection
The best treatment plan is a self-care plan that involves taking preventative measures for our health in every capacity. Stay hydrated! Prioritize your sleep! Move often and eat a variety of whole foods. This will help keep yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and urinary tract infections away. We also recommend the following simple, proactive measures to maintain your vaginal health and balance your pH:
Watch your sugar and alcohol intake. An abundance of sugar feeds the bad bacteria, and literally feeds the yeast in your vaginal tract, encouraging them to reproduce, and — you guessed it — lead to infection.
Practice safe sex and sexual play. Wear condoms during penetrative sex, wash your toys before and after every use, and at the very least pee post pleasure to literally “flush” the bacteria and other liquids out.
Don’t sit in sweaty or damp clothes. Moist or humid environments are a breeding ground for bacteria. Change out of wet swimsuits, workout leggings, and the like ASAP, and be sure to regularly change your pads and tampons too. Set a reminder on your phone if you need to!
Wipe front to back. Folks with vaginas have shorter urethras, which are closer to the vagina and anus, meaning the bacteria can spread more easily if we don’t properly wipe, leading to infection, irritation, and pH imbalance.
Take a probiotic. If you don’t eat fermented foods, you should start supplementing with a probiotic to regularly deliver a dose of healthy bacteria to feed your gut and vaginal tract healthy bacteria.
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Momotaro Apotheca and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on Momotaro Apotheca is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition
I was having horrible symptoms all the time, but turned out it was almost never a uti it was IC. Which is chronic and terrible, but is treated differently and doesn’t respond to antibiotics.
I really appreciate how complete this article is. Since I found Momotaro, this website and your products have helped me tremendously. Thank you!