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Corbis

Corbis

Itching. Burning. Discharge. Swelling.

The vagina can go through a variance of changes and symptoms, and sometimes, certain traits and habits are common. But sometimes, they can be a sign of a real issue that you need to take to your OB/GYN.

“My patients are often confused by the feminine issues they’re experiencing,” said Machelle Siebel, MD, a professor of OB/GYN studies at the University of Massachusetts and a leading women’s wellness and menopause expert via email. “Most women experience vaginal issues and are confused about exactly what the actual problem is, which can be uncomfortable, embarrassing and scary. Some self-diagnose which may lead to additional challenges. It’s important to be evaluated by a health care professional and understand the different situations that can occur.”

With Dr. Siebel’s help, we learned about seven of the most common vaginal issues, as well as the various ways in which we can avoid them. Because it’s better safe than sorry–and burning–right?

Vulvodynia

Millions of women struggle with a painful skin around the vulva. According to Dr. Siebel, it’s close to 6 million, and that pain can be the stinging, itching, throbbing kind, or just be a constant pain that leads to painful sex and even pain from sitting down for too long. If the lips of your vagina have been distressed for quite some time, you may have vulvodynia. But Dr. Siebel said wearing 100-percent cotton underwear more often than not, avoiding sitting in water high in chlorine, using a detergent that is dermatologically approved, and washing your vulva with cool water after going to the bathroom and having sex could keep you in the free and clear.

Trichomoniasis

Oh, boy. Trich may be a common and curable STD, but the symptoms are either nonexistent or extreme. According to Dr. Siebel, sometimes people have a trichomoniasis that presents itself with no symptoms. But others have a form of trich that includes uncomfortable symptoms like itching, severe inflammation, soreness of the vagina and vulva, or discharge with a strong smell that’s either clear, white, yellow or greenish. Antibiotics are necessary for clearing up trich, but preventing it can be as simple as wearing a condom and consistently being tested–you and your partner(s).

Bacterial Vaginosis

This is the condition people usually say you may have if your vagina has an odor that’s incredibly strong and fishy. But bacterial vaginosis is a lot more than that. Dr. Siebel said almost half of vaginal infections are bacterial vaginosis. Symptoms include thin gray or white discharge from the vaginal walls, that fishy, musty smell that is even stronger after sex, vaginal itching and irritation, as well as burning and soreness. And if not treated, it could transform into pelvic inflammatory disease, possible infertility, and possibly an increased risk of UTIs and STDs. But keeping your vaginal bacteria at a normal range, avoiding douching, cleaning the outside of your vagina with warm water and wiping from front to back, wearing cotton-lined underwear, practicing safe sex and doing so with minimal partners can help avoid BV and recurrent BV.

Yeast Infection

A very common vaginal issue that many of us have had, the yeast and bacteria present in your vagina needs to stay balanced to avoid a yeast infection. Dr. Siebel said products like RepHresh Pro-B contain the strains of probiotic vaginal lactobacilli that can help balance yeast and bacteria to keep our vaginal bacteria in a healthy range. Cotton panties are also recommended, as is avoiding wearing wet or tight clothing for extended periods of time, eating yogurt with live cultures, dodging douches and feminine sprays, and managing diabetes, stress, and our diets. All this can improve one’s chances of avoiding a yeast infection.

Bumps and Lumps

Dr. Siebel said the area around the outside of the vagina can end up covered in lumps and bumps and sometimes painful infections when our glands and hair follicles become inflamed or filled with fluid. The process to be rid of them can require draining or being treated with antibiotics. But if you’ve had ingrown hairs causing bumps and lumps, it’s recommended that you opt for the right hair removal techniques, including shaving in the direction of hair growth. If you want to avoid vaginal pimples, don’t touch down there with dirty hands, and slow up on very tight-fitting clothing. However, some things are caused by external factors you can’t really control. See your doctor when they come about.

Vulvar Varicosity

You read that right. Vulvar varicosity is varicose veins of the vulva. It sounds crazy, but the condition that causes swelling, discomfort and pressure in the vulva is common in pregnancy. Dr. Siebel said that wearing support pantyhose and pads can help. It’s also recommended that you elevate your hips when you sleep to improve blood flow, changing positions often when you are lying down, and putting a cold compress down there. These veins are a pain, but they typically go away within six months of delivery.

Vaginismus

This condition is an involuntary spasm of the vaginal muscles that can make it quite hard to do everything from having a pelvic exam to having sex and even wearing a tampon. Now, causes for vaginismus are unknown, but consistent Kegel exercises daily can help, and support from your doctor can usually contribute to treating successfully and halting your spasms.

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