The human vagina is usually a well-balanced eco-system consisting of lactobacillus and other bacteria and yeast which are held in check by low pH levels. But when imbalances occur in the vaginal eco-system, itching, burning, swelling and pain begin to interfere, causing annoying problems. The resulting irritation to the vulva (the sensitive skin surrounding the vagina) can become maddening.
- Yeast imbalances, bacterial substitutions and infestations, and sexually-transmitted diseases can cause vulvovaginitis.
- Chronic inflammatory skin disorders (including autoimmune responses) can be a cause although it is not as common.
- Most episodes of Vulvovaginitis are caused by allergic reactions brought on by things like overly-aggressive washing, frequent pad use, certain soaps, detergents and fabric softeners, douche, feminine hygiene products, condoms, spermicides, shaving, waxing, and laser treatments. These can cause contact reactions that change the finely-tuned pH balance that protects the area.
- Yeasts occur naturally in low numbers in the nether regions, but certain antibiotics, tight clothing, and prolonged exposure to moist clothing (workout gear, swimsuits, etc.) can cause yeast populations to skyrocket, causing inflammation (clinical term, vulvovaginitis).
- Sexually-transmitted diseases (especially herpes and trichomonas) can cause itching and burning.
- Several chronic skin conditions can cause prolonged itching and irritation. Although many of these frustrating conditions will respond positively to topical steroidal creams, it’s best to get a professional opinion before buying anything over the counter, especially if you’re experiencing unusual symptoms for the first time. Occasionally a biopsy is needed to determine the exact cause and proper treatment for vulvovaginitis.
Reduce the Risk…
- avoid scented tampons and pads
- try a hypoallergenic substitute
- consider changing birth control methods if you’re using condoms or spermicides
- avoid deodorant and harsh soaps when washing your body and underclothes
- avoid shaving the area if irritation is a common response to the activity
- change out of sweaty, soiled, damp workout gear and swim wear quickly
- don’t dress in too-tight clothing
- take an over-the-counter probiotic daily (i.e., Culturelle) to encourage proper bacterial colonization