Every woman will experience some vaginal discomfort at some point in her life. These discomforts range from mild and merely annoying, to others that can seriously effect a woman's quality of life or her sex life.
The 5 most common vaginal discomforts are itching, burning, vaginal dryness, discharge, sometimes combined with an unpleasant smell, and irritation or pain during or after intercourse. The cause of these symptoms is not always well defined or easily diagnosed, and it's therefore important that you consult your doctor or gynaecologist if you experience one or more of these discomforts.
Vaginal itching can be caused by infections, such as yeast, bacterial vaginosis, or STDs. It can also be caused by an allergic or irritating reaction to some substances, like perfumes, soaps, fabric softeners etc. Other causes include wearing synthetic underwear, shaving/waxing, friction due to physical exercise or vaginal dryness. While infections can, in most cases, be recognised by the presence of a specific discharge, non-infectious causes of itching do not show an unusual discharge, but the vaginal and vulval tissues are often swollen and red. In order to detect the cause of the discomfort, try removing all the potential allergens from your intimate region: do not use soap or perfumes, avoid scented pads, panty liners or toilet paper, stop using fabric conditioner for your underwear, stop shaving or waxing for a while, use only pants made of “breathable” natural materials. If the problem persists, contact a healthcare professional.
A burning sensation in the vaginal area is usually caused by an irritation of the skin as a consequence of itching and scratching, or due to an infection of the vagina or urethra. This feeling can start suddenly or can build up over several weeks. It is important to contact a healthcare professional who will take your medical history and perform a vaginal examination, in order to provide the right treatment. In case of an infectious cause, the treatment will most often include antibiotics or antimycotics. It might take a couple of days for the therapy to take effect, so it's a good idea to use products which cool down the skin and relieve itch and irritation. These products can usually be bought over the counter in the form of sprays and gels.
Vaginal dryness is most often linked to menopause, although women of all ages can suffer from it. Its symptoms include itching, burning, pain during intercourse and soreness in the intimate area. Even though these symptoms might resemble other vaginal discomforts, the unusual lack of discharge is the main difference. Depending on the cause, vaginal dryness can be treated with a hormonal or a non-hormonal therapy, locally or orally. Non-hormonal vaginal moisturisers provide fast relief and their effect can last for a couple of days. Vaginal lubricants, on the other hand, can provide an instant solution in case of painful sex.
Vaginal discharge is a bodily fluid that helps the vagina maintain its bacterial flora, allows lubrication during sexual intercourse and provides protection for the tissues of the intimate area. Its appearance changes during the menstrual cycle and in different stages of life. However, unusual discharge – such as white, thick and crumbly, or grey, thin and with a characteristic fishy smell – is a sign of a vaginal infection (bacterial vaginosis or yeast infection). Unusual changes in discharge can also be a sign of an STD or other serious medical conditions. Therefore, if you notice unusual changes in your discharge, contact your doctor or gynaecologist.
In normal circumstances, intercourse should be painless. Irritation and pain during or after intercourse can be caused by a large number of factors. The most common causes are vaginal dryness, vaginal infections or allergies, but in some cases pain can be linked to more serious problems like a physical trauma (for example: after giving birth), psychological trauma or even cancer. If you experience vaginal pain of any sort, it is important to talk to your doctor, find the cause and start the adequate therapy.