Itchy or sore? check our factsheet

The protective microflora of the vulvovaginal area (our intimate microbiome) are sensitive and their natural balance can be disrupted by lots of factors.  Sometimes, this disruption can lead to uncomfortable symptoms, which though very common, can be demoralising and leave us feeling depleted.  

Don’t worry (and definitely don’t feel embarrassed). Practically everyone experiences one or two of the following problems at some point. But knowledge is power, and the more we understand our intimate areas, the better we can care for them.

So please read on. And if you’re worried about anything, always talk to your gynaecologist or doctor straight away.

Feminine odours

Feminine odour is natural and we all have our own particular scent.  Sweat, bacteria and hormonal fluctuations can accentuate it, but it’s nothing to feel self-conscious about.

However, if your odour changes and if it smells fishy, this can be a sign of vaginal infection.8 In this case you should contact your doctor or gynaecologist.

Vaginal discharge

Vaginal discharge is completely normal. In fact, it’s a sign that the vagina’s self-cleansing system is working well. Healthy discharge is normally quite thick and heavy, but can vary through your cycle. Again, if you’re worried about it, do check in with your gynaecologist. 

intibiome Article 4 In-article Image One

Yeast infections 9

Yeast is a fungus that naturally exists in your vagina, and when it’s under control isn’t anything to worry about. But if it builds up, it can cause a yeast infection. Yeast infections 4 (such as oral thrush) are very common and easy to treat, but they can be uncomfortable. Signs to look out for include: soreness, itching, a burning sensation when you pass urine or have sex, and a thick, odourless discharge. If you experience any of these symptoms, always check in with your gynaecologist.

Bacterial vaginosis 4

Bacterial vaginosis (BV for short) can occur when the bad bacteria outweigh the good bacteria in the intimate area. This disrupts the natural balance and raises your vaginal pH (making it more alkaline).

BV is very common, and symptoms include (but aren’t limited to) watery, grey discharge and a fishy smell. 

Unlike yeast infections, BV doesn’t normally cause any soreness or itching. And while yeast infections often have odourless discharge, BV causes a characteristic fishy smell. It’s easy to mistake one for the other, so if you’re not sure, always speak to your gynaecologist or a pharmacist. Then you’ll get the right treatment.

Vaginal irritation

If your intimate area is red, swollen or itchy (the official definition of irritation) a number of factors can be to blame. These include regular washing with ordinary, high pH soaps, any highly fragranced products (eg; body lotions, lubricants or shower gels) or underwear made from synthetic fabrics.

Read our intimate self-care tips for some practical advice on how to care for your intimate area and avoid some of the most common flare-ups. But of course, if symptoms go on for more than a few days, or keep recurring, please see your doctor or gynaecologist.

Vaginal dryness

Vaginal dryness is common, uncomfortable… and can have a number of different causes.

Changing hormone levels play a big part: for example during menstruation or perimenopause.

intibiome Article 3 In-article Image Two

During perimenopause, declining oestrogen levels can cause dryness. As always, if you’re experiencing discomfort or are at all worried, ask your doctor or gynaecologist for advice. They’ll be able to take you through the options available. So always ask.

References

4 Gupta et al: Crosstalk between Vaginal Microbiome and Female Health: A review 2.5.2. Living style and habits Volume 136, November 2019, 103696

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0882401019309556?casa_token=9Q1aBlyvgNIAAAAA:IIxOyZcL3x0Kf5okvtFEoiXHcoGLOC56biNXDxgG-ux8GOUb1V-cqbwgxvERWtFlodBf7hl5Ug

8 Jason P. Hildebrand; Adam T. Kansagor Vaginitis 2021 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470302/

9 Informed Health.org, Vaginal yeast infection (thrush): Overview June 19, 2019 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK543220/

Further reading

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaginal-discharge/

https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/vagina-smells#1.-Tangy-or-fermented

https://www.gynae-centre.co.uk/blog/yeast-infections-7-surprising-causes/

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bacterial-vaginosis/

https://carle.org/conditions/gynecology-conditions/vaginal-infection