Women who have persistent or recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis often present to their family physician with intense vaginal discomfort. Other presenting symptoms may include an odorless vaginal discharge, pruritus, dyspareunia or dysuria. Frequently, these women express their frustration with ineffective treatments.

Although the initial infection is sometimes diagnosed over the telephone, clinical evaluation of recurrent episodes is essential. Patients who self-diagnose yeast infections risk missing other etiologies or concurrent infections involving two or more organisms that require different treatments.

On physical examination, the patient with vulvovaginal candidiasis usually has vulvar erythema and a thick, white to yellow discharge in the vaginal vault.

Unpleasant odors, excessive discharge and itchiness: unfortunately, most women will have to deal with a vaginal infection or discomfort sooner or later. But for some of us, it isn’t just a one-off problem. Recurring vaginal infections can have a big impact on your quality of life not to mention your health. How can you tell if you have a recurring vaginal infection, and what can you do about it?

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (also known as ‘BV’) is caused by an imbalance in your natural vaginal bacteria. It’s easy to recognize by the primary symptom: unpleasant-smelling discharge, which is caused by the coccoid bacteria.

Bacterial vaginosis is more than just a nuisance. BV is associated with:

  • The presence of micro-organisms that can cause Trichomoniasis
  • An increased chance of premature delivery during pregnancy.
  • A greater risk of being infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

This is why women who show symptoms of BV are advised to treat it.

Yeast infection

Vaginal yeast infections (also called ‘candida’ or ‘thrush’) occur when the Candida albicans yeast runs rampant. This can happen when its food source, the sugar in the cells of the vaginal wall, is more abundant than usual, such as during the second half of your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and when you use birth control pills. Eating a lot of sugar and dairy can also play a role. With so many everyday causes, it won’t come as a surprise that candida is a common vaginal infection out there.

Common symptoms of vaginal yeast infections include:

  • Thick, white discharge (often compared to cottage cheese)
  • Itching and irritation of the vagina and vulva
  • Redness and soreness in your intimate area
  • A burning sensation, especially during intercourse or while urinating
  • Vaginal pain and soreness

Thrush can be easy to treat, but difficult to cure.

The impact of recurring vaginal complaints

If you don’t have a vaginal infection, you may still suffer from recurring intimate complaints. It’s still important to take steps to treat these complaints: if left untreated, vaginal discomforts can land you on a downward spiral in terms of both physical and mental health.

Mental health

In a time where we are constantly bombarded with idealized images wherever we turn, it’s harder than ever to maintain a healthy self-image. This is made even more of a challenge when dealing with ongoing discomforts and complaints — especially if it’s the kind that is still taboo or difficult to discuss openly.

If you struggle with recurring intimate complaints, you may find yourself developing a negative attitude toward your vagina, and maybe even yourself. You might think that you complain too much, for instance. This kind of negative self-image can influence your relationship with your partner, but also your friendships. In the worst case, it can lead to you being.

Physical health

For most women, penetrative sex plays a key role in their sexual life. Recurring vaginal complaints such as soreness, itchiness and excessive discharge, can leave you feeling less confident and excited about sex. If you feel less aroused, you will also produce less natural lubrication, and may have trouble relaxing. Not only is this not enjoyable, it can result in painful intercourse that leaves you with damaged vaginal tissues.

And that can cause your complaints to keep coming back, landing you on that downward spiral.

Both the physical and mental repercussions from recurring vaginal infections and complaints can affect your immune system, which is your body’s defense mechanism. And that, too, can make you more susceptible to recurring intimate complaints.

Recurring intimate complaints: breaking the cycle

Breaking the cycle of recurring intimate complaints can offer real benefits for your mental and physical health, both immediately and in the long term. But how do you do it? You have several tools at your disposal.

Improve your vaginal hygiene routine

We don’t necessarily mean wash your intimate area more — in fact, depending on your current routine, it might mean the opposite.

Maintaining balance in your vaginal flora can help make you less susceptible to recurring infections like BV and candida. Frequently washing your intimate area with soap might feel like a good way to keep everything down there clean, but the opposite is true. Soap is alkaline, so it disturbs the pH balance in your vagina, making it easier for coccoid bacteria to run rampant. If you currently use soap, bubble bath or something similar, consider switching to washing with just water.

Change up your diet (and general self-care)

As we mentioned above, the Candida albicans yeast thrives on sugar in vaginal wall cells. While you don’t want to get rid of the yeast completely, you also don’t want it to overwhelm the rest of your vaginal flora.

One way you can help prevent this is by changing your diet. By limiting your intake of sugars, sweeteners and dairy products, you can give the Candida albicans yeast less fuel, making it much harder for it to get out of hand.

You can also look beyond your diet. It goes without saying that good physical health makes you less susceptible to infections. However, stress and distress also reduce your resistance. It’s easier said than done, but taking steps to improve your general physical and mental wellbeing will also help you free yourself of recurring vaginal discomforts.

Explore self-care options

The suggestions above are great steps to improving your vaginal health in the long term. If you’re looking for more immediate relief, you might want to explore your options when it comes to self-care.