Everything you read, see on TV, or hear from your family or friends isn’t necessarily true–especially when it comes to your health. It’s (probably) not that anyone is trying to intentionally mislead you, but there are lots of opinions out there, and every body is different. Of all the health misinformation and confusion out there, there’s probably the most debate and confusion over the care and keeping of the vagina (starting with the name–we use the vagina to describe everything down there, but anatomically speaking, the vagina is only the birth canal. The vulva encompasses the clitoris, inner lips, and everything external, AKA the part you’re probably tending to most often).
So to get to the bottom of what people with vaginas need to know about vaginal (and vulvar!) health and bust common myths, we turned to two doctors to explain the things you may be doing if you have a vulva, but that you really, really shouldn’t be.
1. Using too many products
If you’re using a lot of products in an attempt to clean yourself down there, you might actually not be helping as much as you’d think. “Douches, sprays, and deodorants are common, but often these are unnecessary,” explained Dr. Lauren Demosthenes, MD, an OB-GYN and the senior medical director with Babyscripts. “The remarkable human body has its own cleansing mechanism and at puberty, the hormone changes cause the vagina to begin producing discharge. This is usually clear to white and the consistency varies throughout the cycle.”
In other words: the vulva is actually designed to clean itself. “Douching and cleansing of the vagina are not necessary and can interrupt normal vaginal health, actually increasing the chance of real infections,” Demosthenes added. So it really may be best to avoid adding in any extra products—you might otherwise end up with exactly what you’re trying to avoid. Instead, Dr. Kelly Treder, MD, MPH, an instructor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, said that you should simply wash with warm water, avoiding any soaps that include dyes or fragrances.
2. Ignoring itching, odor, or discharge
Though some discharge is normal, if you’re dealing with more of it than usual or it’s otherwise changed (in color, odor, or anything else), that’s one sign that you may need to have a chat with your healthcare provider. Discharge, itching, and odor could be telling you that something is amiss. “These can be signs of a sexually transmitted infection, bacterial vaginosis (BV) or a yeast infection,” Treder said.
Any abnormal changes should be addressed right away, so don’t put off that conversation with your doc. “For those who have frequent itching, odor or discharge—avoid perfumes, dyes, and fragrances in your laundry detergents (wash your underwear separately if you like to use a fragranced detergent for the rest of your clothing); wear cotton only underwear; skip underwear at night and give the vagina a chance to breathe,” Treder advised.
3. Not knowing what’s normal and what’s not
Knowing what’s normal for you is important for so many health-related things. While some developments might set off immediate alarm bells for you, other changes might be things that you just brush off. Plenty of things about your body that might worry you can be totally normal, so you don’t necessarily need to panic about anything you think is off or different, but knowing your body and listening to your body is your most powerful tool to staying healthy.
“Educate yourself and actually look at your genitalia with a mirror,” Demosthenes suggested. “A health care provider can help educate about how to do this so that you can be more attuned to changes that might be of concern. A raised bump, itching, bleeding, and color changes are just some of the things that you can become aware of. Some of the worrisome things that can occur in the vulva and vagina are infections, pre-cancers, cancers, and painful cysts—so we don’t want women to ignore symptoms that might require treatment and care.” Plenty of things about your body that might worry you can be totally normal, but telling your doctor about changes and having an idea of what’s normal for you can help you address any potential problems as soon as possible.
4. Opting for over-the-counter treatments over seeing your doc
Over-the-counter treatments might be tempting (they’re easier to get your hands on and don’t require you to fit in time for an appointment), but they’re not always the best way to go. “While some people know when they have a yeast infection and have over-the-counter treatments that have worked well for them, sometimes vaginal itching or discharge could be a sign of something else like a sexually transmitted infection or bacterial vaginosis,” Treder explained.
“Those aren’t treated with over-the-counter medications and require testing and a prescription from a provider. If you do choose to use an over-the-counter treatment, schedule an appointment with your gynecologist in case your symptoms don’t go away or come back.” Since you may or may not know for sure what’s causing your symptoms or discomfort, getting a professional opinion can get you on the path to feeling better sooner rather than later.
5. Not asking questions when necessary
Though there’s a lot you know about your body, there’s also probably plenty you don’t know. Your healthcare providers are there to help you navigate all things health-related. Ask plenty of questions if there’s something you’re unsure about or just want to better understand. It is your duty to listen to and educate yourself on your body, so ask questions when you’re unsure. “The vulva and vagina come in all shapes and sizes with varying degrees of odor and discharge,” Demosthenes said. “Understanding and embracing your normal is crucial. The second bottom line is to become educated and ask questions when changed do occur.”
As Treder pointed out, your vulvar health can impact more than just your vulva—it matters for emotional, sexual, and overall physical health as well. So checking in with your provider, bringing up anything and everything that could indicate something’s going on, and asking questions when you need to can help you stay as healthy as possible.
Please consult a doctor before beginning any treatments. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.
Here’s What You Should Know and How To Deal Accordingly
Source: Cosmo Politian