It’s that time again. The dreaded gynecologist appointment. There’s nothing to be afraid of because nothing shocks the gynecologist. However, many women are reluctant to ask the questions they want—and need—answered. You know, like that unpleasant odor and itch after sex or your period? Believe it or not, spilling the beans to your doctor can calm your fears and get your problems treated.
In fact, if something serious is going on, early diagnosis is critical. A survey of 391 women conducted by the Women’s Sexual Health Foundation found that 72 percent of respondents are uncomfortable talking to their gynecologist about “the sexy stuff,” and 73 percent would rather die than ask the doc, “What’s up?”
Many women do not realize the vagina is a delicate ecosystem that requires a balanced environment to remain healthy; and everyday events like menstruation, sex and hormonal changes can throw off that balance. The result can be an embarrassing odor and discomfort. But, the solution to maintaining a healthy pH balance “down there” is as simple as a trip to the drug store. Healthy pH (the vagina’s acidity level) and beneficial lactobacillus are the keys to reducing the risk of vaginal issues. A vaginal pH of 3.5 to 4.5 indicates that there is a perfect amount of good bacteria (lactobacilli) and no overgrowth of the bad bacteria that can cause odor and irritation. An elevated pH means that the healthy flora of the vagina may struggle to survive, while harmful bacteria thrive.
Here are a few of the most common questions:
Sometimes I have an odor the morning after sex. Why does it happen and what can I do? Don’t worry — you aren’t dirty and washing with perfumed soap or douching won’t help — it will only make it worse. This happens because your vaginal pH has been thrown out of balance. Think of your vagina as a delicate ecosystem that needs to be maintained at a pH of 3.5 to 4.5. The pH of semen has a pH of 7.1 to 8, so, when introduced to the vagina, an odor or itch can occur, usually the morning after sex. Lots of women douche to feel clean and fresh, but water has a pH of 7. While it might make you feel fresh for a short time it won’t solve the problem.
Avoid douching and don’t use feminine products containing deodorant or scented soap. Instead, try over-the-counter products like RepHresh Gel to restore normal vaginal pH and eliminate odor.
I have a lot of discharge and irritation, but over-the-counter yeast medications don’t work. What should I do? Less than one-third of women who think they have a yeast infection do. Two-thirds instead suffer from bacterial vaginosis (BV), a proliferation of “bad” bacteria, often caused by an unbalanced vaginal pH. If you aren’t sure whether your symptoms indicate BV or a yeast infection, see your doctor before you apply any over-the-counter treatment. Once BV is diagnosed, a course of antibiotics is required to eliminate the symptoms. Recurrence rates are very high. The best way to prevent recurrent BV is to maintain a normal vaginal pH and keep yeast and bacteria balanced every day.
Is there anything I can use when I’m traveling or at the office for immediate relief?
Vaginal itching and irritation are common (and uncomfortable!) symptoms women tend to experience; it can even occur if you don’t have a vaginal yeast infection. According to Monistat, a survey revealed that 61 percent of women experience itching 17 times a year. Feminine itching can be tied to several factors, including irritants found in feminine sprays, douches, soap, detergent and fabric softeners; vaginal infections; and skin conditions. Creams and sprays like RepHresh Cooling Relief Vaginal Anti-Itch Spray can help take the itch away almost immediately. Some of these products contain benzocaine while others contain hydrocortiscone to help relieve the itch.
Going to the gynecologist may not be top of the list, but it should be right up there. If you are nervous about the exam take your notes and questions in with you so you don’t forget. Talking about your anxieties can make the rest of the appointment a piece of cake.