And How They Impact Fertility
Unusual vagina discharge, itchiness and burning are all signs that you might have a vaginal infection. If you notice these symptoms persist, it’s important to book a visit with your doctor to ensure you receive proper treatment. But what kinds of vaginal infections are there? What could be going on down there?
In this article, we’re going to look at common vaginal infections, how to treat them and how they may impact fertility.
1. Yeast Infection
A yeast infection is one of the most well-known and common types of vaginal infections. It often causes itchiness around the vagina and vulva, abnormal discharge, burning sensations, vaginal rash and vaginal soreness. Surprisingly, about three out of four women will experience a yeast infection at some point in their life.
A yeast infection can happen for various reasons, including pregnancy, antibiotic use, untreated diabetes, impaired immunity, or oral contraception.
So, what can you do about it? Usually, it’s best to visit your doctor so they can properly diagnose you. From there, treatment may include antifungal medication (such as over-the-counter brands like Monistat 3) or a single-dose medication.
Most yeast infections don’t cause issues with pregnancy or infertility. However, recurring yeast infections or untreated yeast infections may pose challenges with sperm reaching the egg, leading to fertility issues.
2. Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
While not exactly a vaginal infection, a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) may have similar symptoms to a typical yeast infection. Yet, with a UTI, you may also experience:
- A persistent strong urge to urinate.
- Burning when urinating.
- Cloudy urine.
- Frequent urination.
- Pelvic pain.
- Strong-smelling urine.
Frequently, treatment includes a course of antibiotics, which clears symptoms within a day or so. At the same time, if UTIs occur often or go untreated, infertility may be impacted due to increased inflammation around the reproductive organs and pelvis. Some of this inflammation may even lead to scarring, causing infertility.
3. Bacterial Vaginosis
This type of infection happens when too much bacteria is present in the vagina. Bacterial vaginosis symptoms may include:
- Gray, white or green vaginal discharge.
- “Fishy” odor.
- Vaginal itching.
- Vaginal burning.
It’s important to note that not everyone experiences symptoms of this type of vaginal infection. Treatment usually includes oral medication or medication that is inserted into the vagina. Typically, your doctor will prescribe this medication, indicating the importance of checking out any of these signs or symptoms.
Bacterial vaginosis doesn’t often lead to infertility. But, like other vaginal infections, if left untreated, it can lead to pelvic inflammation and scarring, disrupting reproduction. It may also increase your risk of sexually transmitted diseases that lead to fertility problems.
Chlamydia is an STD (or STI), which often doesn’t cause symptoms. If symptoms do appear, you may have pain when urinating, abnormal vaginal discharge, pain during sex, bleeding post-sex and breakthrough bleeding between periods.
If left untreated, it can spread into the uterus, causing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and leading to problems getting pregnant. Treatment often involves antibiotics to reduce and eliminate the infection.
5. Genital Herpes
Women have an increased risk of genital herpes when compared to men. This common STI spreads due to skin-to-skin contact. Some will have no symptoms, while others may develop painful and itching sores around their mouth, anus and genitals.
In terms of fertility, genital herpes can be passed onto the baby if a woman is already pregnant. However, herpes can also impact fertility by making it difficult to have unprotected sex to get pregnant without passing on the infection.
Thrush happens due to yeast fungus. It happens when there is too much yeast (a little bit is normal!). Symptoms may include:
- White and thick vaginal discharge.
- Pain when urinating.
- Pain when having sex.
For thrush to be properly diagnosed, your doctor has to perform a swab test or may diagnose it by sight alone. Treatment typically includes anti-fungal medications, vaginal tablets, or a combination of treatment remedies.
While thrush doesn’t often directly impact fertility, it can indirectly influence it by making it difficult to have sex if it's too painful.
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that often leads to the following symptoms:
- White, yellow, or green discharge.
- Vaginal bleeding between periods.
Treatment often includes antibiotics taken orally or even as an injection. Similar to other infections on this list, gonorrhea can also spread and cause pelvic inflammatory disease. This can cause scarring and inflammation of the reproductive organs, leading to infertility.
How Can You Optimize Your Chances of Conceiving?
Getting treated early for any signs of infection is key to preventing fertility issues. Additionally, it’s essential always to have protected sex (such as using a condom) if you aren’t trying to conceive. Additionally, a healthy lifestyle can go a long way regarding reproductive health, such as eating a balanced diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and more. If you still struggle with infertility (and you’ve been trying for a year or more), seeking out the help of a fertility expert is the next best step.