What women should know about Douching: Myths vs. Facts
What is Vaginal Infection?
Vaginal infection or vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina that creates discharge, odour, irritation, or itching. It is difficult to diagnose because vaginitis has many causes. Women use a variety of over the counter medications to treat the itching, discharge, and discomfort of these conditions.
What Causes Vaginal Infection?
The vagina creates its own environment and maintains a balance among the normal bacteria found there and the hormonal changes in a woman's body. Some vaginal discharge is quite common and normal for women of childbearing age. Normally, the cervical glands produce a clear mucous secretion that drains downward, mixing with bacteria, discarded vaginal cells, and Bartholin gland secretions at the opening of the vagina. These substances may (depending on how much mucous there is) turn the mucous a whitish colour, and the discharge turns yellowish when exposed to air. There are times throughout the menstrual cycle that the cervical glands produce more mucous than others, depending on the amount of oestrogen produced. This is normal.
Vaginitis occurs when the vaginal ecosystem has been changed by:
- certain medications such as antibiotics, hormones, contraceptive preparations (oral and topical)
- vaginal medication
- sexual intercourse
- sexually transmitted diseases
- change in sexual partners
Some vaginal infections are transmitted through sexual contact, but others such as yeast infections probably are not. Vaginitis means inflammation and is often caused by infections but may be due to hormonal changes (especially when a woman is going through menopause).
What are the Symptoms of Vaginal Infection?
- Vaginal pain
- Vaginal itching
- Vaginal burning
- A foul odour from your vagina
- Painful urination
- Any vaginal discharge that is different from your normal discharges such as thick and white, cottage cheese-like, or yellowish-green
If you suspect you have a vaginal infection, contact your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Do not try to wash it away with a douche. Never douche before you visit your doctor.
Some Common Vaginal Infections
- Trichomoniasis is caused by a flagellated protozoan, Trichomonas vaginalis. It is always sexually transmitted.
- Bacterial vaginosis is the most common cause of vaginitis and vaginal discharge.
- Vulvovaginal candidiasis is caused by overgrowth of yeasts where 70-90% of cases are secondary to Candida albicans.
What Women Should Know About Vaginal Douches
A vaginal douche is the process of rinsing or cleaning the vagina by forcing water or another solution into the vaginal cavity to flush away vaginal discharge or other contents. Vaginal douches are available over the counter and are made in a variety of fragrances by several manufacturers; they are also available by prescription to treat certain conditions or prepare for certain procedures.
Why Do Some Women Use Vaginal Douches?
Women choose to use douches for a variety of reasons. Many of these are related to myths or misinformation about what vaginal douches can do.
A woman may use a douche to:
- rinse away any remaining menstrual blood at the end of the monthly period. This is not necessary since the body will clean itself.
- avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases following sexual intercourse. However, douching is neither a contraceptive nor a preventative measure against STDs or other infections. It can, in fact, increase the risk of developing an infection.
- reduce vaginal odours. Women who have an unusual vaginal odour need to see their clinician for proper diagnosis since extreme odour may be a sign of an infection or other serious problems, using a douche may only complicate the condition.
- feel "cleaner." The vagina cleans itself so vaginal douches are not necessary for hygiene.
Is Douching Healthy?
Regular vaginal douching changes the delicate chemical balance of the vagina and can make a woman more susceptible to infections. Douching can introduce new bacteria into the vagina which can spread up through the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes, leading to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). Women who douche regularly experience more vaginal irritations and infections such as bacterial vaginosis, and an increased number of sexually transmitted diseases.
Furthermore, regular users of vaginal douches face a significantly higher risk of developing Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) - a chronic condition that can lead to infertility, or even death, if left untreated. Bacterial vaginosis and PID can have serious adverse effects on pregnancy including infections in the baby, labour problems, and preterm delivery.
Patients with bacterial vaginosis should avoid vaginal douching, use of shower gel and antiseptic agents or shampoo. Patients with vulvovaginal candidiasis should avoid tight fitting synthetic clothes and use of vaginal douching.
Therefore, douching is no longer recommended as a safe or healthy way to routinely clean the vagina. The only safe and healthy way to clean the vagina is to let the vagina clean itself.
How Does the Vagina Clean Itself?
The vagina cleans itself naturally with its own mucous secretions. When bathing or showering use warm water and gentle unscented soap to cleanse the outer areas of the vagina. Feminine hygiene products such as soaps, powders, and sprays are not necessary and may lead to irritation of sensitive tissues.