If you’ve ever experienced vaginal discomfort you’d know just how worrying that it can be. Especially so when you aren’t able to identify the exact reason why.
It could be anything from the foods you consume to the clothes you wear. In fact, it could come as surprise but some people are even allergic to their partner’s sperm.
“Your vagina is an extremely delicate area and one that has its own natural pH level and a certain amount of bacteria in order to remain healthy,” she said.
“There are a number of surprising things that can cause an allergic reaction in the vagina and surrounding area and this can result in a range of symptoms from pain, swelling, itching, redness, a burning sensation and discharge.”
Here Dr Lakhani reveals what may be causing your vaginal irritation.
Wearing dirty underwear traps sweat, dirt, and bacteria and holds them close to your skin. You’re also at an increased risk for genital irritation and infections when wearing your underwear for extended periods of time. So it’s advisable to change underwear or swimwear daily in order to avoid a reaction and possible infection.
Water and vinegar
Using a mixture of water and vinegar to flush out the vagina is called vaginal douching and is more popular than ever. Some say it leaves them feeling fresher and gets rid of unpleasant odours. However douching removes everything that is inside your vagina – including the good bacteria that keeps it healthy. Without that bacteria it’s at risk of infection. Not only is there little scientific evidence that douching makes vaginas cleaner, it also upsets the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina making it more susceptible to an allergic reaction and infections.
Spraying perfume, deodorant, air freshener or anything else that gives the vagina a sweet smell really shouldn’t be encouraged. You don’t need any special products to cleanse to vagina in any way, including soap, unless your doctor tells you otherwise. The chemicals in these fragrances can cause irritation and infection to the delicate area of the vagina.
Tampons, fingers, penises, menstrual cups and such like are fine, providing they’re clean. Other foreign objects most certainly aren’t. Take cucumbers and bananas for example – even just their textures and skin can cause irritation and an allergic reaction and result in pain and discomfort.
A balanced diet will benefit your intimate area and lessen the likelihood of you developing thrush. Refined sugar found in sweets and fizzy drinks have been proven to feed bad bacteria, upsetting your body’s delicate balance and increasing your risk of developing thrush. High sugar levels can also create more suitable living conditions for the fungal bacteria to grow and make thrush more likely to occur.
Skinny jeans or tight shorts
Skinny jeans and tight shorts are of course fine to wear sometimes, but wearing jeans that are too tight every day can cause yeast infections and chafing. It’s important to give that area room to breathe in order to avoid the build-up of sweat and bacteria around the intimate areas. So jeans which are baggier will allow better airflow around the intimate areas meaning you’ll be less likely to develop a yeast infection or get sore down there.
Believe it or not you really can be allergic to your partner’s sperm! It’s called seminal plasma hypersensitivity and usually involves severe itching and swelling wherever you have come into contact with the sperm, including the vagina. In very rare cases it can escalate to an anaphylaxis reaction.
Many condoms are made of latex which is made from rubber tree fluids and can contain proteins that some people are allergic to. An allergic reaction to latex will result in localised itching, rashes or hives. Fortunately this is very rare but there are now latex-free condoms available if you do experience this but still wish to protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections.
The trend for dying pubic hair certainly isn’t a new thing but while fashions in this area change, it’s important to remember that you should always do a patch test before applying dye to hair on any area of the body, especially the pubic area. This is because many permanent and some semi-permanent hair dyes contain a chemical called paraphenylenediamine (PPD), which is an allergen. It can irritate the skin and result in swelling, redness and pain.’
A vajazzle is the word used to describe a type of vaginal decoration which involves applying decorative crystals or gems to the shaved pubic area. Whilst it’s a seemingly harmless trend, it’s important to be aware that the adhesive used to apply vajazzles can be an allergen which can result in itching, rashes and discomfort. Always do a patch test first in order to make sure there is no allergic reaction.
How can we deal with the effects?
“I would always advise to firstly remove the allergen from the affected area and then consult your doctor in order to see if further action is required, such as antihistamines or steroids to reduce inflammation. Because of the fact that the vagina is such a sensitive area I would not advise using creams there unless you have been specifically advised to by your medical practitioner,” she said.
“In order to maintain vaginal health I would advise trying to eat a balanced healthy diet, avoiding too much alcohol and sugar, both of which can affect the vagina’s natural pH levels. Choosing knickers made of natural fibres rather than synthetic ones will allow a better air flow to the area and ensuring that clothing that comes into contact with the vagina for prolonged periods of time is washed regularly can also help. I would avoid underwear or clothes that are too tight-fitting and can chafe and cause irritation and avoid fragrances and vaginal douching.”
What can you do to minimise the chances of getting an allergy:
- After going to the toilet don’t wipe from back to front, as this can transfer bacteria from the anus to the vagina area, resulting in infection.
- Don’t wear the same tampon for too long, as this can result in infection as well as more serious issues such as Toxic Shock Syndrome.
- Don’t remove pubic hair. It exists for a good reason, mainly protecting the vagina. Removing it can result in ingrown hairs, irritation and rashes.
- Don’t avoid your smear test. Even if you feel OK and don’t have any problems this will check the cells inside the vagina and ensure that they are healthy.
- Don’t wash the vagina with soap. It can remove the healthy bacteria and affect the natural pH levels resulting in infections.
- Do go to the toilet after having sex, the flow of urine will help to wash away any bacteria from the area.