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Itching and Burning and Bumps, Oh My! A Guide to Vaginal Issues

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As a woman, there will be times when you find yourself with an uncomfortable problem: You can't stop itching "down there." You may find yourself squirming in your seat at work or waking up in the middle of the night scratching yourself. Thankfully, most things that cause this condition are not serious, but you may need a trip to your gynecologist to figure out what is going on.

Vaginal itching and burning often are caused by a vaginal infection. One of the most common of these is a yeast infection. Yeast is an organism that lives in the vagina, but in certain conditions, it can overgrow, causing intense itching and thick vaginal discharge. It is easily cured with over-the-counter products such as Monistat, which offers one-, three- and seven-day treatments. It's important to note, however, that the number associated with each option signifies the days that you'll need to take the treatment, not the time it will take to cure the infection. While relief from symptoms can be felt as soon as four hours after the first dose, most yeast infections take around seven days to be completely cured, so it's important to finish the treatment even if you're feeling better. The concentration of the active ingredient varies with each product, so you should choose the option that's best for your body. For instance, the one-day product has the highest concentration at 1200 mg, vs. the seven-day treatment's 100 mg per dose. If your vagina is extremely irritated and you're experiencing pain, you may want to opt for the less-concentrated product, even if it means extending the length of treatment. To relieve symptoms immediately, try an over-the-counter itch relief product such as From the Makers of Monistat Soothing Care, which also helps heal irritated skin.

Another issue we all face: The secretion of vaginal discharge. You may notice that the color and consistency changes as your progress through the menstrual cycle. In the week or two right after your period, the discharge is clear and thin. After ovulation at mid-cycle, it becomes white, thicker and stickier.

If your discharge changes significantly from this pattern, it may signify that you have an infection. A thick white discharge usually means a yeast infection. If it is yellow, brown or green, it could be bacterial vaginosis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, or trichomonas. A fishy vaginal odor is usually associated with bacterial infections. While yeast infections can be treated with over the counter products like Monistat, bacterial infections require prescription antibiotics. Be sure to visit your doctor if you have a new discharge for more than a few days.

Other infections that cause vaginal irritation may be sexually transmitted. These include herpes, gonorrhea, trichomonas, and chlamydia. In some cases, however, vaginal irritation or burning is not caused by an infection. Low estrogen levels during menopause or breast feeding lead to thinning of the vaginal skin, which also causes itching. Frequent intercourse, especially after a period of abstinence, can cause frictional irritation and burning. If you are unsure about the cause of the itching, you should visit your doctor for a thorough exam, especially if your symptoms persist for more than a few days.

Consider another situation that many of us will experience: You are taking a shower and suddenly you are horrified to feel a bump down there. Was that there before, you wonder? You jump out of the shower, grab the hand mirror, and try to investigate. It turns out there are all sorts of things that can grow in the vaginal area, and the majority of them are not dangerous at all.

The most common condition leading to vaginal bumps is folliculitis. This is a skin infection at the base of a hair follicle, much like a pimple. It can occur anywhere on the labia and is quite tender, but it's nothing to be concerned about.

Bartholin cysts form at the bottom of the vaginal opening. These are glands that normally secrete a small amount of mucus. When the opening to the gland becomes clogged with mucus, it swells and can get as big as a golf ball, often causing severe pain especially when sitting or walking. This is a common condition, but see your doctor with any concerns.

Skin tags are common in the vaginal area. They are overgrowths of skin that are not painful and don't cause any harm. They are often confused with genital warts, however, which do require prescription treatment. Warts are an STD caused by the virus HPV. They usually appear 2-3 weeks after exposure. They look like raised, flat bumps and may be slightly itchy. Your gynecologist can help you distinguish one from the other.

Other vaginal bumps include sebaceous cysts (sweat gland cysts) and molluscum contagiosum (caused by the pox virus). If you are not sure what is causing your bump, visit your gynecologist. Most of these conditions are easily treated and some will go away on their own.

The bottom line is that women are bound to experience issues "down there" from time to time. It's perfectly normal! See your doctor with any concerns you may have, and remember that vaginal issues are nothing to be embarrassed about.

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