For many, the start of a new school year can be the first time living away from home and primary doctors with very little routine and more freedom than ever before. With all this can come a litany of questions about feminine health that may not have come up before. When you notice some itching or sensitivity, how can you know if it’s serious or not? How can you talk with parents about your intimate health? Where can you go for reliable information about feminine health?
Thankfully, our board-certified Advisors have answered all these questions many times before and are more than happy to share their insights with you!
When to see a doctor
“Some red flags include but are not limited to vaginal bleeding more than one pad per hour, severe pelvic pain, painful intercourse, a change in vaginal discharge or odor, a missed period, or irregular periods,” According to Dr. Montes. When you notice these symptoms, it’s a good idea to make an appointment to get things professionally checked out. Along with those, Dr. Cross mentions checking on pain not alleviated by over the counter medications and symptoms like fever or chills that can signal a more severe systemic infection.
Not all these symptoms are emergencies, but should still be examined. “Mild itching, burning, discharge or odor lasting longer than a week should be evaluated but don’t need to be seen by a health practitioner urgently, just as soon as an appointment is available,” according to Dr. Greenleaf.
How to find a doctor
When something causes concern, the stress of trying to find a doctor should be the last thing on your mind. Dr. Greenleaf recommends not waiting until you need a doctor to find one. “Not many think about finding a new doctor until it is too late.”
Many universities have student health services on campus that can assist with vaginal health concerns. This can be a great place to start, but doesn’t necessarily give you many options. “These days many college students are finding doctors on social media as well so that is a platform that I would add to Google, reviews and word of mouth,” Dr. Cross said. Check with your insurance provider to see who is covered under your policy. Dr. Greenleaf also recommends websites like Vitals, Healthgrades, and Zoc Doc since they allow patients to rate physicians along with Google reviews.
How to talk to parents
Opening up to parents about intimate health concerns can cause terror if it’s not something you’ve done before, but those conversations are so important. “The truth is, 80% of women will develop a pelvic health condition at some point in their lives,” Dr. Greenleaf says. “For many, talking about genital health brings along feelings of shame and embarrassment. But as a woman it is important to stand up for your own health.”
Dr. Cross says starting that conversation at a doctor’s appointment can ease some tension if you’re comfortable bringing your parent in. “Gynecologists are well-trained and experienced to have those conversations so you can address any concerns without either party feeling uncomfortable.”
Dr. Montes recommends using questions about family history to open up conversation. “You can ask your mom if she has experienced anything similar and students may be surprised to find that their parents may be open to these conservations.” She also emphasizes the confidentiality agreements physicians make, so they’ll never disclose your information unless your well-being is in immediate danger.
How to maintain vaginal health
First, some of the don’ts. Douching, washing inside of the vagina, and heavily fragranced products are all no-gos from Dr. Cross. Sugar and alcohol, tight-fitting pants and underwear, and sitting around in wet swimsuits should all be limited according to Dr. Montes.
So what should you do to maintain vaginal health? Many of the standard “healthy” habits you’ve been told are a big part of overall baseline health. This means getting 8 hours of sleep, drinking plenty of water, and eating a balanced diet - bonus points for fermented foods like kombucha, yogurt, or kimchi. Dr. Greenleaf also recommends washing externally with mild soap, sleeping in loose clothing, wearing cotton non-thong underwear, and changing pads and tampons frequently.
Our advisors all agree that social media can have tons of helpful information about vaginal health, but you need to be aware of your sources and never use it as a substitution for an honest conversation with a trained healthcare provider.
Photo by: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels