It’s the 21st century but there are still some questions women feel uncomfortable asking their doctors. Strange smells, mysterious bumps, or odd bodily functions may be a bit embarrassing to speak about but keeping these concerns to yourself may lead to bigger health problems.
Makati Medical Center, the Philippines’ premier healthcare institution, with Sonia E. Bongala, MD of the MakatiMed Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology helps us out by tackling the medical questions women are too afraid or embarrassed to ask.
Embarrassing medical questions
Why does this smell funny?
An unusual smell can be a sign that something is wrong with a certain body part. For our lady parts down there, odors are natural and normal due to the fact that the vagina has a balanced combination of both fluid (discharge) and bacteria. This is to maintain a healthy acidic level and for the vaginal area to regulate and cleanse itself.
There are, however, times when excess odor signals problems. A pungent fishy smell along with runny grayish white or yellow discharge are the symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis, a mild infection of the vagina. “The vagina normally houses healthy bacteria, but when unhealthy bacteria like that of Bacterial Vaginosis takes over, it upsets the balance and can increase risks of other infections,” says Dr. Bongala. “Bacterial Vaginosis, however, can easily be treated with antibiotics. So, if you start noticing abnormal discharge, consult your doctor right away before it becomes too serious.”
Why are my breasts different sizes?
The “twins” rarely match – sometimes, it’s a slight difference, while for others, it’s a significant one. Your size can change daily with estrogen levels, pregnancy, and yes, even bra support. “Breasts tend to feel fuller while you are ovulating or are on your period,” says Dr. Bongala. “For moms who are breastfeeding, the breasts also tend to get bigger and heavier because of the milk coming in.”
Only a few women have completely symmetrical breasts, but if suddenly one breast gets bigger than the other it could also be a sign of an infection, a cyst, fibroid, or even cancer. While breast asymmetry is not usually something to be worried about, it is still recommended to check with your doctor to ease concerns.
Is it okay to use pantyliners on a daily basis?
Are liners friends or foes when it comes to health and hygiene? Many wear it to keep themselves clean and fresh, but it depends on you and how you react to it. Make sure it’s breathable by using pantyliners without a plastic covering, because these are more porous. It will lessen moisture and protect you from infection. Make sure you change them frequently, too—ideally every 4 to 6 hours.
“Be very vigilant about hygiene, especially during menstruation,” reminds Dr. Bongala. “Wash your hands properly before handling pantyliners and sanitary pads. Avoid wearing tight jeans or leggings for extended periods of time, because these can increase body temperature and moisture around the genitals which could allow bacteria to thrive.”
I wear non-cotton underwear, is that okay?
There’s no problem with your personal preference dictating the fabric – as long as you make sure the crotch area is lined with cotton. “Most underwear available are fairly breathable, as long as there is a cotton lining in the vaginal area, that’s fine,” says Dr. Bongala. “As much as possible, steer clear of synthetic materials and leave silk for special occasions, because these types can trap and retain moisture, which can lead to bacterial or yeast infection.”
Is it safe to use feminine wash regularly?
It depends on the type being used. Some are much stronger than others. Prolonged use of feminine wash can change vaginal acidity and make you more vulnerable to infections. “Some feminine wash have very strong formulations which can actually kill the good bacteria in the vagina and change vaginal acidity. I’d like to reiterate that an adequate amount of good bacteria (vaginal flora) is needed to maintain a healthy vaginal acidity,” says Dr. Bongala. “Changes due to prolonged use of feminine wash with strong antiseptics can cause a superinfection with resistant fungi and bacteria.”
There are also other types of feminine wash that are milder and safer to use, but it is recommended by professionals not to use feminine wash every day. A mild formulation is safe to use a few times a week for women with no signs and symptoms of infection. If the purpose is simply to maintain cleanliness, then mild soap and water should do the trick.
Should I consider using tampons?
There have been recent reports saying that conventional or non-organic tampons and sanitary pads contain harmful ingredients like cancer-causing dioxins, but there is no substantive scientific evidence yet to support these claims. However, some women may consider using products without added fragrance to avoid allergic reactions. There is also the risk of tampons causing toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a potentially deadly disease caused by bacterial infections. Symptoms include wounds, sores, seizures, and high fever, to name a few. Like with pantyliners and sanitary pads, it is ideal to change tampons every 4 to 6 hours.
Is it safe to have sex while I’m on my period?
“Sex is a part of life and yes, women can still engage in and enjoy intercourse even while on their period,” Dr. Bongala states. “Studies also show that sex can soothe menstrual cramps and headaches. You just need to ensure that you are practicing safe sex.”
Take note that any bodily fluid can carry HIV and you can be more prone to infections because the cervix is susceptible to viruses during your period. Also, the pH level of the vagina increases during menstruation which causes yeast to grow rapidly. “Pregnancy is still possible during menstruation as well, especially if you have sex towards the end of your period, because sperm can still be viable for 3 to 5 days,” says Dr. Bongala.
Dr. Bongala says patients should feel free to ask any question to their doctors. “Don’t be shy! We are here to help.”
* This is a press release. Momi Berlin shares this as she finds the content worth sharing especially for those ladies who are embarrassed to ask such questions.