What You Should Know About Vaginitis
Vaginitis is an inflammation in and around the vagina that results in itching, discharge and pain. It is a common and treatable condition that is usually caused by a change in the balance of bacteria in the vagina. There are a few common types of vaginitis, and the symptoms experienced can help to determine which type you may have.
Types of vaginitis
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
This type most commonly affects women in their childbearing years. It results from the overgrowth of bacteria naturally found in the vagina, often occurring after sex or frequent douching. Women who have never been sexually active are rarely affected by BV.
Women with bacterial vaginosis might develop a grayish-white discharge, “fishy” smelling vaginal odor, itching and a burning sensation during urination.
The most common treatment for BV is antibiotics, which might be prescribed in a pill, topical gel or cream. Because persistent, recurring BV is very common among women, some antibiotics can be prescribed for a long period.
There are a few other natural treatments that women find successful, but these should be discussed with your gynecologist before opting to use with, or instead of, medication.
Yeast infections are usually caused when candida, the naturally occurring fungus in the vagina, increases and causes discomfort. Approximately 75 percent of women will experience a yeast infection at least once in their life.
Yeast infections can often be triggered by another event. For example, a woman may take an antibiotic to treat a UTI, and that antibiotic kills the “friendly” bacteria that keep the yeast at bay. As a result, the yeast overgrows and causes a vaginal infection.
Common symptoms of a yeast infection include an itchy, red and swollen vulva and vagina, burning feeling during urination and a thick, white discharge with the consistency of cottage cheese.
Typical treatments include an over-the-counter antifungal cream or suppository or a prescription oral antifungal medication.
This is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a protozoan parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. During sex, the parasite usually spreads from a penis to a vagina or from a vagina to a penis. It can also spread from a vagina to another vagina.
Men who have trichomoniasis typically exhibit no symptoms and rarely know they have it. Using condoms can drastically decrease your risk of transmitting the infection. Preventing reinfection of trichomoniasis requires both partners to be treated with antibiotics.
Symptoms of trichomoniasis include genital itching and painful urination, pain during sex and a greenish-yellow, foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
Trichomoniasis can increase your risk of getting HIV or other STDs, so getting professional treatment is important for your health.
Symptoms of vaginitis
Depending on what is causing the infection, symptoms can vary. Some of the more common symptoms women experience include:
- Itchy, dry or sore vagina
- Abnormal vaginal discharge with odor
- Discomfort when urinating or during sex
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting
- Sore, swollen or cracked skin around the vagina
If you present any abnormal symptoms in your vaginal area, it's important to schedule an appointment with your OB-GYN for testing. The earlier you can start treatment, the better.
Small lifestyle adjustments can prevent vaginitis
Women can take certain measures to prevent vaginitis within their current hygiene routine. This includes avoiding chemicals and perfumes in products such as tampons and toilet paper. Wash the vulva (outer vaginal area) every day with water.
Ensure vaginal cleanliness by wiping correctly after a bowel movement—from front to back—to reduce the spread of bacteria from the anus to the vagina. During your period, change tampons according to the directions on the package. Avoid using douches as they can disrupt the healthy balance in the vagina.
Vaginitis can also be prevented by making small adjustments to your daily life. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. These actions help your body fight infection and keep you healthy. Wear clothing that is dry and clean to help air circulate around the vagina. This will let your body breathe and prevent yeast from growing.
Lastly, limiting your number of sexual partners and using latex condoms during sex can reduce your risk of vaginitis.
As always, pay attention to your body and its symptoms. If something feels off, trust your gut and contact your doctor. It may not be anything, but if it is, you’re already on the right track to getting back to good vaginal health.