Patient Education

Vaginitis

Vaginitis is a broad term that covers any illness that causes inflammation of the vagina. Symptoms of vaginitis are common among all women. It is estimated that over one third of all women experience the symptoms of vaginitis at least once in their lives. Luckily, the different types of vaginitis are easily treatable after being diagnosed. This page should answer some of your questions about vaginitis, and also offers tips on how to prevent future infections. 

WHAT IS VAGINITIS?

Vaginitis is a term that is used to describe a whole host of various organisms, such as certain types of bacteria, yeasts, fungus and parasites that cause swelling in the vagina. These bacteria infect in many different ways, such as through sexual contact, poor hygiene, allergies, and hormone changes. Vaginitis can cause itching, swelling, pain, redness, and other annoying symptoms, which are luckily all easily treated once diagnosed. There are many different things that can cause vaginitis- 

  • Infection: Infectious vaginitis is responsible for around 90% of all cases. There are three different types of bacteria that create vaginitis:
    • Candidiasis (Yeast Infection):  This fungus causes one of the most common types of vaginitis- the yeast infection. Yeast is found normally in small amounts in healthy vaginas. However, sometimes the yeast may overgrow and lead to an infection. Oftentimes, antibiotics for other problems can increase the growth of candida; pregnancy, diabetes, and HIV can also exacerbate the problem. Women with yeast infections may feel itching and burning on their vulva, which also might be red and swollen. These symptoms may become worse with urination or sexual intercourse.  Yeast infections may cause an odorless, cottage-cheese like discharge. Yeast infections may be asymptomatic. 
    • Gardnerella (Bacterial Vaginosis): Gardnerella bacterium also occurs naturally in the vagina, but can have intense overgrowth. Oftentimes the main symptom of this infection is thin, dark discharge with a fishy-odor. Itching and redness are not main symptoms, but may be present. 
    • Trichomonas Vaginalis (Trichomoniasis): Trichomoniasis is a parasite that is spread through sexual intercourse. Usually, symptoms include yellow-gray or green foul-smelling discharge, itching, redness, and pain when urinating. 
    • Other infections include chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and microplasma. 
  • Hormones: Sometimes vaginitis can be caused when hormone levels in a woman are changed dramatically. Consequently, pre-pubescent girls, post-partum and menopausal women often times develop vaginitis because of the severe changes in their hormones. 
  • Allergies/Irritation: The vagina is sensitive, and contact with strong chemical substances like spermicides, soaps, perfumes, douches, and lubricants can irritate the vagina which may cause swelling or itching. 

HOW TREATABLE IS VAGINITIS?

Fortunately, vaginitis is very treatable. Vaginitis caused by infections of bacteria requires different antibiotics of varying strengths to rid the specific type of infection. Hormonal vaginitis is usually corrected by itself when the hormone levels naturally balance themselves out. However, if they don’t, hormone therapy may be prescribed. Usually vaginitis by allergic reactions also goes away by itself. After the offending substance is removed, your body can help your vagina restore its natural pH. 

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I THINK I HAVE VAGINITIS?

If you believe you have vaginitis, it is important to go to your doctor so that you can get a professional diagnosis of the problem. Oftentimes women will experience the symptoms of vaginitis and immediately think that they may have a yeast infection and buy over the counter medication to self administer. However, it may be a different type of vaginitis, and the treatments for the wrong kind of infection could cause further problems. 

If you are diagnosed with vaginitis, your doctor will either give you a prescription antibiotic to get rid of it, or simply instructions on how to prevent future occurrences. If you have a yeast infection, the medication can be administered orally or directly into the vagina.  For trichomoniasis, you will be prescribed an oral pill. The antibiotic for bacterial vaginosis comes in both pill and gel form. 

HOW CAN I PREVENT VAGINITIS IN THE FUTURE?

There are several ways to prevent your chances of getting vaginitis in the future. The first big tip is to maintain hygiene. Wash thoroughly, but with only unscented lotion free soap and water. Don’t use perfumes or lubricants or anything that could possibly irritate the vulva. Cotton underwear allows for better breathability, which is very healthy as well. Wipe front to back, and when you finish working out, don’t stay in your sweaty clothes, which could also cause problems. Also, if you are on certain antibiotics and start your period, use pads instead of tampons. Finally, eat healthily. A healthy diet helps maintain the body's natural chemical balance.