“Vaginitis” is a medical term used to describe various conditions that cause infection or inflammation of the vagina. Vulvovaginitis refers to inflammation of both the vagina and vulva (the external female genitals). These conditions can result from a vaginal infection caused by organisms such as bacteria, yeast, or viruses, as well as by irritations from chemicals in creams, sprays, or even clothing that is in contact with this area. In some cases, vaginitis results from organisms that are passed between sexual partners.
What Are the Symptoms of a Vaginal Infection?
The symptoms of a vaginal infection can vary depending on what is causing it. Some women have no symptoms at all. Some of the more common symptoms of vaginitis include:
Abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor.
Burning during urination.
Itching around the outside of the vagina.
Discomfort during intercourse.
Is Vaginal Discharge Normal?
A woman’s vagina normally produces a discharge that usually is described as clear or slightly cloudy, non-irritating, and odor-free. During the normal menstrual cycle, the amount and consistency of discharge can vary. At one time of the month there may be a small amount of a very thin or watery discharge; and at another time, a more extensive thicker discharge may appear. All of these descriptions could be considered normal.
A vaginal discharge that has an odor or that is irritating usually is considered an abnormal discharge. The irritation might be itching or burning, or both. The itching may be present at any time of the day, but it often is most bothersome at night. These symptoms often are made worse by sexual intercourse. It is important to see your doctor if there has been a change in the amount, color, or smell of the discharge.
What Are the Most Common Types of Vaginal Infections?
The six most common types of vaginal infections are:
- Candida or “yeast” infections.
- Bacterial vaginosis.
- Trichomoniasis vaginitis.
- Chlamydia vaginitis.
- Viral vaginitis.
- Non-infectious vaginitis.
Although each of these vaginal infections can have different symptoms, it is not always easy for a woman to figure out which type she has. In fact, diagnosis can even be tricky for an experienced doctor. Part of the problem is that sometimes more than one type of infection can be present at the same time. And, an infection may even be present without any symptoms at all.
To help you better understand these six major causes of vaginitis, let’s look briefly at each one of them and how they are treated.
How Are Vaginal Infections Treated?
The key to proper treatment of vaginal infections is proper diagnosis. This is not always easy since the same symptoms can exist in different forms of vaginitis. You can greatly assist your doctor by paying close attention to exactly which symptoms you have and when they occur, along with a description of the color, consistency, amount, and smell of any abnormal discharge. Do not douche before your office or clinic visit; it will make accurate testing difficult or impossible. Some doctors ask that you abstain from sex for 24 hours before your appointment.
Because different types of vaginitis have different causes, the treatment needs to be specific to the type of vaginitis present. It is best to see your doctor before self-treating with over-the-counter medications.
“Non-infectious” vaginitis is treated by changing the probable cause. If you recently changed your soap or laundry detergent or have added a fabric softener, you might consider stopping the new product to see if the symptoms improve. The same instruction would apply to a new vaginal spray, douche, sanitary napkin, or tampon. If the vaginitis is due to hormonal changes, estrogen may be prescribed to help reduce symptoms.
How Can I Prevent Vaginal Infections?
There are certain things that you can do to decrease the chance of getting vaginal infections. If you suffer from yeast infections, it usually is helpful to avoid garments that hold in heat and moisture. The wearing of nylon panties, pantyhose without a cotton panel, and tight jeans can lead to yeast infections. Good hygiene also is important. In addition, doctors have found that if a woman eats yogurt that contains active cultures (read the label) she may get fewer infections.
Because they can cause vaginal irritation, most doctors do not recommend vaginal sprays or heavily perfumed soaps for cleansing this area. Likewise, douching may cause irritation or, more importantly, may hide a vaginal infection. Douching also removes the healthy bacteria that help keep the vagina clean. Removing these bacteria can result in, or worsen, vaginitis.
Safe sexual practices can help prevent the passing of diseases between partners. The use of condoms is particularly important.
If you are approaching menopause, have had your ovaries removed or have low levels of estrogen for any reason, discuss with your doctor the use of estrogen in the form of pills, creams, or vaginal rings to keep the vagina lubricated and healthy.
Good health habits are important. Have a complete gynecologic exam, including a Pap smear every year unless otherwise directed by your doctor. If you have multiple sexual partners, you should request screening for sexually transmitted diseases.
When Should I Call my Doctor About a Vaginal Infection?
You should call your doctor any time if:
- Your vaginal discharge changes color, becomes heavier or smells different.
- You notice itching, burning, swelling or soreness around the vagina.
This information is provided by WebMD.