What is vaginitis?
Vaginitis is a term for any infection or inflammation of the vagina.
What are the symptoms of vaginitis?
In general, vaginitis may cause itching, irritation, or abnormal vaginal discharge.
There are a several different kinds of vaginitis, each with their own causes and symptoms:
Candida or "yeast" infections -- Yeast infections of the vagina are probably the most familiar form of vaginitis. They occur when too much of the fungus Candida grows in the vagina.
Yeast infections produce a thick, white discharge from the vagina that can look like cottage cheese. The discharge can be watery and often has no smell. Yeast infections usually cause the vagina and vulva (the area outside the vagina) to become itchy and red.
Bacterial vaginosis -- Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection in women of reproductive age. It is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria that are usually present in the vagina.
Bacterial vaginosis will often cause a thin, milky discharge from the vagina that may have a "fishy" odor. Many women with bacterial vaginosis have no symptoms and only discover they have it during a routine gynecologic exam.
Trichomoniasis -- Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by a single-cell parasite. It can cause vaginal itching, burning, and soreness of the vagina and vulva, as well as burning during urination. Many women with trichomoniasis do not develop any symptoms.
Non-infectious vaginitis -- This form of vaginitis is usually caused by an allergic reaction or irritation from vaginal sprays, douches, spermicidal products, soaps, detergents, or fabric softeners. It can cause burning, itching, or vaginal discharge even if there is no infection.
What are the treatments for vaginitis?
The key to treating vaginitis is knowing which kind you have. The treatment must be specific to the type of vaginitis present.
- Yeast infections are usually treated with an anti-yeast cream or suppository placed inside the vagina. A health care provider can write a prescription for most yeast infection treatments.
Although you can also buy medicine to treat yeast infections over-the-counter, it is a good idea to see a health care provider the first time you have symptoms of a yeast infection. Because this medicine will not cure other types of vaginitis, it is important to be sure you actually have a yeast infection before using these treatments.
- Bacterial vaginosis is treated with an antibiotic that gets rid of the "bad" bacteria and leaves the "good" bacteria. There is no over-the-counter treatment for bacterial vaginosis, so it is important to see your health care provider for a prescription.
- Sexually transmitted forms of vaginitis need to be treated by a health care provider right away. It is important to avoid sexual contact until you have been treated to prevent spreading the infection. A woman's sexual partner(s) will need treatment as well.
Trichomoniasis and Chlamydia are both treated by antibiotics. Neither genital herpes nor HPV can be cured, but both can be controlled with the help of your health care provider and medications.
- Non-infectious vaginitis can be treated by stopping the use of the product that caused the allergic reaction or irritation. Your health care provider may also be able to provide medicated cream to help reduce the symptoms until the reaction goes away.
It is important to remember that each type of vaginitis has a different treatment. Therefore it is very important to see a health care provider to be sure you are using the right treatment for your condition. Also, some kinds of vaginitis have no symptoms so it is important to have regular gynecologic exams.
Can I prevent vaginitis?
There are some things you can do to lower your chances of getting vaginitis.
- If you often get yeast infections, you may want to avoid clothes that hold in heat and moisture, such as panty hose without a cotton lining, nylon panties, or tight jeans.
- Avoid douches and vaginal sprays because they can kill "good" bacteria or cause irritation.
Sexually transmitted forms can help protect against sexually transmitted forms of vaginitis.