What is vaginitis?
The tissue in all areas of the human body can become inflamed for a variety of reasons. Allergic reactions, invasion of bacteria or viruses, chemicals, and many other influencers can cause a reaction.
The vagina has a natural balance of organisms that main its healthiness. If something is introduced that alters that balance, the vaginal walls can become inflamed and cause vaginitis.
Vaginitis can be cured between a few days and up to two weeks, depending on the type and cause. Knowing the signs of vaginitis can help you decide when to see your doctor and help them diagnose and treat the condition.
Symptoms of vaginitis
The signs of each type of vaginitis are very similar. Each type is accompanied by discharge, itching, burning, and discomfort during sexual intercourse. However, each type has independent symptoms that can help you identify which one you might have.
Vaginitis symptoms are dependent upon the type of infection you have. If you have bacterial vaginosis, you might notice:
- A discharge that is green, white, or gray and has an odor
- Itching and burning
- Painful sex
A fungal infection is commonly called a yeast infection. The signs of this type of infection are:
- A thick, white discharge without smell
- Painful sex
A sexually transmitted infection that causes vaginitis is trichomoniasis. If you have this condition, your partner will also need treatment. Sometimes — in 70% of cases — there are not any symptoms present.
The symptoms for trichomoniasis, when present, are:
- Itching on the inner thighs
- Greenish-yellow foamy discharge
- Itching and labial swelling
- Vaginal odor
- Painful sex
Types of vaginitis
There are two types of vaginitis, with five different subtypes. Infectious vaginitis is a condition caused by an infection that is the result of fungal, bacterial, or viral invasions of the vagina. The infectious vaginitis types are:
- Yeast infections
Noninfectious vaginitis is a type that is not the result of an organism, but are reactions due to changes in your body's chemistry or by an allergic response:
- Atrophic vaginitis
- Noninfectious vaginitis
Causes of vaginitis
Yeast infections occur when the natural levels of fungus in the vagina become unbalanced, and one of the types of fungus overwhelm the healthy bacteria. Most commonly, this is the Candida albicans fungus, which causes the most yeast infections in women per year.
There are always bacteria present in the vagina. Since the vagina is warm and moist, it is a likely place for harmful organisms to grow. Luckily, the normal bacteria in the vagina maintain a slightly acidic environment that keeps infections from occurring.
If these bacteria are not present, infections from bad bacteria can occur. This is usually caused by having multiple sex partners, douching, using perfumes, or by using other cleansing chemicals or sprays.
Trichomoniasis is named for the parasite that causes it, Trichomonas vaginalis. This microscopic parasite infects the host and their partners and is classified as a sexually transmitted infection.
Women are more at risk of developing vaginitis if they have recently been on an antibiotic regimen, are pregnant, or diabetic. If you're HIV positive or on immunosuppressants, you're also more at risk for developing an infection. Corticosteroid treatments and contraceptives that are high in estrogen are known to make women more susceptible to vaginal infections.
Atrophic vaginitis is a condition that is caused by changing the hormone levels in your body. If you are pregnant or going through menopause, your estrogen levels are different than they usually are or used to be.
This difference causes your vaginal fluid production levels to go down, making the walls dry and thin. This makes your vagina more prone to infection because the natural balances are off.
Noninfectious vaginitis occurs when you have a reaction to a soap or chemical. This is why doctors recommend that you don't douche because it contains soap or chemicals that wash away the bacteria and organisms that are vital to the health of your vagina.
When to see the doctor for vaginitis
If you experience any of the signs such as itching, burning, foul odors, or colored discharge, see your doctor.
Diagnosis for vaginitis
Doctors conduct a physical exam of your vagina to look for the signs of an infection. They take a sample of any discharge they find and send it to the lab for analysis.
A PAP smear may also be conducted to help diagnose the cause of the infection.
Treatments for vaginitis
When your doctor has diagnosed the type of vaginitis you have, they will prescribe an appropriate regimen for the type. Bacterial vaginosis is usually treated with antibiotics.
Yeast infections need to focus on stabilizing natural fungus levels, so you'll receive antifungal creams or suppositories, vaginal tablets, or antifungal pills. Trichomoniasis is also treated with antibiotics.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Michigan Medicine: "Test for Bacterial Vaginosis."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Trichomoniasis."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Vaginitis."
John Hopkins Medicine: "Vaginitis."
St. Louis Children's Hospital: "Vaginitis."
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Vaginal Yeast Infection
Vaginal yeast infections in women are caused by an organism called Candida albicans. Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include vaginal pain with urination, vaginal discharge, odor, and itching.
Treatment is generally OTC medications. A man can contract a yeast infection from his female sexual partner. Symptoms of a yeast infection in men include penile itching. Treatment is with oral or topical medication.