Vaginitis is an infection that causes swelling and inflammation in the vagina. Vaginitis happens as a result of an imbalance of the normal bacterial flora causing an overgrowth of other organisms in the vagina.
Types of Vaginitis
There are many conditions that will cause swelling or infection in the vagina. The common types of vaginitis are:
- viral vaginitis
- yeast infection
- Chlamydia vaginitis
- bacterial vaginosis
- allergies (non-infectious vaginitis)
Herpes, gonorrhea, mycoplasma, campylobacter, poor hygiene and other parasites might also bring about vaginitis. Each condition has its own symptoms, but sometimes, doctors find it tricky to diagnose the symptoms. The problem is that you can experience more than one symptom simultaneously if you have vaginitis.
What are the causes?
Bacteria and certain species of yeast usually develop in the areas surrounding the vagina. They are known as vaginal flora. For good health, there should be a balance for each kind of organism in the vagina. An imbalance of the vaginal flora can trigger vaginitis.
- Candida infections - occur due to fungal overgrowth. Its causes have not been established yet, but it mostly occurs when diabetes gets out of control or when people take oral antibiotics.
- Trichomoniasis - can be transmitted through sexual contact. When moist or damp towels, toilet seats, or wet garments get in contact with your genitals, they can also cause vaginitis.
- Bacterial vaginosis - happens due to an uncontrollable growth of bacteria in the vagina. Having a new sex partner or having multiple sex partners can increase a woman's risk of developing the infection. Vaginal sanitation changes are also linked to this infection. Women who douche, pregnant, and use contraceptives such as intrauterine devices are more prone to BV.
Tips on Living with Vaginitis
1. Soap, water, or douche?
If you are not experiencing any pain in your vaginal area, give it time to heal on its own. Avoid using shower gels and scented soaps to minimize irritation, especially in the vulvar area of your vagina. Salt can help cleanse the affected area. You can add a little salt when showering and rinse it with a shower head preferably a hand held one. Let the vagina clean itself naturally.
Do not douche as it allows the development of vaginitis due to a lack of vaginal flora, which regulate the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina.
Some women might assume that they have a yeast infection when they experience vaginal itching and having an unusual discharge. Many women self-medicate by buying over-the-counter drugs when their vagina gets irritated. It is advisable to see a doctor if the problem comes back as it might be caused by something else. If the irritated vaginal tissues do not completely heal, the infection can reoccur.
A natural remedy that you can do is to simply cleanse your vagina with water or by using a mild laundry detergent when washing your underwear. If your vagina has sensitive skin, it will react to dyes, fragrances, and chemicals.
Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet will help get rid of bacterial and fungal vaginitis. Raw garlic has a strong antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Douche or suppositories with tea tree oil can be used as an alternative to antibiotics therapy. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of tea tree oil into a cup of warm water.
After treating vaginitis, the normal vaginal flora must be restored to avoid the overgrowth of bacteria and fungi that can promote vaginitis. Avoid vaginitis from recurring by taking probiotics in the form of capsules or yogurt.
4. Applying a cold compress
A washcloth can be used to apply cold compress on the labial part of the vagina to minimize discomfort until the antifungal treatment becomes effective.
5. Use latex condom & wear cotton underwear
Latex condoms for both men and women can be used to minimize the risk of infection through sexual contact.
Put on a breathable cotton underwear to absorb sweat and moisture in your crotch and vagina. Always remember that moist environments are favorable for the growth of yeast cells.
Practice proper hygiene to avoid the reoccurrence of vaginitis. The following can help prevent vaginitis:
- Don’t take regular, extended baths. Whirlpools and hot tubs should also be avoided.
- Rinse your genitals thoroughly after showering. Pat dry after rinsing to avoid extended irritation and unnecessary moisture.
- Avoid using harsh or scented soaps such as those with antibacterial properties.
- Pads or tampons that can irritate the vaginal tissues should be avoided.
- Use the front to back wipe technique after a bowel movement to prevent bacteria from spreading to the urethra.
- Refrain from constant douching since it destroys the natural vaginal flora.
- Use protection to avoid having STIs.
- Don’t wear underpants that encourage genital sweating. Choose an underwear that is made of light cotton and cotton lining.
How Bacterial Vaginosis Is Spread
No exact evidence has been proved on how bacterial vaginosis is spread, apart from it being common among sexually active women. BV can sometimes develop immediately after engaging in a sexual intercourse with a new partner. Research shows that women are at higher risks if they have sexual intercourse with female partners as opposed to male partners.
No link has been established between certain sexual practices and BV. The use of protection such as condoms have been recommended to minimize the severity of a bacterial vaginosis infection.
Diagnosis of BV
Laboratory tests along with the person's signs and symptoms can help the doctor come up with the right diagnosis. In a physical examination, the doctor can check the following:
- vaginal discharge (amount, odor, color, and consistency)
- acidity of vaginal fluid
Treatment for BV
Treatment will not be necessary if there are no symptoms. Treatment is required if:
- you exhibit symptoms or if BV signs have been observed
- a medical procedure is about to be done that might allow entry of bacteria to your uterus in the case of pregnancy termination or IUD insertion
- you are expecting a baby
Antibiotics Used to Treat Bacterial Vaginosis
Metronidazole is an antibiotic that may be administered for the treatment of BV. If the doctor prescribes metronidazole, you will be required to:
- take it twice a day for a week
- take it after meals to reduce stomach upset and possible nausea
- avoid drinking alcohol while under treatment
Vaginal creams can be substituted for metronidazole if you have a hard time taking it. Clindamycin can be applied at night for seven days.
Recurrences of BV
BV can reoccur 6-12 months after treatment, which happens to about half of the patients. Reinfection or if the treatment failed to work can cause a reoccurrence. BV screening and treatment are advised to sexually active women who are prone to developing the infection.
Preparing for Your Appointment
A gynecologist, family doctor, and other health care practitioners may diagnose and recommend a vaginitis treatment.
What You Can Do
To prepare for a doctor’s appointment, prepare a detailed list of the following:
- symptoms that you have experienced
- personal information, e.g., number of past sexual partners and if you have a new one
- all vitamins, supplements, and medications you use including their doses
- questions for your doctor
Refrain from having sex, avoid using tampons or douching prior to your appointment for a more effective vaginal assessment.
The basic questions on vaginitis include:
- How can I prevent vaginitis?
- Which symptoms and signs should I look out for?
- Is medication necessary?
- Are there any available over-the-counter medications to treat the infection?
- What should I do in case the symptoms reoccur?
- Should my partner be tested or treated?
Don’t hold back to ask any questions during your doctor's appointment.
What to Expect from Your Doctor
The following are questions that the doctor might ask you:
- Have you noticed any unusual vaginal odor?
- Are your symptoms linked with your menstrual cycle? Are they stronger before or after your menstrual period?
- Have you taken any over-the-counter medication for your condition?
- Are you expecting a child?
- Do you bathe in bubble baths or use scented soaps?
- Do you use feminine sprays or douche?
Don’t shy away when sharing your symptoms. Discuss your condition honestly with your doctor to receive proper treatment immediately.