Vaginitis is a condition that is characterized by the inflammation of the vagina. It usually occurs as a result of fungal infection. Normally, a woman with vaginitis experiences vaginal itchiness, irritation, and sometimes pain. Mostly, the vulva is irritated or becomes infected. The condition is mostly common in diabetic women.
The vagina is a muscular canal connecting the uterus to the outside of the body. All parts of the vagina, apart from its opening, cannot be viewed with the naked eye since they are located inside the body. The various types of vaginitis include:
- Atrophic vaginitis – is characterized by the thinning of the vagina’s tissues as a result of decreased estrogen levels during menopause. This condition leads to the increased vulnerability of the vaginal lining to irritation and swelling.
- Bacterial vaginosis – occurs as a result of the excess growth of important vaginal bacteria. Women with this infection usually have fewer lactobacilli.
- Trichomoniasis – is caused by a protozoan parasite known as Trichomonas vaginalis, which is normally transmitted through sexual intercourse. Other urogenital parts such as the urethra and vagina can also be affected.
- Yeast infection – is a vaginal fungal infection caused by Candida albicans. Small quantities of the organism are found in the gut and its number is regulated by bacteria.
Symptoms of Vaginitis
A woman with vaginitis normally experiences itching, burning, as well as a fishy-smelling discharge. Other symptoms include:
- irritated genital area
- unusual discharge from the vagina
- vulvar swelling (mainly caused by the production of excessive immune cells)
- pain or discomfort while passing urine
- painful sexual intercourse
- bad smell from the vagina
What Leads to Vaginitis?
- Vulvovaginitis – a woman having this condition has a vulva infection and an inflamed vagina. It can affect any woman regardless of her age, socioeconomic status, or ethnicity.
- Infectious vaginitis - accounts for 9 out of every 10 cases of post-adolescence women who have vaginitis. Infectious vaginitis comprises of candidiasis, bacterial vaginosis, as well as trichomoniasis. Less often, vaginitis may also develop as a result of other infections caused by gonorrhea, chlamydia, mycoplasma, herpes, and certain parasites. Failure to observe good hygiene practices can also cause vaginitis.
- Girls who haven’t attained puberty age - may also have vaginitis. However, the cause of vaginitis in these girls is different to what leads to the development of the condition in older women. In girls before their adolescence age, Streptococcus spp. leads to bacterial vaginosis while Gardnerella is responsible for the infection in women who are past puberty stage. Poor hygiene can cause the spread of bacteria and other irritants from the area around the anus to the vaginal part. Girls who haven’t attained puberty age don’t often develop yeast infections since they have a distinct pH balance than that in older females.
- Allergies - vaginitis can also develop as a result of allergies to condoms, semen, particular soaps and perfumes, topical drugs, lubricants, as well as spermicides, among other things. Some women may also develop vaginitis due to a tampon irritation.
The Transmission of Vaginitis
A healthy vagina balances various types of bacteria. “Good” bacteria assists in maintaining the slight acidity in the vagina, which prevents the rapid growth of the “bad” bacteria. Women with vaginitis may have discharges that have an unusual color or foul smell. At times, the “bad” bacteria, as well as other vaginitis-causing germs, may be transmitted through sexual intercourse.
Other factors that may interfere with the bacterial balance in the vagina include taking antibiotic drugs, douching, wearing of tight and damp pants, use of certain vaginal products, as well as being pregnant.
The physician, normally a general practitioner, conducts a physical checkup and inquiry about the medical history of the woman with vaginitis. The physician may take a sample of the discharge to know the main cause of the vaginal inflammation.
Vaginitis treatment is influenced by the cause of the infection. Antifungal drugs are used in the treatment of fungal infections while antibiotics are prescribed to women with bacterial infections.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be used in cases where vaginitis develops as a result of the vaginal lining becoming thin after menopause. Estrogen and progesterone are replaced by HRT.
Vaginal creams and pessaries or estrogen-containing tablets that are inserted into the vaginal canal can also be used. Unlike HRT, these products only reinstate vaginal estrogen instead of restoring the hormones to the entire body, minimizing the chances of developing undesirable effects.
You can do the following tips at home to lessen the severity of your vaginitis:
- Maintaining a clean and dry genital region - bathe using warm water instead of hot and clean your genital area using scentless soap. Dry yourself properly.
- Avoid spraying water into your vagina – by doing so, the “good” bacteria that form the vaginal lining, which protects the vagina from infections will be removed.
- Avoid certain vaginal products - like vaginal sprays or deodorants that may cause irritations.
- Using sanitary pads - if you have a vaginal infection, avoid using tampons. Use sanitary pads instead.
- Wear a cotton underwear - women must wear breathable underwear to allow airflow and prevent moisture, an environment that supports the growth of yeast and bacteria.
- Practicing safe sex - by using condoms to avoid getting or spreading STIs.
If you are susceptible to a vaginitis infection, you can apply a lubricating substance, especially after having sexual intercourse. Lubricants come in two types: water-based and silicone-based. It is important to try a few in order to get the one that suits you best. You can seek more advice about it from your GP or pharmacist.
How does it affect my health?
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) has been linked with a high vulnerability to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) development. PID is a serious infection of the uterus as well as the fallopian tubes. Bacterial vaginosis together with trichomoniasis makes a woman more susceptible to contracting HIV if she had sex with a person who is HIV-positive. This combination may also make it highly possible for an HIV-positive woman to pass the virus to any partner she had sex with.
The presence of BV or trichomoniasis during pregnancy may make a woman more prone to pregnancy complications such as premature birth or delivering an underweight baby. The treatment of BV and/or trichomoniasis may assist in the reduction of the susceptibility to these problems.
Having a yeast infection during pregnancy poses no danger to the baby or the mother. The child is born normally.
Should I tell my partner that I have vaginitis?
It depends. BV or yeast infections may develop in women that rarely have sexual intercourse. You should bear in mind that most of these infections occur as a result of an impaired bacterial balance in the vagina. On the other hand, trichomoniasis is transmitted through sexual intercourse. To prevent retransmission, trichomoniasis treatment is vital for sex partners regardless of whether they experience the symptoms or not.
When to Visit Your GP
Visit your general practitioner if you have abnormal vaginal symptoms, especially if you:
- haven’t previously suffered from a vaginal infection
- previously had a vaginal infection but now have different symptoms
- have sex with multiple partners or if you have a new person with whom you are having sex
- have persistent symptoms or a foul vaginal smell even after finishing a medication course for vaginal thrush
It is not necessary to visit your GP if you have been previously diagnosed with having thrush and your symptoms haven’t changed. You can treat thrush by yourself using over-the-counter drugs if you are certain that you have the infection, and you have successfully treated it in the past using the same medication.