Women's Health

What Is Vaginitis: Get the Facts

What is Vaginitis: Get the Facts

Key Takeaways

  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common cause of vaginitis in young women.
  • An unusual odorous vaginal discharge is the primary symptom of bacterial vaginosis.
  • Vaginal irritation can also cause a vaginal yeast infection.

Vaginitis is the inflammation of the vagina, which usually develops from an infection. This infection may be due to bacteria, parasite, or yeast. It can also develop due to chemical or physical irritation in the vaginal area. Vaginitis does not necessarily have to be sexually transmitted, but it can be passed during sexual intercourse.

Does douching cause yeast infections?

A normal vagina always has bacteria as well as other organisms. These organisms work together with the normal acidity of the vagina to create a balance that prevents the growth of other unwanted organisms. Douching interferes with the balance leading to inflammation in the vaginal canal. Chronic vaginal discharge is a complication that may be experienced causing discomfort.

So when you start experiencing similar symptoms, you need to consult your doctor right away for proper diagnosis and treatment. Schedule regular appointments with your gynecologist and get a Pap smear done. With it, your doctor should be able to pinpoint the main cause of your vaginitis and prescribe an effective course of treatment.

Common Vaginal Infections

1) Bacterial vaginosis 

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common cause of vaginitis in young women. It comes as a result of an imbalance in the vaginal environment, which usually occurs when the levels of abnormal bacteria are higher than the levels of the normal ones. A change of pH in the vaginal canal can also lead to an imbalance. Douching and frequent changing of sexual partners may increase a woman's risk of contracting bacterial vaginosis. Here are a number of symptoms that accompany BV:

  • Unusual vaginal discharge: An unusual odorous vaginal discharge is the primary symptom of bacterial vaginosis. It has a fish-like smell and is normally detectable just after intercourse. So if you start experiencing similar symptoms, then you need to visit your gynecologist immediately for proper diagnosis and specific treatment therapy.
  • Burning sensation: When you have BV, a burning sensation may be experienced during urination. It is usually accompanied by itching inside or around the vaginal area. If you find yourself experiencing prolonged itchiness in and around your vagina along with pain, discomfort, and a fish-like smell coming from your vagina, then you need to get yourself checked out by the doctor. 

However, most women with BV fail to report any symptoms. It usually takes a physical examination and a number of tests of the vaginal fluid to confirm the infection. The diagnosis of BV involves:

  • A sample of the vaginal fluid is sent to the laboratory and examined under the microscope. The sample is put under special lighting or stained to spot any organisms related to BV. This can help the doctor to quickly identify the organisms causing the infection and thereby provide you with an accurate diagnosis. 
  • A diagnosis can also be made based on the presence of a number of cells found in the vaginal canal that is covered with BV organisms or the absence of lactobacilli. 
  • A change in the acidity level of the vaginal fluid can also be used to detect the infection. With this test, a drop in the acidity level would be a clear indicator of a vaginal infection. 
  • A fish-like odor can also be used as a sign. If a fish smell continues to emanate from your vagina then you are in all likelihood suffering from vaginitis. 

All women with bacterial vaginosis are normally given treatment and information about the infection such as the possibility of it being sexually transmitted. An antibiotic prescription is the first offered treatment in most cases. Most women who experience BV symptoms shy away from seeking medical attention while those with no symptoms decline treatment.

Studies have shown a connection between pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and bacterial vaginosis (BV), which can lead to ectopic pregnancy and infertility. Bacterial vaginosis can also lead to miscarriages, underweight infants, or premature deliveries. It can also increase the risks of contracting other STDs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia.

2) Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is a common STD (sexually transmitted disease) that is sometimes known as "trich". Studies have shown that about seven million Americans are affected by trichomoniasis every year. A single-celled protozoan parasite known as Trichomonas vaginalis is the cause of the infection. Trichomoniasis mostly affects the urethra in men and the vagina in women. This infection, like most STDs, does not usually show any signs or symptoms in men. In fact, there are almost no symptoms in men. While in women, the symptoms usually take about a month to show. They include:

  • A heavy, gray, or yellow-green vaginal discharge that is accompanied by a strong odor
  • A painful sensation when urinating
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Vaginal itching and irritation
  • Lower abdominal pain (in rare cases)

Treatment

Since men may have the disease without showing any symptoms, it is always advisable to treat both partners to fully eliminate the infection. Metronidazole is normally prescribed to both partners in this case. Alcohol consumption should be avoided when taking this medication because the combination of alcohol and metronidazole can cause severe vomiting and nausea

Complications

Studies have suggested that people with trichomoniasis have an increased risk of contracting HIV. It can also cause miscarriages in women, premature births, or low birth weight in babies. However, more research is required to get more details on these complications. 

Prevention

To prevent trichomoniasis and other related STDs, practice safer sex and avoid having sexual intercourse with multiple partners. Not much research has been done to further show how to prevent trichomoniasis, but using latex condoms can be another good way to prevent it. If you are infected, then it is better to avoid being intimate with anyone for a while, until your condition clears up.

3) Vaginal yeast infection

Vaginal irritation can lead to a vaginal yeast infection. Seventy-five percent of women in the world are likely to experience a yeast infection that shows symptoms at least once in their lifetime. It is normal for yeast to appear in the vagina in small amounts. However, a yeast overgrowth can cause problems. Pregnancy, untreated diabetes mellitus, the use of contraceptives, or even antibiotics, are some of the factors associated with yeast infection in women.

Yeast infection can cause itching, pain, and discomfort in the vagina. A yeast infection is known to spread to other parts of your body including your fallopian tubes. And if not treated on time, it can cause infertility along with various other conditions.

However, some day-to-day activities may also increase your risk of having a yeast infection. They include using topical antimicrobial agents, wearing tight and poorly ventilated underwear, perfumed feminine hygiene sprays, and douches. 

The symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include:

  • Burning, itching, and irritation of the vagina 
  • Painful urination 
  • Vaginal rash
  • Whitish-gray discharges that can either be watery or thick

Male partners of women with a vaginal yeast infection may experience no symptoms in most cases. However, a burning sensation or transient rash on the penis can be experienced after unprotected sex, which is why it makes sense to always use protection when having sex, especially with people you just met. And when you do know that you are infected, it would be a good idea to refrain from sex until the infection clears up.

Diagnosis

The most common method of diagnosis is through microscopic examination of the vaginal discharge. So if you start to experience pain, discomfort, and irritation along with unusual vaginal discharge, it is time to schedule an appointment with your gynecologist and get yourself examined right away.

Treatment

There are a number of antifungal medications available for the treatment of vaginal yeast infections. Antifungal tablets, creams, and suppositories, such as miconazole, butoconazole, tioconazole, and clotrimazole, can be purchased over-the-counter for treatment. However, a physician should be consulted to specify which type of infection a woman has before she buys any medication. The reason is that trichomoniasis, vaginal yeast infection, and bacterial vaginosis tend to have similar signs and symptoms.

It is also important to practice good hygiene as it can help prevent you from getting a recurrence of vaginal infections.

Facts About Vaginitis

  • Vaginitis can be due to bacterial, parasitic, or fungal infections.
  • It mostly affects adolescents and young women.
  • With regular checkup and treatment, vaginitis can be treated effectively.
  • Bacterial vaginosis is usually treated using antibiotics. 
  • Chemical or physical irritation in the vagina can also lead to vaginitis. Avoid douching to help prevent vaginal inflammation.
  • Some infections that cause vaginitis can be sexually transmitted. Make sure that you seek out effective medical treatment for your current condition since allowing it to run unchecked can lead to severe health problems.
  • The primary symptoms of vaginitis are vaginal itching, discomfort or pain, and an odd-smelling vaginal discharge.

If you are experiencing any abnormal vaginal symptoms, consult a doctor immediately.