Vaginitis means swelling, itching, burning or infection in the vagina. It can be caused by several different germs. It’s super common and usually easy to treat. Almost everyone with a vulva gets vaginitis at some point. However it’s most common during the reproductive years.
Vaginitis usually happens when there is a change in the balance of bacteria or yeast that are normally found in your vagina. There are different types of vaginitis, and they have different causes, symptoms, and treatments.
What are the different causes of vaginitis?
Many things can cause vaginitis and sometimes there’s more than 1 cause. Things that lead to vaginitis include:
- Common vaginal infections such as vaginal yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis.
- Tight pants, or underwear such as a pantyhose that don’t have a cotton crotch
- Diabetes, especially if it is not well-controlled
- Wearing damp clothing such as bathing suits for long periods of time
- Hot tubs or swimming pools
- Feminine hygiene sprays
- Certain soaps or bubble baths
- Changes in hormone levels due to pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause
- Having too much sex and change in sexual partners.some chemicals in laundry detergents and fabric softeners
- Certain types of lubricants (i.e. flavored or with sugars in them)
- Sex toys made out of certain materials
- Latex and rubber such as in sex toys and condoms (if you have a latex allergy)
However, everyone’s body is different. Therefore things that lead to irritation in some people don’t cause problems for others. Read more about keeping your vagina healthy.
Types of vaginitis and significant symptoms
The signs of vaginitis can vary depending on what’s causing it. But vaginitis symptoms usually include:
- Your vagina and/or vulva is red, irritated, swollen, or uncomfortable.
- Itching, burning, and pain in your vulva or vagina.
- Pain or discomfort during sex.
- Feeling like you have to pee more often than usual. Peeing may sting if there’s irritation in your vulva.
Bacterial vaginosis causes an unpleasant odor fishy smell, especially after intercourse. The discharge is usually white or gray, and it can be thin. You may also have burning during urination or itching around the outside of the vagina, or both. However, some women with BV may have no symptoms.
Yeast infections may cause a thick, whitish-gray “cottage cheese” type of vaginal discharge. It usually comes with itching that may be intense. However, a vaginal discharge may not be present. Men may have itchiness on the penis. Besides, most male partners of women with yeast infection do not experience any symptoms.
Trichomoniasis results in a frothy vaginal discharge. It may be yellow-green or gray. The infection may cause itching and irritation of the genitals. There is also burning with urination, discomfort during intercourse and a foul odor. It is sexually-transmitted, and symptoms generally appear within 4-20 days after exposure. Men rarely have symptoms, but if they do, they may have a thin, whitish discharge from the penis accompanied by painful or difficult urination.
How can I find out if I have vaginitis?
To find out the cause of your symptoms, your health care provider may
- Ask you about your medical history
- Do a pelvic exam
- Look for vaginal discharge, noting its color, qualities, and any odor
- Study a sample of your vaginal fluid under a microscope
In some cases, you may need more tests.
To help your provider find out what you have:
- Schedule the exam when you do not have your monthly period.
- Don’t douche 24 hours before your exam.
- Don’t use vaginal sprays 24 hours before your exam.
- If you have sex less than 24 hours before the exam, use condoms.
How is vaginitis treated?
The treatment will depend on which germ is causing the infection.
BV is treatable with antibiotics. You may get pills to swallow, or cream or gel that you put in your vagina. During treatment, you should use a condom during sex or not have sex at all.
Yeast infections are usually treated with a cream or with medicine that you put inside your vagina. You can buy over-the-counter treatments for yeast infections, but you need to be sure that you do have a yeast infection. See your health care provider if this is the first time you have had symptoms. Even if you have had yeast infections before, it is a good idea to call your health care provider before using an over-the-counter treatment.
The treatment for trichomoniasis is usually a single-dose antibiotic. Both you and your partner(s) should be treated. This is to prevent spreading the infection to others and to keep from getting it again.
If your vaginitis is due to an allergy or sensitivity to a product, you need to figure out which product is causing the problem. Once you figure it out, you should stop using the product.
How can I prevent vaginitis?
- After using the toilet, always wipe from front to back.
- Wear cotton underpants during the day. Cotton allows your genital area to “breathe.” Don’t wear underpants at night.
- Avoid wearing tight pants, pantyhose, swimming suits or biking shorts for long periods.
- Change your tampons and pads every 4-8 hrs. Wash menstrual cups and sex toys carefully according to their instructions.
- Take antibiotics only when needed. Antibiotics can kill “good” bacteria.
- Limit the number of your sex partners.
- Always use latex condoms with a new partner or with multiple partners.
- Avoid hot tubs, bath regularly and pat your genital area dry.
- Don’t douche.
- Avoid feminine hygiene sprays, perfumed toilet paper, deodorant pads or tampons.
- See your healthcare provider if you have any unusual discharge or smell.