“Vaginitis” is a medical term used to describe various conditions that cause infection or inflammation of the vagina. Vulvovaginitis refers to inflammation of both the vagina and vulva (the external female genitals). These conditions can result from a vaginal infection caused by organisms such as bacteria, yeast, or viruses, as well as by irritations from chemicals in creams, sprays, or even clothing that is in contact with this area. In some cases, vaginitis results from organisms that are passed between sexual partners.
What Are the Symptoms of a Vaginal Infection?
The symptoms of a vaginal infection can vary depending on what is causing it. Some women have no symptoms at all. Some of the more common symptoms of vaginitis include:
* Abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor.
* Burning during urination.
* Itching around the outside of the vagina.
* Discomfort during intercourse.
Is Vaginal Discharge Normal?
A woman’s vagina normally produces a discharge that usually is described as clear or slightly cloudy, non-irritating, and odor-free. During the normal menstrual cycle, the amount and consistency of discharge can vary. At one time of the month there may be a small amount of a very thin or watery discharge; and at another time, a more extensive thicker discharge may appear. All of these descriptions could be considered normal.
A vaginal discharge that has an odor or that is irritating usually is considered an abnormal discharge. The irritation might be itching or burning, or both. The itching may be present at any time of the day, but it often is most bothersome at night. These symptoms often are made worse by sexual intercourse. It is important to see your doctor if there has been a change in the amount, color, or smell of the discharge.
What Are the Most Common Types of Vaginal Infections?
The six most common types of vaginal infections are:
* Candida or “yeast” infections.
* Bacterial vaginosis.
* Trichomoniasis vaginitis.
* Chlamydia vaginitis.
* Viral vaginitis.
* Non-infectious vaginitis.
Although each of these vaginal infections can have different symptoms, it is not always easy for a woman to figure out which type she has. In fact, diagnosis can even be tricky for an experienced doctor. Part of the problem is that sometimes more than one type of infection can be present at the same time. And, an infection may even be present without any symptoms at all.
To help you better understand these six major causes of vaginitis, let’s look briefly at each one of them and how they are treated.
What Is Candida or a Vaginal “Yeast” Infection?
Yeast infections of the vagina are what most women think of when they hear the term “vaginitis.” Vaginal yeast infections are caused by one of the many species of fungus called Candida. Candida normally live in small numbers in the vagina, as well as in the mouth and digestive tract, of both men and women.
Yeast infections can produce a thick, white vaginal discharge with the consistency of cottage cheese although vaginal discharge may not always be present. Yeast infections usually cause the vagina and the vulva to be very itchy and red.Are Vaginal Yeast Infections Spread Through Sex?
Yeast infections are not usually transmitted through sexual intercourse and are not considered a sexually transmitted disease.
What Increases the Risk of Vaginal Yeast Infections?
A few things will increase your risk of getting a yeast infection, including:
* Recent treatment with antibiotics. For example, a woman may take an antibiotic to treat an infection, and the antibiotic kills her body’s good bacteria that normally keep the yeast in balance. As a result, the yeast overgrows and causes the infection.
* Uncontrolled diabetes. This allows for too much sugar in the urine and vagina.
* Pregnancy which changes hormone levels.
Other factors include:
* Oral contraceptives (birth control pills).
* Disorders affecting the immune system.
* Thyroid or endocrine disorders.
* Corticosteroid therapy.
How Are Vaginal Yeast Infections Treated?
Yeast infections are most often treated with medicine that you put into your vagina. This medicine may be in cream or suppository form and many are available over-the-counter. Medicine in a pill form that you take by mouth is also available by prescription.
What Should I Do to Prevent Vaginal Yeast Infections?
To prevent yeast infections, you should:
* Wear loose clothing made from natural fibers (cotton, linen, silk).
* Avoid wearing tight pants.
* Don’t douche. (Douching can kill bacteria that control fungus.)
* Limit the use of feminine deodorant.
* Limit the use of deodorant tampons or pads to the times when you need them.
* Change out of wet clothing, especially bathing suits, as soon as you can.
* Avoid frequent hot tub baths.
* Wash underwear in hot water.
* Eat a well-balanced diet.
* Eat yogurt.
* If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible.
If you get frequent yeast infections, tell your doctor. He or she may need to do certain tests to rule out other medical conditions.
What Is Bacterial Vaginosis?
Although “yeast” is the name most women think of when they think of vaginal infections, bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common type of vaginal infection in women of reproductive age. BV is caused by a combination of several bacteria. These bacteria seem to overgrow in much the same way as do Candida when the vaginal balance is upset. The exact reason for this overgrowth is not known.
Is Bacterial Vaginosis Spread Through Sex?
Bacterial vaginosis is not transmitted through sexual intercourse but is more common in women who are sexually active. It is also not a serious health concern but can increase a woman’s risk of developing other sexually transmitted diseases and can increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) following surgical procedures such as abortion and hysterectomy. Some studies have shown an increased risk of early labor and premature births in women who have the infection during pregnancy. However, more recent investigations do not support this relationship.