The Irritating Facts About Vaginitis

No matter what your age, vaginitis is a surprisingly common condition. This irritation of the vagina or vulva (the outside opening of the vagina) can affect anyone, from teens to menopausal grandmothers. In fact, one-third of all women will have at least one form of vaginitis during their lifetime. But there are steps you can take to prevent it. 

Feminine hygiene products may appeal with their fresh scents, but beware that they can trigger trouble.

What Types Are There?

Vaginitis can be caused by all kinds of things — bacteria, yeast, viruses, chemicals — even your clothing. To diagnose, your doctor will do a physical and pelvic exam, and may also examine the vaginal discharge under a microscope. The most common vaginitis types include:

  • Candida (also known as a yeast infection): Caused by the candida fungus, which normally lives in the vagina. When the natural balance is upset, the yeast overgrows and causes an infection. 

Symptoms:

  • A thick, white cottage cheese-like discharge 
  • Itching and redness of the vulva and vagina
  • Painful sex or urination

Treatment:

  • Antifungal vaginal creams and suppositories
  • Vaginal tablets
  • Oral antifungal medicines

  • Bacteria Vaginosis (BV): The most common vaginitis in women of childbearing age. It’s caused by bacteria that grow out of control and cause inflammation.

Symptoms:

  • A discharge that can be milky and thin — or heavy, gray or green
  • Fishy odor that may be more noticeable during sex

Treatment:

  • Antibiotics

  • Trichomoniasis Vaginitis (“trich”): A sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite transmitted during sex. 

Symptoms:

  • A frothy, greenish-yellow discharge that often smells musty
  • Itching or burning of the vagina and vulva
  • Swelling or redness at the vagina’s opening
  • Light bleeding, especially after sex
  • Burning during urination
  • Lower abdominal discomfort
  • Painful sex

Treatment: 

  • Usually involves oral antibiotics. Both partners must be treated to avoid reinfection. 

If you’re pregnant, it’s especially important to seek treatment right away. Trich can cause complications and even lead to a preterm delivery. 

Herpes symptoms include genital pain linked with lesions and sores. HPV symptoms include warts in the vagina, rectum, vulva or groin. 

  • Noninfectious vaginitis: A vaginal irritation often caused by an allergic reaction to a feminine hygiene product or perfumed soaps. 

Symptoms: 

  • Vaginal itching, burning and discharge
  • Pelvic pain, especially during sex

Treatment:

  • First, remove the irritant; treatment varies depending on the cause

Sidestep Common Causes and Stop Vaginitis

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Feminine hygiene products may appeal with their fresh scents, but beware that they can trigger trouble. Follow these simple tips to avoid irritation and infection:

  1. Wash the vaginal area every day, using a mild, unscented soap. 
  2. Don’t douche unless your health care provider tells you to — it can upset the normal balance of the vagina.
  3. Avoid chemicals found in feminine hygiene products. 
  4. Change your tampon often to allow for normal blood flow. 
  5. Wipe your bottom from front to back, and away from your vagina.
  6. Avoid tight pants — they trap warmth and moisture.
  7. Practice safe sex, and limit the number of partners.
  8. Take antibiotics only when you need to — they can kill “good” bacteria.
  9. Wear cotton or cotton-lined undies to prevent dampness. 
  10. Get enough zzz’s. Sleep boosts your body’s immune system, and helps you fight infection. 

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