Vaginitis, which is also called vulvovaginitis, vaginal infection or inflammation, is not a specific disease. It is a type of symptom caused by infectious and non-infectious sources which include STDs or sexually-transmitted diseases. It can affect the vulva, or the external part of the woman’s genitals. It is very common in women in their reproductive years, which usually occurs when there is a change in the balance of bacteria or yeast that is normally present in the vagina.
Vaginitis can be caused by different infections, some of which are sexually-transmitted. Yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis (BV) are two common causes of vaginitis. They are not necessarily passed from one partner to another during sex. Some sexually-transmitted diseases can cause vaginitis such as trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. Note that a lack of vaginitis does not mean you do not have one of these conditions.
Aside from the usual itching, the symptoms of vaginitis depend on which type you have. With BV, a person could have a thin white or gray vaginal discharge. It may also have a strong odor especially after sex. With yeast infection, there is a thick, white discharge from the vagina that can look like cottage cheese or a watery substance that has no smell.
Sometimes itching, burning, and even discharge happen without an infection. Most often, it is an allergic reaction to, or irritation from products such as detergents, douches, fabric softeners, perfumed soaps, spermicides, and vaginal sprays, among others. It could also be from a lower level of hormones because of menopause or ovary removal.
Doctors diagnose vaginitis based on symptoms, then it will usually be followed up by some tests. The cause of vaginitis is usually diagnosed using a wet mount, urine test, vaginal swab tests, or a combination of those. Doctors will also take a sexual history to determine whether or not one has an infection.
The most common causes of vaginitis are treatable. However, the key to treating vaginal infections effectively is getting the right diagnosis. It is very important to talk to your doctor about your symptoms, so that proper diagnosis will be done. Ask your doctor whether it’s safe to have sex when being treated for vaginitis, because there’s a chance that you can pass it to your partner, especially if it’s not treated well. It is also advised to see your doctor before you try over-the-counter medications, even if you’re very sure about what you have.
Proper hygiene is the best defense against any infection. Keep yourself clean and dry. Some ways to keep yourself clean such as douching, may cause irritation to, and more importantly, it could hide or spread infection. It also removes the healthy bacteria in your vagina. Also, avoid clothes that hold heat and moisture. Wear 100% cotton underwear and avoid tight jeans, non-breathable shorts and leggings, and pantyhose without a cotton panel. Get a complete gynecologic exam every year, including a Pap smear if your doctor recommends it.