One of the least discussed areas of health in humans involves the urinary tract and sexual organs. However, there are a number of issues that can arise which interrupt daily activities and reduce quality of life. One ailment that is quite common in women is vaginitis, and it can be slightly bothersome or extremely painful, depending on the severity.
What is vaginitis?
Vaginitis is a condition in which the vagina becomes inflamed. There are multiple reasons behind the condition, which is a symptom rather than a stand-alone disease or infection. Three types of vaginitis exist, including bacterial vaginitis, yeast infection, and trichomoniasis, and the type has to be determined before any sort of treatment is prescribed.
What causes Vaginitis?
The causes of vaginitis can be categorized mostly by the type of vaginitis.
- Bacterial vaginitis. This is the most common type of vaginitis and begins when the bacterial balance within the vagina is thrown off, leading to an overgrowth of the wrong sort of bacteria. This is referred to as bacterial vaginosis, and it results in vaginitis. Often, this form of vaginitis is related back to sexual intercourse, though it can still occur in women who have never had sex.
- Yeast infection. In some cases, a yeast infection, caused by the overgrowth of fungus of a certain type in the vagina, is the cause of vaginitis due to irritation. The same strain of fungus also causes thrush (an infection in the mouth), infections in the nail beds, and diaper rash.
- Trichomoniasis. This is an STI, or sexually transmitted infection, which involves a single celled parasite. It is passed through sexual intercourse and, in men, is likely to cause a urinary tract infection that is asymptomatic. However, in women, it’s common for the parasitic infection to create vaginitis.
- Uninfected. In some cases, the cause of vaginitis is not related to any sort of infection but, rather, a reaction to an external product. Some deodorants, perfumed soaps, vaginal sprays, scented laundry detergent, douches, and spermicides contain elements that irritate the genitals and can cause vaginitis. Also, foreign objects can lead to the irritation and inflammation of vaginitis, including catheters, tampons, diaphragms, tissue paper, etc.
Vaginitis may also be a symptom of vaginal atrophy, which occurs commonly with menopause. Women who are postmenopausal have less estrogen and, therefore, thinner lining of the vagina. This can also be a side effect of having the ovaries removed.
Signs and symptoms of vaginitis
Itching, burning, and irritation of the vagina are the most common symptoms of vaginitis, but there are several others to consider.
- Pain when urinating
- Light bleeding or spotting between menstrual periods
- Painful intercourse
- Changes to vaginal discharge that include color, odor, or quantity
Vaginitis risk factors
There are some traits, as well as lifestyle choices, that can increase the risk of developing vaginitis, and being aware of these can help women know when they need to take greater precautions.
- Any hormonal change, including pregnancy and childbirth, use of certain birth controls, and menopause
- Sexual activity, especially without a condom and with multiple partners or a partner who is non-monogamous
- Use of spermicide, particularly but not limited to use with a diaphragm
- Already having any STI
- Certain medications taken for infections, such as antibiotics and steroids
- Uncontrolled diabetes, both Type I and Type II
- Douching or using hygiene products like bubble bath, vaginal deodorant, or vaginal spray
- Having an IUD (intrauterine device) for birth control
- Wearing clothes that are damp or fit too tightly in the crotch
Who needs to see a doctor for suspected vaginitis and why
Other risk factors include:
- Getting another STI due to the inflammation in the vaginal walls
- Potential for chronic vaginitis, which can lead to infertility
- Pregnancy in which children have low birth weight or are born prematurely
Having vaginitis and dealing with the irritation and itching can also lead to psychological symptoms, such as self-doubt, trouble concentrating, cognitive issues because of lack of sleep, and more.
Seeing a doctor can help determine the underlying cause and correct it before it becomes detrimental. Perhaps the only time a patient may not need to visit her physician would be if she is absolutely certain based on her history that she has a yeast infection and knows how to clear it up on her own.
It’s important to know the underlying cause, as treating the symptom of vaginitis will not sure the disease or condition causing it. Based on the many different causes and types of vaginitis, the therapies available come in a broad spectrum.
- Topical solutions alone are greatly varied. A topical steroid may be prescribed to assist with inflammation. Antibiotic, antifungal, and antibacterial creams may also be recommended. Cortisone cream can relieve severe itch and irritation, and a topical estrogen cream can help women with low estrogen.
- Oral medications are also available in several forms. Depending again on the culprit, oral antibiotics like metronidazole or a fungal treatment like clotrimazole would be prescribed.
- In rare cases, vaginitis may be the result of an allergic reaction to something. When this happens, antihistamines will be recommended and maybe be prescription or over the counter, depending on the severity of the inflammation and irritation.
Preventative measures are also important. Using mild, unscented soap, not douching, wearing cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes, practicing safe sex or abstinence, and having good overall hygiene can make a big difference in the frequency and severity of vaginitis.