Vaginitis occurs when the yeast or bacteria that normally exist in the vagina become overgrown. This imbalance leads to inflammation of the vaginal lining.
There are a number of factors that can trigger changes in vaginal flora leading to vaginitis including:
- Antibiotic use
- Hormonal changes linked to pregnancy, breastfeeding or menopause
- Use of spermicides, douches or other creams and sprays
- Sexual intercourse
- Certain clothing
- Infection due to bacteria, yeast or viruses
Treatment of vaginitis depends on the cause of the condition. One of the most common causes of vaginitis is the Candida fungus. Candida is always present in the vagina in small amounts but can become overgrown, causing a vaginal yeast infection.
Candida symptoms include redness and swelling of the vulva, itching, and burning along with a white, lumpy discharge. Vaginal yeast infections are treated with anti-fungal medications available in pill form or vaginal preparations inserted directly into the vagina.
Bacteria infections are another cause of vaginitis and occur when normal vaginal bacteria increases. These infections are marked by a thin, gray or green discharge that produces a potent fishy odor. If you are diagnosed with a bacterial vaginitis, your OBGYN will prescribe an appropriate antibiotic such as metronidazole or clindamycin to be taken by mouth or inserted vaginally.
Vaginal parasitic infections are usually due to trichomoniasis, a microscopic parasite that spreads through sexual intercourse. Symptoms of trichomoniasis include burning, irritation, redness, and swelling of the vulva. A frothy, yellow-green vaginal discharge is common with trichomoniasis. Treatment is a single dose of oral metronidazole given to both the woman and her sexual partner. It is important to avoid alcohol for 25 hours after taking this medication, as mixing the two can lead to nausea and vomiting.
Vaginitis caused by a drop in hormonal levels and not infection is known as atrophic vaginitis. Symptoms of atrophic vaginitis include vaginal discharge, itch, dryness and burning. Treatment includes estrogen vaginal cream, rings or tablets. Use of a water-soluble lubricant may help with dryness during intercourse.
If you suspect you have vaginitis, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your gynecologist, since many medical conditions produce similar symptoms.