Vaginitis is a inflammation of the vulva and vagina that results in itching, pain and vaginal discharge. Patients may develop this condition as a result of a change in the vaginal bacteria levels, a yeast infection or, a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Yeast infections (Candida albicans) are the most common type of vaginitis.
Women who have new or multiple sex partners, use an intrauterine device, have diabetes or are experiencing changes in hormone levels due to pregnancy or menopause may be at an increased risk for developing vaginitis. While vaginitis is not usually a serious condition, it can put patients at risk for pregnancy complications or the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases.
Causes of Vaginitis
Girls and women may develop vaginitis for a variety of reasons. Causes of this condition may be:
- Fungal (yeast infections)
- Parasitic (trichomoniasis)
The may also be the result of:
- Low estrogen levels after menopause (atrophic vaginitis)
- Allergy to feminine hygiene products
- Allergy to vaginal contraceptive creams
- Allergy to bubble bath products
Because of the proximity of the anus to the vagina, improper hygiene can contribute to vaginitis by contaminating the vaginal area with bacteria, such as E. coli, from the anal region. For this reason, girls should be taught, as soon as they are toilet-trained, to wipe themselves from front to back after using the toilet.
Diagnosis of Vaginitis
Vaginitis is normally diagnosed through a pelvic examination and an examination of vaginal discharge. Frequently, the type of vaginitis can be distinguished by the color, texture, and odor of the discharge. At times, a sample of vaginal discharge will have to be microscopically analyzed to make an accurate diagnosis. A urinalysis may be performed to differentiate a urinary tract infection (UTI) from a vaginal infection. Typically, once a woman has experienced a yeast infection, she is able to self-diagnose a recurrence. If the second vaginitis has different symptoms, however, the patient requires a medical consultation.
Treatment of Vaginitis
Treatment for vaginitis depends on the pathogen responsible. Typical vaginal yeast infections can be treated with over-the-counter topical products in the form of creams or suppositories designed for vaginal insertion. It is important for patients to take the full course of treatment for vaginitis, even if the symptoms abate immediately, to avoid a recurrence. There is also a one-dose oral medication available, but this requires a prescription.
Patient who have different symptoms from previous infections should see the gynecologist for an accurate diagnosis, as should patients who:
- Are pregnant
- Have possibly been exposed to an STD
- Have severe symptoms, such as pain or fever
When low hormone levels are responsible for vaginitis, prescribed medications, including oral estrogen supplements, creams, tablets or rings may be prescribed. When a patient has recurring bouts of vaginitis, she should be medically evaluated for possible underlying disease conditions, such as diabetes. In some cases, the patient's partner, whether symptomatic or not, also has to be treated to prevent the couple from passing the infection back and forth during sexual activity.
It is not possible to prevent every case of vaginitis, but women can protect themselves by following these directives:
- Use proper vaginal hygiene
- Keep the vaginal area dry
- Avoid bubble baths and douches
- Avoid feminine hygiene products
- Wear cotton, rather than synthetic, panties
- Do not wear underwear to sleep
- Practice safe sex
Other methods that may help to prevent vaginitis are using sanitary pads rather than tampons when menstrual flow is light and either eating yogurt or taking Lactobacillus acidophilus when using a prescribed antibiotic.