When a woman suffers from an infected or inflamed vagina, we use the term vaginitis to describe these issues. In general, most vaginitis infections/inflammations occur due to yeast, bacteria, or viruses. However, on some occasions, irritation can happen when the sensitive skin in the vaginal area gets in contact with chemicals in sprays and creams, and sometimes even clothes. It’s also possible to get some type of vaginitis due to vaginal dryness or unprotected sexual intercourse.
The most common vaginitis types include:
- Yeast infections like candida
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Non-infectious vaginitis
- Gonorrhea or chlamydia
- Trichomoniasis vaginitis
- Herpes or viral vaginitis
- Atrophic vaginitis
The Common Vaginitis Symptoms
There are some general signs and symptoms that point to vaginitis. These include:
- Unusual vaginal discharge with a changed odor and/or color
- Pain during urinating and/or intercourse
- Vaginal irritation or itching
- Light spotting/bleeding in between periods
You must report to your gynecology care specialists if you notice anything abnormal with your vaginal health.
In general, unusual vaginal discharge is the most common sign of vaginitis, and its characteristics may be a good indication of the type of vaginitis that you might be dealing with. For instance, if you have a discharge that’s white or grayish in color and smells really bad, almost fish-like, chances are you’re suffering from bacterial vaginosis. If you have to deal with itching together with a very thick and white discharge, you probably have a yeast infection. On the other hand, a yellowish or greenish discharge may point to trichomoniasis.
How Does One Get Vaginitis?
As mentioned, different kinds of vaginitis can be caused by many different things. In that sense, the vaginitis treatment as well as how long vaginitis lasts will depend on the type and cause of it.
Some kind of microorganism shift inside the vagina causes the two most common vaginitis types, namely bacterial vaginosis, and yeast infection. In the case of overgrown Gardnerella vaginalis bacteria and other BV-associated bacteria in vaginal flora, it’s possible to develop bacterial vaginosis. And when there’s an overgrowth of candida fungi, yeast infection can develop. Both the mentioned bacteria and fungi are part of natural vaginal flora, but problems could occur when there’s an overgrowth of them.
Another cause of vaginitis involves sexually transmitted infections. During unprotected sexual intercourse, partners can pass bacteria, parasites, and viruses to one another. STIs can lead to vaginitis, and the infection can spread even with oral and anal sex, not just vaginal.
Products that contain some chemical irritants could also potentially cause vaginal irritation. It’s essential to pay attention to the ingredients as even some common hygienic products could be the issue, such as creams, gels, and lotions. What’s more, even detergents could leave chemical traces on clothes that can consequently trigger vaginitis when in contact with the vaginal area.
Finally, it’s possible to develop vaginitis due to fluctuating hormonal levels. For instance, if there’s a sudden drop of estrogen in the body, this can change the natural vaginal environment and then lead to vaginitis.
How Is Vaginitis Diagnosed?
Before you get diagnosed with vaginitis, your doctor will have to perform some tests and checkups first. As stated earlier, there are different types of vaginitis, and even if it’s more or less evident that you’re affected by it, the doctor has to pinpoint what kind of inflammation you’re dealing with so that they can prescribe a proper vaginitis treatment.
The exam usually starts with the doctor checking your medical history, focusing on your gynecological health and potential past sexually transmitted or vaginal infections. Then they’ll proceed to do a pelvic exam where they can directly observe the vagina and the ongoing inflammation. The doctor will then get a discharge sample that will be sent to the lab for testing. In some cases, the doctor might also do pH testing where elevated pH points to trichomoniasis or bacterial vaginosis. However, doing just pH testing is not enough, and a proper diagnosis can be made only after a thorough checkup and getting lab results.
How to Treat Vaginitis?
In order to get a proper vaginitis treatment, it’s crucial to be very open and transparent with your doctor about the symptoms you’re experiencing. The doctor can decide how to treat vaginitis effectively only when they can pinpoint the leading cause of it. In most cases, you’ll get a prescription for a medicine you need to use.
And if you’re wondering how to treat vaginitis at home, you can still get some over-the-counter meds that can be helpful. However, most of the readily available vaginitis meds are focused on curing some types of yeast infections. That said, you can manage and learn how to treat vaginitis at home, but only when you’re already sure what type it is. This is possible if you tend to get recurring vaginal infections and are already familiar with the use and the purpose of OTP meds. But, if you’re not sure about the type of vaginitis or you’re dealing with such an issue for the first time, it’s best to have the doctor tell you how to treat vaginitis properly.
In the case of non-infectious vaginitis, i.e., irritation that occurred because of a chemical reaction to some product, the best course of action would be to identify that product and remove it from regular use. The easiest way to pinpoint the culprit would be to look at products that you have recently introduced to your routine, such as new soaps, washes, lotions, detergents and softeners, and new brands of sanitary pads or tampons. Generally, it’s best to use products designed for sensitive skin and without harsh chemicals or artificial scents.
Make sure to pay a visit to your doctor in the case of the following:
- You still have symptoms even after completing a treatment
- Your symptoms come back once you’re done with the treatment
- There are other health concerns and issues you’re suffering from, such as diabetes
- You could be pregnant
- You had sexual intercourse with a new partner
How Long Does Vaginitis Last?
Just how long vaginitis lasts greatly depends on the type of vaginitis you have and the treatment you use. For instance, you could learn how to treat vaginitis at home and get OTP meds for yeast infection, but if you’re suffering from bacterial vaginosis instead, this type of med won’t be of much help. In that respect, you could end up dealing with symptoms for months. On the other hand, when it’s properly treated, vaginitis should completely clear up after a week or two.
To speed up your recovery process and prevent further irritation, take note of the following practices while you’re taking the treatment:
- Refrain from using tampons during your period and switch to pads instead
- Avoid sexual intercourse during this time and until you have no remaining symptoms
- Don’t douche, as this could mess up your pH levels and get rid of good bacteria in the vagina
Typically, vaginitis is nothing too dangerous if treated on time. It can be somewhat uncomfortable, though. Proper vaginal hygiene and a healthy diet could help keep such infections at bay. Of course, if you have any worries about your vaginal and overall gynecological health, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at University Park OBGYN.