What is vaginitis?

Vaginitis is the inflammation of the vagina and vulva, causing itching, pain or discomfort and discharge. It is one of the most frequent gynaecological problems and it is estimated that 90% of women will suffer from some form of vaginitis throughout their lives.

There are different types of vaginitis:

What are the symptoms of vaginitis?

The main symptoms of vaginitis are:

  • Itching
  • Swelling and redness of the vagina
  • A strange vaginal discharge that is different in smell, colour and amount
  • Pain when urinating or during intercourse
  • Abdominal pain
  • Light bleeding or spotting

It is helpful to know that the type of discharge you have can indicate what type of vaginitis you have:

  • Bacterial vaginosis – greyish-white, smelly discharge.
  • Yeast infection – white, thick discharge that is said to resemble cottage cheese.
  • Trichomoniasis – green or yellow discharge.

What causes vaginitis?

The causes of vaginitis can be several:

  • Bacterial vaginosis: caused by a change in the normal balance of bacteria found in the vagina. This can be linked to sexual activity, but sometimes is not.
  • Yeast infections: caused by an imbalance of candida fungi in the vagina. This may result from antibiotic use or pregnancy.
  • Trichomoniasis: a common STI caused by a parasite. This is transmitted sexually and in men this may cause a urinary tract infection.
  • Allergic reactions: to medicines, condoms, lubricants, to the material of underwear, to products for intimate hygiene or even to laundry detergent.
  • Hormonal: atrophic vaginitis is common in postmenopausal women due to decreased oestrogen levels and thinning of the inner lining of the vagina.

Can vaginitis be prevented?

To prevent vaginitis is advisable to:

  • Wear cotton underwear
  • Avoid irritants, such as perfumed soaps for washing the vagina or scented sanitary products,
  • Avoid douching the vagina (your vagina does not need to be washed anymore than other parts of your body)
  • Practise safe sex with a condom
  • Ensure you wipe from back to front when going the toilet

What is the treatment for vaginitis?

Both bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis can be treated with antibiotics. Yeast infections must be treated with over-the-counter antifungal cream or prescription oral antifungal medication (e.g. fluconazole). If vaginitis has resulted from an irritant, identifying the irritant and eliminating it should cause symptoms to go away. Vaginal atrophy can be treated with special creams or oral medications prescribed by a doctor.

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