Vaginal infections can be extremely embarrassing. They can be very worrying if you have never had one before, and they can confuse the life out of you if you have no idea what’s going on. Vaginal infections can cause severe itching or discomfort on the labia, vulva, and the mouth of the vagina. Imagine having to deal with that and keep a straight face while you’re at work! If you have been experiencing these symptoms, then you are suffering from some form of vaginitis.
Vaginitis is an umbrella term that covers a range of conditions affecting the vagina or vulva due to inflammation caused by a variety of factors. There are several different types of vaginitis based on the kind of inflammation, the cause of the vaginitis, and the nature of the infection (whether infectious or non-infectious).
Types of Vaginitis
Yeast infection is a type of vaginitis which is caused by an over-production of a fungus called candida which lives in the vagina. This is the reason that yeast infection is commonly known as candida. A yeast infection is not classified as a sexually transmitted disease. But researchers are as yet unsure of whether or not this form of vaginitis can be spread through sex.
Bacterial Vaginosis is the most common type of vaginitis. It can spread through sex, but it is not considered a sexually transmitted disease as even women who do not have sex can develop this type of vaginitis.
Trichomoniasis is considered a sexually transmitted form of vaginitis. It is caused by protozoon called Trichomonas vaginalis. You may or may have symptoms of this type of vaginitis. Some women develop symptoms almost immediately while others can have the infection for a very long time with no signs that anything is wrong.
Chlamydia vaginitis, commonly known as simply chlamydia, is a form of vaginitis that is characterized as a sexually transmitted disease. It is an asymptomatic form of vaginitis.
Atrophic vaginitis is at type of vaginitis that occurs when the vaginal lining thins out due to hormonal changes in the body. Atrophic vaginitis is commonly called vaginal atrophy or vaginal dryness.
Non-infectious vaginitis is inflammation or irritation to the vagina or vulva which results from an allergic reaction to a whole range of cleaning products that you use on your vagina or to wash your underwear, as well as harmful chemicals in sanitary pads, tampons, and panty liners.
Causes of Vaginitis
Vaginitis occurs as a result of an upset in the delicate balance of several bacteria and fungii that live in the vagina. Why the upset happens in the first place is not always known. But some causative factors have been identified.
- Use of douches, vaginal sprays can cause vaginitis since these products can irritate the lining of the vagina. Even using perfumed soaps can cause vaginitis.
- Wearing too tight clothes can irritate vulvovaginal tissue and cause vaginitis. Damp clothes in particular from very heavy sweating – like after exercise – pose a high risk factor for vaginitis.
- The detergents you use to wash your clothes leave a residue on them. When this residue comes in contact with your genital area, it can transfer the residue on the skin and lead to vaginitis.
- Having the ovaries removed causes the level of hormones in your body to drop dramatically. This change can thin the lining of the vagina and lead to the symptoms of vaginitis.
- Similarly, menopause or pregnancies are often triggers for vaginitis because of the changing hormone levels.
- If you have diabetes and are not controlling it properly, it can make you more vulnerable to vaginitis.
- Certain types of vaginitis are actually sexually transmitted diseases
- A weak immune system often leads to vaginitis. That is why you are more vulnerable to vaginitis if you are ill or have been ill for awhile.
- If you suffer from insomnia, it can lead to a deterioration of the immune system which can cause vaginitis.
- Stress has the same effect as insomnia when it comes to causing vaginitis.
- Over-consumption of alcohol can also cause vaginitis.
- Vaginitis may also be caused by eating too many sugary foods.
- Certain medicines like steroids, antibiotics or contraceptive pills can be responsible for vaginitis.
Vaginitis Risk Factors
You are more likely to develop vaginitis under the following circumstance.
- You are pregnant.
- You have a disorder of the immune system.
- There is a problem with your thyroid gland.
- You are using contraceptives with very high levels of estrogen.
- You are undergoing corticosteroid therapy.
- You have recently been treated with antibiotics.
Complications of Vaginitis
Depending on the kind of vaginitis that you have, you may be at higher risk for health problems.
- If you have an infectious form of vaginitis like bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis, you are at higher risk of contracting HIV or any other sexually transmitted disease.
- Pregnant women in particular should take care not to develop any type of vaginitis. Vaginitis during pregnancy makes you more vulnerable to infection, which is very difficult to treat when pregnant.
- Women who have vaginitis also risk giving birth prematurely or having babies with low birth weight. Both these conditions are linked to a host of health problems for the baby later in life from learning disabilities to cardiovascular disease.
Symptoms of Vaginitis
See your gynecologist immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms of vaginitis so that quick treatment can ensue.
- Vaginal itching is a very common symptom of vaginitis.
- Abnormal vaginal discharge, i.e., a change in the smell, color, consistency or amount of vaginal discharge, is another sign of vaginitis. Your doctor will be able to diagnose the type of vaginitis based on the these qualities of your vaginal discharge, so make a note of them. A slightly grayish discharge that smells like rotten fish is usually bacterial vaginosis. A yeast infection is characterized by a thick white discharge that looks a lot like cottage cheese. Trichomoniasis sufferers will see a yellowish-green vaginal discharge that can sometimes be frothy.
- Another symptom of vaginitis is pain during sex. It can be so bad that your partner is unable to even penetrate.
- There may be a burning sensation either while urinating or having sex
- A worrying symptom of vaginitis is vaginal spotting or light bleeding.
Treatment for Vaginitis
It is very important that your vaginitis be properly diagnosed before resorting to treatment options. Medication is often prescribed for the infectious types of vaginitis. If the type of vaginitis is misdiagnosed, then the wrong medicine will be prescribed, and this can prevent prompt healing and make your vaginitis worse. So although there are several over-the-counter medications available for vaginitis, do not self-prescribe unless you are 100% sure of the type of vaginitis that you have. If you have never had a vaginal infection before, then it is safer to see your doctor and be diagnosed.
Fortunately, you do not have to suffer from vaginitis for long. There are several treatments for vaginitis that are very effective in quickly dissipating the uncomfortable symptoms and curing you of the vaginitis altogether. The treatment you receive will depend on the type of vaginitis you have.
Medication for Vaginitis
- Topical ointments or gels, anti-fungal creams may be prescribed for vaginitis to soothe pain or itching. The gels may also contain anti-bacterial properties which kill off or reduce the proliferation of the bacteria causing the vaginitis.
- Anti-biotics of some kind will be prescribed so that you do not get an infection from the vaginitis.
- An anti-histamine will be prescribed if the cause of your vaginitis is an allergic reaction.
- Estrogen creams or tablets may be prescribed if your vaginitis is a result of a thinning out of the vaginal lining.
Precautions to Take While Undergoing Treating for Vaginitis
- Do not douche when you have vaginitis. Douching is, after all, one of the causes of vaginitis. Even if your douching was not the reason for your vaginitis, doing it while you are afflicted will only aggravate the condition.
- Use plain water to wash your genital area. Avoid soap. The vagina has its own cleaning system and does not require outside help.
- Depending on how severe your vaginitis is, you may have to avoid sex while you are being treated. Some forms of vaginitis are infectious, so it is safer if you abstain from intercourse.
- Stay away from tampons while you are being treated for vaginitis.
- Dress in loose, comfortable clothing. Wear clean, dry underwear. Change as often as you need to. If possible, remove your panties when you sleep.
- You can try applying a cold compress to the vagina to soothe pain or itching.
- If you have a type of vaginitis that is a sexually transmitted disease, then you should get your partner/s tested and treated too. Some strains of infection lie asymptomatic and dormant in men, so they may not even know that they are carrying a virus. If your male partner is not treated, you risk developing the vaginitis again.
How To Prevent Vaginitis
Vaginitis is an embarrassing, often painful, always irritating ailment. So it would be in your best interest if you took steps to prevent the development of vaginitis. Here are a few very simple ways in which you can reduce your risk of getting vaginitis.
Use a condom while having sex. This will prevent you from catching an infection from your partner. Plus, this is just common sense that you should be adhering to anyway if you are sexually active and are not in a monogamous relationship.
Wear Cotton Panties
Cotton is the best material for underwear as it absorbs body moisture and keeps the skin cool. So try wearing cotton panties for the major part of the day. Underwear made from synthetic fabrics often irritates the vagina. It may not be possible for you to wear cotton all the time. But you can try wearing panties that at least have a cotton lining in the area of the crotch. This goes for pantyhose too.
Avoid Vaginal Irritation
Several things can irritate the vagina – douching, tampons, sanitary pads, panty liners, laundry detergent, soap, vaginal perfume, tight clothes, a sweaty workout, nylon panties. You don’t have to cut everything out. But you should definitely consider it if you know you have a sensitive vagina and have had vaginitis in the past. You can always find alternatives to these options. For example, use an unperfumed laundry soap made of natural ingredients to wash at least your panties if not all your clothes. Switch to unperfumed sanitary pads and tampons made from natural rather than synthetic materials. Change your tampon or sanitary pad often during your period. After swimming or exercising, get out of your wet/damp clothes as soon as possible.
Many women will douche in the mistaken belief that it helps keep the vagina clean. However, it is not douching but the fluid and bacteria in the vagina that keep it clean and healthy. When you douche, you strip the vagina of its natural moisture and kill off the very bacteria that are supposed to be protecting you. So ditch this unsafe practice if you want to avoid vaginitis.
Steer Clear of Those Hot Tubs
Avoid soaking for too long in a bath tub, and hanging out for long periods in saunas or jacuzzis. These can dry out the vagina for one thing. But the greater risk is that it makes your vagina more vulnerable to infection or irritation by the substances used in the soap that you are bathing in or the chemicals put in hot tubs to keep the water clean. If you do end up taking a soak though, make sure that you thoroughly wash up with plain water after so that no residue is left on your vagina. Also avoid taking very hot showers.
Practice Correct Post-Toilet Hygiene
When using toilet paper after finishing your business, wipe from front to back. This prevents fecal matter and germs from entering the vagina. Also remember to wash your hands properly after every visit to the toilet.