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What is vaginitis?

Vaginitis is infection or inflammation of the vagina. It can cause itching and burning, a change in vaginal discharge, and sometimes pain during sex.

What causes it?

Vaginitis may be caused by bacteria, yeast, or other organisms. Bath products, douches, and spermicides also can irritate the vagina and cause itching and discomfort.

The three most common types of vaginitis and their causes are:

Yeast infection.

A healthy vagina normally contains a small number of yeast cells, along with a certain number of bacteria. Normally there aren't enough of the yeast cells to cause problems. But sometimes something happens to the vagina that lets the yeast cells multiply quickly and take over, causing symptoms. Taking antibiotics sometimes causes this. Being pregnant, taking birth control pills that contain estrogen, or having hormone therapy can also cause it. So can some health problems, like diabetes or HIV infection.

Bacterial vaginosis.
This happens when some of the bacteria normally found in the vagina are able to multiply quickly, causing symptoms. Experts are not sure what causes this. But certain things make it more likely to happen. These include having more than one sex partner, having a partner who has a vagina, having a sexually transmitted infection, using an IUD for birth control, and douching.

This is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite. You get it by having sex with someone who has it. It is commonly called trich (say "trick").

Another type of vaginitis is atrophic vaginitis. This is an irritation of the vagina caused by thinning tissues and less moisture in the vaginal walls. This often occurs with menopause as a result of the decrease in the hormone estrogen. Surgery to remove the ovaries can have the same effect.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of vaginitis may include a change in your normal vaginal discharge (including grey, green, or yellow discharge), vaginal odour, and vaginal redness, swelling, itching, or pain. Vaginitis may also cause burning when you urinate and pain or bleeding when you have sex.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will check your vagina for redness and swelling and will take a sample of vaginal discharge. The sample can be tested in a lab to see what is causing the problem.

How is vaginitis treated?

If you're pregnant, talk with your doctor. Some problems can affect your pregnancy, so it's important to get the right treatment.

Treatment depends on the type of infection you have. Types include:

  • Yeast infection.

    Yeast infections can be treated with an over-the-counter antifungal medicine that you put into your vagina. Or your doctor may prescribe a pill. If you think you have a yeast infection, talk to your doctor before you try an over-the-counter medicine.

  • Bacterial vaginosis.

    This is usually a mild problem. But it can lead to more serious problems, so it's a good idea to see your doctor. It's usually treated with antibiotics.

  • Trichomoniasis.

    This is treated with antibiotics. Both you and your sex partner(s) need treatment.

  • Atrophic vaginitis.

    This usually is treated with estrogen creams or tablets.

How can you prevent it?

Here are some things you can do to help prevent vaginitis:

  • Do not take antibiotics unless you really need to.
  • Do not douche.
  • Do not use feminine deodorant sprays or other perfumed products in or around your vagina.
  • Wash your vulva daily with water. You also can use a mild, unscented soap if you want.
  • Change pads and tampons often. Don't leave tampons in for more than 8 hours. And be sure to remove the last tampon you use.
  • Change out of wet or damp clothes as soon as possible. Wear cotton underwear. And avoid tight clothing that could increase moisture.
  • Use a condom during sex. Limit your number of sex partners.


Current as of: April 19, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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