Vaginitis is known as irritation of the vagina that can result into pains, burnings and discharge. Vulvovaginitis a term used to describe the irritation or inflammation of both the vaginal and vulva.
A healthy vaginal contains normal population of bacteria and fungi without necessarily causing an infection. However some conditions can trigger these microorganisms to overgrow and cause inflammation to the vagina. Examples of such conditions include hormonal changes (Estrogen) , sexually transmitted diseases, deficient immune system, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause.
Vaginitis can bring up symptoms that are uncomfortable and undesirable but this condition can be well managed and cured by early diagnosis and effective medical treatments.
Causes of vaginitis
Vaginitis is caused by infectious and non-infectious agents and they are described below:
This refers to various biological agents that causes the inflammation of the vagina. These agents include:
- Bacterial vaginosis: this is the vagina infection that is caused by excessive growth of bacteria. The vagina environment is made up of varieties of bacteria in which Lactobacillus specie is the most common. Lactobacillus puts the vagina in a healthy condition and it also helps to prevent and treat infections. When the population of lactobacilli is reduced in the vaginal environment and outgrowth by other bacteria this condition is referred to as bacterial vaginosis. It can be caused as a result of unhygienic practices, keeping of multiple sex partners and lack of lactobacilli bacteria which sometimes occurs naturally.
- Yeast infections: viginal yeast infection is typically caused by overgrowth of yeast(fungi) in the vagina which leads to severe itching, swelling and irritation. The most common type of vaginal yeast infection is caused by Candida albicans. Candida thrives naturally in the vaginal environment and it’s growth is regulated by lactobacillus(the bacteria that keeps the vagina in a healthy condition). When the vaginal have low lactobacillus bacteria this condition will allow yeast to overgrow and cause an infection known as vigina yeast infection. The risk factors that can contribute to the development of vaginal yeast infection include; compromised immune system, unhealthy diet, hormonal changes, pregnancy, uncontrolled diabetes and the use of certain antibiotics.
- Trichomoniasis: this is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the parasite “Trichomonas vaginalis” which results into inching, soreness and strong odor from the vagina. According to the United States Centre for disease control and prevention, trichomoniasis has affected about 3.7 million people in the United States and it can increase the risk of premature birth and low birth weight in women. The most effective way of preventing this health condition is by sticking to a partner for sex, abstaining from sex and the use of contraceptive (latex condom) during sexual intercourse.
This refers to natural occurrence and other lifestyle factors that contribute to the irritation and inflammation of the vagina. The non-infectious agents include:
- Menopause: this is period that marks the end of menstrual cycle in women due to reduced production of estrogen and progesterone by the ovaries. This hormonal imbalance caused by menopause can lead to vaginal dryness, urinary tract infections and inflammation of the vagina.
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding: this can also contribute to the inflammation of the vagina due to changes in hormone (estrogen) production.
- Irritations: the inflammation of the vaginal can also be as a result of the use of douches, soaps, perfumes, spermicidal products and tight-fitting clothes.
Risk factors of vaginitis
There are several conditions that can contribute to the development of vaginal infections and they include:
- Changes in the production of hormone such as oestrogen and progesterone during pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Use of certain antibiotics
- Use of contraceptive device such as intrauterine devices and spermicidal product for birth control
- Unsafe sexual practices
- Use of vagina deodorants and soaps
- Use of tights fitting and non absorbent clothes
Symptoms of vaginitis
The most common symptoms of vaginitis include:
- Burning sensation during urination
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Unpleasant vaginal odor
- Irregular vaginal discharge
- Inflammation of the labia majora and labia minora
- Vaginal bleeding
The morphological characteristics of your discharge can also determine the causative agent of the vaginitis, examples include:
- Bacterial vaginosis: this infection causes a grayish white discharge with a fishy smell that is more obvious after sex.
- Yeast infections: the most common symptoms is itching. However it may come up with a thick and white discharge that looks like a cottage cheese
- Trichomoniasis: you might develop a greenish yellow discharge that is sometimes foaming.
When to see a doctor
You need to see your doctor for diagnosis and effective treatment if you:
- Experience pains when urinating
- Have multiple sexual partners or a new one
- Have medical history of vaginal infection
- Experience pain during sex
- Have been suffering from diabetes for a very long time
- Have fever
- Have irregular vaginal discharge with unpleasant odor
Diagnosis of vaginitis
In order to accurately diagnose a vaginal infection, your doctor will review your medical history and also perform a pelvic examination. To review your medical history, your doctor will ask you the following questions:
- Have you had vaginal infection in the past?
- What are the characteristics of your discharge?
- What is the number of occurrence of your discharge?
- How many sexual partners do you have/do you have a new sexual partner?
- Have you been using any birth control device?
- Do you feel pain when urinating or having sex?
- Do you experience itching and soreness on your vagina?
To further identify the cause of the vagina infection, your doctor will perform a pelvic examination which involves the collection of the vaginal discharge for laboratory analysis. This test will help your doctor detect the causative agent of the vaginal infection.
Treatment of vaginitis
The treatment of vaginal infection varies and depends on cause of the infection. The following treatments option may be recommended based on the causative agent of the infection:
- Bacterial vaginosis: vagina infections that are caused by bacteria overgrowth are usually treated by recommending antibiotics such as metronidazole tablets, erythromycin tablet and clindamycin cream
- Yeast infection: vaginal yeast infection can be effectively treated with antifungal medications such as terconazo, fluconazole and butoconazole. These medications are readily available over the counter.
- Trichomoniasis: this kind of vagina infection can be treated with metronidazole and tinidazole tablets.
Vaginal infections that are caused as a result of reduced production of estrogen during menopause, breastfeeding and pregnancy can be treated by the use of hormone therapy or oestrogen creams.
If the vaginitis is as a result of irritants such as soaps, vagina fragrance and contraceptive, it is advisable to avoid the use of these products or try another one to effectively treat vaginitis.
Prevention of vaginitis
It is not possible to prevent all kinds of vaginal infections, however those that are caused as a result of sexually transmitted infections(STI) and irritant can be prevented. Vaginitis due to STI can be prevented by practicing safe sex through the use of latex condom. Those that are caused by irritant can be prevented by identifying the source of the irritation such as douches, soaps, contraceptive (spermicidal products) vaginal deodorant and avoiding their use.
The other ways of preventing vaginal infection include maintenance of proper hygiene, use of loose-fitting fabrics and use of absorbent underwear(made of cotton) which reduces the risk of vaginal irritation.