At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
Vaginitis, properly called vulvovaginitis since it often involves the vulva as well, is an infection or irritation of the vagina and vulva of a woman. There are numerous causes for vaginitis, which affects women of all ages and levels of sexual activity. Many women will have a vaginal infection at least once in their lives, and it should not be a cause of embarrassment. Because untreated vaginitis can lead to fertility issues and other health problems, women should always see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Many women associate yeast infections with vaginitis and use the terms interchangeably. A yeast infection, also called candidiasis, is only one type of vaginal infection. The condition can also be caused by bacteria, parasites, allergies, and irritants. This is why it is important to not self-medicate for this condition, because treatment with the wrong medication will not eliminate the condition. The symptoms of the problem include itching, burning, unusual discharge, painful urination, or bleeding.
One of the most common forms of this condition is bacterial vaginitis or BV, caused by a bacterial infection or an imbalance in the bacterial flora of the vagina. It can be treated with antibiotics and some natural techniques, such as introducing beneficial bacteria into the vaginal environment. Candidiasis, or a yeast infection, is treated with anti-fungal medications. Trichomoniasis or "trich" is a form of vaginal infection caused by parasites, and usually viewed as a sexually transmitted infection, since it is passed from person to person. Antibiotics are used to treat trich.
The condition can also be caused by a foreign object in the vagina. Symptoms are usually relieved when it is removed, although a soothing cream may be prescribed to promote healing. Women may also develop vaginitis as an allergic response, typically because of the use of scented products.
Prevention of vaginitis is relatively straightforward. Women can reduce the likelihood of infection by eating healthy diets, practicing good genital hygiene, and avoiding harsh soaps and scented products. It is also important to refrain from douching, as a douche can disturb the bacterial balance of the vagina. Wiping front to back, wearing loose clothing and natural fibers, and using barrier protection during sexual activity will also reduce the risk of a vaginal infection. Ultimately, despite a woman's best efforts, she may become infected anyway. Prompt treatment is essential to prevent long term problems and to catch the condition early, making it much easier to cure.