An Overview of Vaginitis

Gynecologist performing a cervical smear or pap test on a teenage patient
VOISIN / Getty Images
In This Article
Table of Contents

Vaginitis is a vaginal infection or vaginal inflammation. It can cause itching, pain, burning, or bleeding. This condition may be caused by a variety of non-infectious and infectious conditions, including STDs.

If you or your daughter develop vaginitis, a diagnostic test (such as a culture) can identify the cause of the problem. Treatment is tailored to the cause of vaginitis and can include prescription antibiotics, antifungals, or lotions.

Symptoms

Vaginitis can affect women and girls of all ages. It can begin suddenly, and the symptoms are often intermittent. The effects of vaginitis are usually bothersome and uncomfortable, and they can be painful as well.

If untreated, complications can occur, prolonging treatment and recovery.

Common Symptoms of vaginitis include:

  • Vaginal itching
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal odor
  • Vaginal soreness and tenderness
  • Vaginal irritation that is temporarily relieved by water from the bath or shower
  • Vaginal pain
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Swelling, tenderness, or bleeding of labia (the area around the vagina)
  • Urinary urgency (a feeling that you have to go, even when you only have small amounts of urine)
  • Urinary frequency
  • Burning with urination
  • Pain, soreness, or bleeding during or after sexual intercourse

You may have any or all of these symptoms with vaginitis.

Vaginal fluid or discharge differs depending on the cause of vaginitis. It can be a clear, thin, watery discharge, or it can be white and thick, and it may be greyish or greenish.

The vagina is the opening to the birth canal. With vaginitis, the labia can be involved as well. Sometimes the urethra (a tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body) can become infected or inflamed, causing the urinary symptoms.

Causes

Vaginitis has a number of different causes. Inflammation of the vagina can occur after abrasion or trauma, including normal sexual intercourse. Some women are prone to infectious or non-infectious vaginitis due to vaginal dryness, which is especially common in girls who have not gone through puberty and in women during the menopausal and pre-menopausal years.

Infections can cause vaginitis as well. Pinworm, a very common parasitic infection, causes itching and inflammation around the anus and vagina. Hygiene issues, such as wiping from back to front or otherwise not wiping properly can cause bacterial contamination that leads to infectious bacterial vaginitis.

Yeast infections are a fairly common cause of vaginitis. They occur as a result of candida, a fungus that is normally present in the body. Taking antibiotics to fight bacterial infection is among the causes of a vaginal yeast infection . Sometimes antibiotics or illness can predispose to bacterial vaginitis as well.

Sexually Transmitted Infections

A number of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, can cause vaginitis. However, it's important to note that asymptomatic (without symptoms) STDs are common, and the absence of vaginitis does not mean that you don't have an STD.

Sexually Associated Infections

Yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis are two common causes of vaginitis. These conditions are infections, but they're not transmitted through sex. These infections can be sexually-associated infections because they occur more frequently in women who are sexually active.

Diagnosis

Vaginitis is diagnosed based on your symptoms, medical history, a physical examination, and diagnostic tests. Your doctor may take a sexual history to and talk with you about whether you could have been exposed to an infection. Certain patterns of your symptoms, such as recurrent pain when you have sexual intercourse, could be a sign of vaginal dryness or low estrogen levels.

You may need to have urine testing, which is a non-invasive test that can identify infectious organisms or blood in your urine.

You may have a physical examination, which includes a pelvic and vaginal examination. With this evaluation, your doctor may visualize the labia and vagina. Sometimes, a speculum is inserted into the vagina for better visualization, and a special light may be used during the examination. Your doctor can see areas of swelling, bleeding, and may take a sample of any discharge or fluid that you have.

A vaginal swab test or a sample of your discharge may be sent to a laboratory for further testing. A wet mount is often used to grow a culture in a lab that can identify infectious organisms. These tests can help identify the cause of your vaginitis so that it can be treated effectively.

Treatment

Most of the time, vaginitis symptoms are treatable. However, the treatment has to be tailored to the cause. The wrong treatment won't do any good, and it could make things worse.

Treatment for infectious bacterial vaginitis can include prescription oral (by mouth) antibiotics. Yeast infections are treated with prescription topical (on the skin) antifungal creams. There are also prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications used for the treatment of pinworm.

Keep in mind that even though you may feel better before taking your full prescription, you should use the medication as directed, or you could have a recurrent episode of vaginitis.

Your doctor may recommend lubricating creams or estrogen creams or gels for treating vaginitis that is caused by vaginal dryness. Steroid creams may help reduce inflammation.

Lifestyle Strategies

When you are dealing with vaginitis, ice packs or a gentle bath may help relieve symptoms.

Maintaining proper hygiene is important. Wiping thoroughly (but gently) and from front to back can help prevent bacterial contaimation and exacerbation of your symptoms.

Sexual Activity

It's important to talk to your doctor about whether it's safe to have sex when being treated for vaginitis. If an infection hasn't been fully treated, there is the chance you could pass it to your partner and then become infected again.

Sexual activity when you are being treated for a yeast infection treatment is relatively safe, while some other infections can be passed back and forth between partners, particularly if you're not practicing safer sex.

A Word From Verywell

Vaginitis is a common condition that can affect women and girls of all ages. It can have many causes, so it is important to seek medical attention and get an accurate diagnosis if you have the symptoms of vaginitis.

Most of the time, the condition is easily treated. However, some women and girls are prone to recurrent episodes. Be sure to talk to your doctor about risk factors and prevention if you experience recurrent or frequent vaginitis.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Muzny CA, Taylor CM, Swords WE, Tamhane A, Chattopadhyay D, Cerca N, Schwebke JR. An Updated Conceptual Model on the Pathogenesis of Bacterial Vaginosis. J Infect Dis. 2019 Aug 1. pii: jiz342. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiz342. [Epub ahead of print]

  2. Chatzivasileiou P, Vyzantiadis TA. Vaginal yeast colonisation: From a potential harmless condition to clinical implications and management approaches-A literature review. Mycoses. 2019 Aug;62(8):638-650. doi: 10.1111/myc.12920. Epub 2019 May 23.

Additional Reading