Vaginitis is an irritation of the vagina or vulva. It is a very common condition and is usually easy to treat. Vaginitis occurs almost in all vulvas at some point in life.
What is the cause of vaginitis?
Vaginitis occurs when the vulva or vagina becomes inflamed or irritated. This occurs when there is an alteration of the normal chemical balance in the vagina or if you have a reaction to irritants.
Many factors can cause vaginitis (and, sometimes, there is more than 1 cause). Among them, the following are included:
- Common vaginal infections as detailed below:
- Yeast infections
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Lack of estrogen (atrophic vaginitis). Lack of estrogen can lead to a type of vaginitis called atrophic vaginitis (also known as “vaginal atrophy”). Atrophic vaginitis happens when the vagina is irritated, but vaginal discharge is normal. The causes of the lack of estrogen include the following:
- Damage to the ovaries, or that have been removed
- Vaginal sex. Vaginitis is not a sexually transmitted disease (STD). But, sometimes, sexual activity can lead to this condition. The natural chemical composition present in your partner’s genitals can change the balance of yeast and bacteria in the vagina. In some exceptional cases, you may have an allergic reaction to your partner’s semen. The friction of sex, as well as certain types of lubricants, condoms and sex toys, can also cause irritation.
Get more information about vaginitis and sex.
- Allergies and irritants. Allergic reactions or sensitivity to different products, materials or activities can also cause vaginitis. The following are some factors that can cause irritation:
- Deodorants and vaginal washes, and perfumed “feminine hygiene” products
- Daily protectors, sanitary napkins or scented tampons
- Bath products with perfume
- Scented or colored toilet paper
- Some chemicals in laundry soaps and fabric softeners
- Certain types of lubricants (such as flavored ones or ones with sugars)
- Sex toys made of certain materials
- Latex and rubber from sex toys and condoms (if you have a latex allergy)
- Tight pants or underwear and pantyhose that do not have cotton in the crotch.
- Use of wet swimsuits or wet clothes for extended periods.
- Whirlpool or swimming pools
The body of each person is different, so the things that generate irritation to some people do not cause problems in others.
- Recurrent vaginitis. In some cases, this condition occurs recurrently. If you have vaginitis 4 or more times a year, this is called “recurrent vaginitis.” You can have recurrent vaginitis if you have conditions like diabetes or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV), which make your immune system weak.
You can also have recurrent vaginitis if you do not finish the treatment of vaginitis.
What are the symptoms of vaginitis?
The symptoms of vaginitis can vary depending on what is causing it, but usually include the following:
- Redness, irritation, swelling, or discomfort in the vagina or vulva.
- Itching, burning and pain in the vulva or vagina.
- Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse.
- Sensation that you need to urinate more often than normal.
- If the vulva is very irritated, you may feel pricks when urinating.
- Vaginal discharge that is not normal in your body.
- If you have yeast infection, the flow is usually thick, white and odorless. You can also have a whitish covering in and around the vagina.
- If you have bacterial vaginosis, you may have a greyish, frothy and fishy vaginal discharge. (But it is also common to have no symptoms when you have this condition.)
- If you have trichomoniasis, the discharge is often frothy, greenish-yellow in color, smelly, and may have blood stains.
The symptoms of vaginitis can be very obvious or very difficult to notice. Sometimes there are no symptoms at all. It is a good idea to pay attention to the normal appearance, sensation and smell of the vulva and vaginal discharge, so that it is easier to notice any changes that may be a sign of vaginitis or other infections.