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What is Vaginitis?

Vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina and the vulva that may cause pain, itching and discharge. Vaginitis is very common and most women may ex­perience it at least once. Three types of vaginal infec­tions occur most frequently:

Bacterial Infections

Trichomonal Infections

Yeast (Candida) Infections

Although these vaginal infections have many com­mon symptoms, each is caused by a different organ­ism and is treated in different ways.  The specific or­ganism is determined through a microscopic examina­tion of the vaginal discharge.  This information along with a pelvic exam and medical history will identify the vaginal infection which is present.  It is possible for more than one type of vaginal infection to be pre­sent at the same time.

It is important to remember that it is normal for women to have some vaginal discharge.  The normal vaginal discharge is made of mucus secretions from the cervix and vagina plus discarded vaginal cells.  Normal discharge is transparent or cloudy-white and somewhat filmy.  When it dries on clothing it is yel­lowish. Generally, the discharge has little odor and causes no irritation.

The amount of discharge varies according to the time of a woman’s menstrual cycle and her state of sexual arousal.

If the delicate chemical balance in the vagina is upset, organisms normally present in the vagina can multiply at a higher rate than normal.  Also, the imbalance may make the vagina more susceptible to “invader” organ­isms which would normally be controlled as they en­tered the vagina.  The organisms (bacteria, fungi or protozoa) create waste products which can irritate tissue, cause an unpleasant odor, itching and/or swelling. 

Bacterial Infection

This condition is also called Bacterial Vaginosis, or BV. It is caused by an overgrowth of vaginal bacteria and a change in the normal acid environment of the vagina. This infection may occur spontaneously. Ac­tivities that can upset the balance of natural bacteria can include having a new sexual partner, multiple partners, and douching. The discharge associated with this condition may be thick or watery and may have a unpleasant odor, often more noticeable after inter­course. Some women note pain or burning with in­tercourse but rarely have itching or redness. Some do not report symptoms at all. There are several dif­ferent treatments now available, including oral or vaginal medications. Treatment of male sex partners is not recommended because it has not been benefi­cial in preventing the recurrence of BV.  Consistent use of condoms may prevent future infections.  Women with female sexual partners who have BV are at risk due to vaginal fluid transmission. Women who have BV are more susceptible to other STIs.

Trichomonal Infection

This condition is caused by a one-celled organism (trichomonas vaginalis) generally called “trich” (pronounced “trick”).  It may be found in both men and women and can be transmitted sexually.  Women who have trich may have a thin but foamy discharge which is greenish or grayish in color with an unpleas­ant odor. Itching, redness, pain and frequent urina­tion may also be noted. An oral antibiotic is the usual treatment.  All sex partners should be treated and should not have sex until treatment is completed. You should be tested for other sexually transmitted infections.

Yeast (Candida) Infection

This infection may be called by different names:  yeast infection, candidiasis, and moniliasis. 

This fungal organism is normally present, in small and harmless quantities, in the mouth, digestive tract, and vagina.  When the balance in the vagina is upset and monilia overgrows, you may note symp­toms. Yeast is not usually sexually transmitted.

Symptoms may include itching, burning, redness or swelling around the vaginal opening.  Discharge is usually white and thick with a “cottage cheese” consistency.

Yeast infections are usually treated with vaginal creams or suppositories.  Some of these medica­tions are now available “over-the-counter” without a prescription.

More on Treatment

It is important to use the medication exactly as it is prescribed. Do not stop using medication when symptoms disappear as some organisms may sur­vive incomplete treatment.

Avoid sexual intercourse during the treatment. This will allow irritated vaginal tissue to heal faster.

If you do have intercourse, use a condom. Howev­er, some vaginal medications may weaken the latex in condoms, causing possible breakage.


Vaginal infections thrive in moisture and warmth.  Keep the vaginal area (vulva) as dry as possible.  Consider the following suggestions:

  • Dry carefully after bathing.
  • Wear cotton underwear. 
  • Do not sleep in underwear.
  • Do not douche.
  • Avoid tight clothing.
  • Change out of a wet bathing suit or wet clothing immediately after swimming or exercising.
  • Avoid hot tubs or hot baths.
  • Avoid deodorant pads or tampons
  • Avoid scented soaps or body wash in genital area; use mild, unscented soaps. Rinse genitals after a bubble bath. *Keep vaginal PH healthy by consuming foods such as yogurt with acidophillus.

Return for follow-up visits if required. If you have questions about vaginitis or other health care con-cerns call Health and Wellness Education at 855-7338 or call 855-7688 for a medical appointment.