What is Vaginitis?

Vaginitis is inflammation of the vagina, and it can affect women of all ages, even though it is most common during a woman’s reproductive years.

This condition can be caused by an infection, sexual intercourse, douching, the use of spermicides, changes in hormones as a result of pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause, and using antibiotics. All of these factors can change the balance of the bacteria and yeast that are normally found in the vagina, and the lining becomes inflamed as a result.

In 40-50% of cases of vaginitis, bacterial vaginosis is to blame. In 20-25% of cases, vaginal candidiasis is the cause. And in 15-20%, trichomoniasis is the cause.

What are the Symptoms of Vaginitis?

Symptoms that are commonly associated with the conditions that cause vaginitis include itching, swelling, and burning in the vagina.

If there is a strong, fishy smell, particularly after having sex, or if there is a gray or white discharge or a foamy or watery discharge, it is likely bacterial vaginosis.

If you have a discharge that is white and has a cottage cheese like consistency, or if you experience burning, redness, itching, and pain, a yeast infection is likely to blame.

Vaginitis Causes

Vaginitis can be caused by a number of things. Firstly, it might be down to an infection of the vagina, such as thrush or bacterial vaginosis (BV). Thrush is caused by an increase in candida, a type of yeast. BV is caused by an interruption to the vagina’s natural bacteria levels.

It’s also common for vaginitis to occur from excessive cleaning of the vagina. The vagina has a natural balance of good bacteria which works to prevent infection. Cleaning inside the vagina, for example by douching, could not only irritate the vaginal lining but it might also alter this natural bacterial balance, which could lead to thrush or BV.

Sometimes, chemical irritation is to blame for vaginitis. Sometimes soaps, bath and shower products, lubricants, spermicides, scented sanitary products, or swimming in chlorinated water can cause irritation.

Vaginitis isn’t a sexually transmitted infection, but it can occur as a result of sexual intercourse. Irritation might occur as a result of sperm, condoms, or friction created during intercourse.

Vaginitis as a side effect of one of the following STIs:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Genital herpes
  • Trichomoniasis

How is Vaginitis Treated?

Your doctor will examine you and determine the cause of the vaginitis. Once the underlying cause is determined, treatment will be administered. Often, a gel or cream can be applied to the vagina, or a medication can be taken to treat the infection.

Vaginitis Prevention

To prevent vaginitis, it’s important to minimize the risk of infection and irritation. The genital area should be cleaned on the outside only since the vagina cleans itself naturally via harmless discharge. Unscented, gentle bath and shower products should be used, and douching should be avoided. Loose-fitting cotton underwear can help to keep the vagina dry and free from irritation.

Practicing safe sex is incredibly important; use condoms with new partners, and undergo frequent sexual health screenings. If irritation tends to occur after sex, using a non-scented, unflavored lubricant where necessary may help.

If symptoms of thrush or BV occur, rapid treatment is vital to minimize the risk of vaginitis. Treatments for both types of infection are available over the counter.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 10, 2017