Vaginitis is the term used to describe a state of vaginal inflammation. When vaginitis is present there will be itching, discharge, and pain. The vagina always has a certain balance of bacteria, but when the levels get out of whack, vaginitis may occur. In other cases, vaginitis is the result of an infection. Menopause, with its reduced levels of estrogen, can also bring on vaginitis.
Here are the four most common types of vaginitis:
*Bacterial vaginosis—vaginosis occurs when one of the organisms present in the vagina begins to multiply and grow to proportions that alter the normal balance of the vaginal flora.
*Yeast infection—this type of infection occurs when the fungus known as Candida albicans grows in the vagina. Three out of every four women will have a yeast infection at least once during their lifetimes.
*Trichomoniasis—this form of vaginitis is the result of a parasite and is transmitted through the sex act.
*Atrophic vaginitis—the hormone estrogen helps to maintain tissues. When menopause comes and estrogen is no longer produced, the vaginal tissues thin out and become dry, too. Atrophic vaginitis is often accompanied by itching, pain, and burning.
Treatments for these types of vaginitis vary according to type of infection. The symptoms of vaginitis include:
*Vaginal irritation or itching
*Changes in the amount, odor, and/or color of the vaginal discharge
*Pain on urination
*Pain during sex
*Slight vaginal bleeding
More specific symptoms may apply with individual types of vaginitis:
*Bacterial vaginosis—there will be a fishy-smelling, gray-white discharge.
*Yeast infection—the main symptom is a fierce unquenchable itching but there may also be a thick white discharge resembling cottage cheese.
*Trichomoniasis—this infection brings on a pus-like discharge that is yellowish-green and may look frothy.
Sometimes it's hard to know whether or not your vaginitis needs medical attention. Here are some tips on knowing when to see your doctor:
*First time for everything—you've never had any kind of vaginal infection. A visit to the doctor will help identify the cause and its signs and symptoms.
*A repeat performance—you've had infections in the past, but this one is somehow different.
*New partnership—you've been having sex with more than one partner, or you have a new partner plus you're having vaginitis symptoms. It's important to establish whether you might have a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Some STD's look a lot like bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections.
*You're finished—you took your over-the-counter-yeast infection treatment but you still have symptoms.
But if you've got some experience with physician-confirmed vaginal yeast infections and you recognize your symptoms as being the same old, same old, you can go ahead and self-treat without seeing your physician, first.