​Vaginal infections

Vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina that can result in discharge, itching and pain and is usually caused by a change in the normal balance of vaginal bacteria or an infection.

Vaginal infections happen to women of all ages, whether they are sexually active or not. You will likely experience at least one vaginal infection at some point in your life.

The three most common types of vaginal infections include:

  • Bacterial vaginosis—when a change in the normal balance of vaginal bacteria occurs. It is the most common type of infection and often treated with antibiotics.

  • Candida or yeast infection—a fungus normally present in the vagina in small numbers. If something kills bacteria that usually keeps the yeast in check, it can overgrow causing infection. Antifungal medications are a common treatment.

  • Trichomoniasis—is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a one-celled parasite. It's especially important for women to get prompt treatment. Usually an oral antibiotic must be taken by both partners must be treated to avoid reinfection.

Vaginal infection causes

Bacteria, yeast, viruses, chemicals in creams or sprays, and even clothing can cause vaginitis. Sometimes, it occurs from organisms that are passed between sexual partners. Also, a number of different factors can affect the health of your vagina. These include your overall health, your personal hygiene, medicines, hormones (particularly estrogen), and the health of your sexual partner. Changes in any of these factors can trigger vaginitis.

A woman's vagina normally produces a discharge that is clear or slightly cloudy, non-irritating and odor-free. A bacterial balance in the vagina can be upset by many factors, including:

  • Antibiotics side effects

  • Diet—spices, onions, garlic, red meat, dairy, asparagus, broccoli and alcohol can all affect the natural balance of the vagina

  • Douching—washing or rinsing out the vagina using water or some other fluid

  • Use of various vaginal products—including vaginal sprays, lubricants or birth control devices

  • Wearing tight pants or damp underwear—may cause irritation and chafing in and around the vagina

Vaginal infection risk factors

You may be at risk for a vaginal infection if you:

  • Are experiencing fluctuating hormone levels due to pregnancy or use of oral birth control

  • Have had a recent course of antibiotics

  • Have a history of steroid use

  • Have multiple sexual partners

  • Have diabetes or an autoimmune disease

Vaginal infection symptoms 

The symptoms of vaginitis can vary depending on the cause of the infection. Some women have no symptoms at all.

Common symptoms of vaginitis include:

  • Change in color, odor or amount of discharge from your vagina

  • Pain or irritation during sexual intercourse

  • Pain or irritation when urinating

  • Vaginal inflammation, itching and burning

You probably don't need to see your doctor every time you have vaginal irritation and discharge. However, call for an appointment if you:

  • Develop unusual vaginal discomfort

  • Have a fever, chills or pelvic pain

  • Have an unusual vaginal odor, discharge or itching

  • Have completed a course of over-the-counter anti-yeast medicine and your symptoms persist

  • Have had multiple sex partners or a recent new partner

  • Have had vaginal infections in the past

If you think you have a vaginal infection, discuss your concerns with your gynecologist or make an appointment with one of our women’s health experts.

Do you have questions about your vagina but are not ready to make an appointment with a doctor? Contact our ezCare Concierge nurse navigator, a free, confidential service designed to help you navigate the best next steps for you and your health. 

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