Vaginitis and Yeast Infection
Medically reviewed by
More than 3 million US cases per year
- Requires medical diagnosis
- Symptoms: Abnormal vaginal discharge, itching, irritation, painful urination, painful intercourse
- Color: Typically red
- Location: Anywhere on the skin
- Treatment: Antibiotics, antifungal medication
Vaginitis is the generic term for inflammation of the vagina. Women affected with vaginitis often present with some combination of vaginal itching, burning, discharge, and/or odor. Further doctor visits are suggested to determine the specific cause and treatment.
This can have a variety of causes, the most common of which being bacterial and yeast infections. It is estimated that 75% of women experience one or more fungal infections in the genital area at one point in life. It is usually a harmless condition and the infection goes away by itself, but it can be a recurring problem for some.
A yeast infection in the vagina is not contagious. Occasionally, there can be irritation at the penis after sexual intercourse with a woman who has a yeast infection. The skin at the tip of the penis head is then red, dry and slightly flaky. The symptoms often go away by itself because the environment of the penis is really not as favorable for the fungus as the woman’s vagina. It is usually not contagious during sexual intercourse between two women, in oral sex or using the toilet.
Fungi living in the vagina is natural, but too much yeast can lead to health issues. The fungus that causes vaginitis is usually Candida albicans, which is normally found in our guts. Around one-third of women carry the yeast in vaginal discharge without symptoms. However, after intercourse or an antibiotic treatment, some might get vaginitis as the fungus multiplies rapidly and causes severe inflammation of the mucous membrane. There are many triggers for overgrowth, including elevated estrogen levels due to pregnancy or hormone therapy, stress, illness, and menstruation. Hereditary factors are also likely to influence whether it is easier to get a yeast infection. There is some evidence that birth control pills or the IUD can increase the risk of fungal infection. If you often (more than four times a year) get fungal infections, it can be helpful to discuss the issue of contraception with a doctor.
Symptoms of Vaginitis
The most obvious symptoms of fungal infection in female is genital itching and irritation in the vaginal opening. The mucous membranes swell and blushes. Other symptoms include a rash on the vagina and white, thick odorless white vaginal discharge. The fungus can cause pain during urination and sex.
Factors that can change the normal balance of the vagina include the following:
- Use of antibiotics
- Changes in hormone levels due to pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause
- Sexual intercourse
What can I do?
If you are sure that yeast infection cause your vaginitis, you can treat yourself with over-the-counter medications. Given that the mucous membranes are irritated by a yeast infection, it can hurt to have intercourse. If you do not take pain seriously, there is a risk that you can get what is known as vulva vestibulitis , which means recurring pain during intercourse. Therefore, you should not have sexual intercourse if you are infected.
Should I seek medical care?
In a small number of women, infections return at frequent intervals, especially after intercourse or during each menstrual period. In that case, you should contact your healthcare provider or gynecologist for help.
Treatment for Vaginitis
Antifungal creams or tablets can get rid of the infection. There are creams that are injected in into the vagina, or vaginal suppositories that are inserted into the vagina with a finger. If you are taking other medications, you should check with your doctor if you can use it together with fungal medicine.
Some ways to prevent yeast infections are maintaining genital hygiene using mild soap and water. Other methods that you can try, but are not research proven, include avoiding tight clothing and underwear that hold in moisture.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Vaginitis. Available at: http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Vaginitis
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Vaginitis. Available at: https://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/vaginitis/pages/default.aspx
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