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Vaginitis: What You Need To Know

Posted on February 7, 2023 by Henry Ford Health Staff
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Let’s face it. Most women aren’t keen on discussing what’s going on in their nether regions. But whether you’re experiencing inflammation, itching or pain during sexual activity, you’re in good company. 

“Vaginal issues are strikingly common,” says Samah Arsanious, M.D., an obstetrician/gynecologist at Henry Ford Health. “And more often than not, vaginitis is the culprit.”

Here, Dr. Arsanious answers your most pressing questions about this condition. 

What Is Vaginitis? 

Vaginitis is inflammation or infection of the vagina. It can also affect the external parts of your genitals. But even if you don’t have any obvious symptoms, vaginitis could be lurking. It is associated with a spectrum of symptoms, including:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Burning
  • “Fishy” vaginal odor
  • Irritation
  • Itching
  • Pain during intercourse

What Causes Vaginitis?

Vaginitis of all types usually happens when there’s an imbalance of good and bad bacteria or yeast that are normally found in your vagina. A variety of things can affect this delicate balance—from antibiotics and douching to intrauterine devices (IUD) and unprotected sex with a new partner. The most common types of vaginitis include:

Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

BV happens when there’s an overgrowth of bacteria in your vagina. It is the most common cause of abnormal vaginal discharge during your reproductive years. BV may not produce any noticeable symptoms. When it does, you may notice thin white or gray vaginal discharge and a fishy odor, particularly after sex and menses.

Yeast infections (candidiasis)

The second most common cause of vaginitis after BV, yeast infections happen when a naturally occurring fungus called Candida albicans disrupts the vagina’s natural bacteria. Yeast infections often cause burning, itching, swelling and inflammation. You may also experience pain during vaginal intercourse and abnormal discharge (often a thick, white discharge from the vagina that can look like cottage cheese). Yeast infections may also cause your vagina and vulva to become itchy and red.

Trichomoniasis

“Trich” is caused by a parasite; it’s the most common nonviral sexually transmitted infection in the United States, with an estimated 3 to 5 million cases annually. While abnormal discharge, itching, burning during urination and gray-green discharge are common signs of trichomoniasis, you can also be infected with the parasite and not exhibit any symptoms.

Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes during pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause can also cause irritation in your vaginal tissues.

Who Is At Greatest Risk Of Developing Vaginitis?

While vaginitis can strike at almost any time, it’s especially common during reproductive years and among certain groups. Growth of bacteria associated with bacterial vaginosis and yeast are less common in an estrogen-depleted environment, so prepubescent and postmenopausal individuals (who are not using estrogen) are less likely to get bacterial vaginosis or vaginal candidiasis. People who are white and non-Hispanic are also less likely to develop both BV and trichomoniasis compared to those who are Black or Hispanic.

How To Prevent Vaginitis

Vaginitis is common, but there are a number of things you can do to lower your risk, including: 

  • Avoiding irritants. Doctors recommend avoiding vaginal sprays, scented soaps, scented tampons, pads and douches. Rinse soap from your outer genital area after a shower and dry the area well to prevent irritation.
  • Wiping from front to back. Doing so avoids spreading fecal bacteria to your vagina.
  • Keeping yourself clean and dry. But keep in mind that your vagina doesn't require cleansing other than regular showering. Douching disrupts the good organisms that live in your vagina and can increase your risk of vaginal infection.
  • Practicing safe sex. Using a condom and limiting your number of sex partners can help prevent vaginal infections of all types.
  • Wear cotton underwear. Nylon and other materials can trap in moisture and encourage the growth of harmful bacteria that can lead to a yeast infection.

When Should You Seek Care For Vaginitis? 

Normal vaginal discharge is usually clear or slightly cloudy. It’s one of the ways the vagina self-cleans. Normal discharge doesn’t smell or cause itching, burning or pain. See your healthcare provider if you develop vaginal discomfort, especially if:

  • Your vaginal discharge changes color, consistency or smells different.
  • You experience vaginal itching, burning, swelling or soreness in the inside or outside of your vagina.
  • You feel a burning sensation when you pee.
  • You experience pain during vaginal intercourse.

If you've never had a vaginal infection, seeing your healthcare provider can establish the cause and help you learn to identify the signs and symptoms.


To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Samah Arsanious, M.D., is an obstetrician and gynecologist who sees patients at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

Categories : FeelWell
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