Ladies, if you get a persistent itching feeling “down there,” you may have vaginitis. This irritation of the vulva or vaginal area can happen to girls and women of any age. Vaginitis is very common and luckily can be prevented in many cases. Here’s everything you need to know about vaginitis.
WHAT IS VAGINITIS?
First, a little anatomy lesson. Many women refer to the external genital area as “the vagina.” This is not correct. The vagina is the passageway to the uterus (‘womb’). The external area around the vaginal opening is called the vulva. When the tissues of the vulva or the vagina become inflamed and/or infected, we call it vaginitis or ‘vulvovaginitis.’ This inflammation may occur from irritation or a localized allergic reaction to a substance such as baby powder, or the tissues may become infected with bacteria, viruses or yeasts.
WHAT CAUSES VAGINITIS?
Inflammation of the vulva and vagina can be caused by many things, including:
- Yeast infection
- Bacterial infection
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Vaginal contraceptives
- Chemicals found in soaps, powders and sprays
- Poor personal hygiene
- Lack of estrogen in post-menopausal women
- Tight clothing
- Improper wiping after a bowel movement
- Lost foreign bodies, such as a retained tampon
- Sexual abuse in pre-pubescent girls
SYMPTOMS OF VAGINITIS
By definition, the main symptom of vaginitis is inflammation of the tissues of the vulva, labia and/or vagina. This inflammation may be accompanied by:
- Visible swelling of the labia and other tissues
- Vaginal discharge that is thick, white, green-gray or yellow-gray
- Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
TREATMENT OF VAGINITIS
Treatment for vaginitis is tailored to the cause. If an infection is causing the vaginal inflammation, then your healthcare provider will give you medication to clear up the infection. Medications for vulvovaginitis may come in the form of a pill or a cream inserted into the vagina. You should never attempt to diagnose and self-treat vaginal inflammation under the theory you have a yeast infection. Vaginitis can be caused by many things, as you’ve seen, and self-treating for a yeast infection could delay getting a correct diagnosis with appropriate care.
If environmental factors — such as the use of perfumed powder in the genital area — are causing the vaginitis, you will be advised to stop using the offending product. If lack of estrogen is causing the problem, your healthcare provider may give you oral or vaginal estrogen products to improve the quality of your vaginal tissue.
You can take steps to prevent episodes of vaginitis. Try these approaches:
- Practice good personal hygiene by showering regularly and thoroughly drying delicate vulvar tissues
- Practice good bathroom hygiene by always wiping from front to back, especially after a bowel movement
- Practice safe sex by making sure your partner uses a condom
- Avoid douching, as this can upset the natural balance of bacteria that inhabit the vagina
- Avoid using perfumed powders or ‘feminine hygiene’ sprays
- Avoid taking bubble baths
- Wear loose-fitting clothes that allow air circulation through the genital area
- Wear cotton underwear
- Don’t sleep in underwear, as this can trap moisture in the vulvar region
- Avoid sexual intercourse during an episode of vaginitis, as you may be more vulnerable to contracting a sexually transmitted infection
Pre-pubescent girls who get repeated bouts of vaginitis should be tested for gonococcal vulvovaginitis. If this infection is found, the girl should be evaluated for possible sexual abuse.
PREVENTING VAGINITIS HELPS AVOID THE ITCH
Generally speaking vaginitis is a nuisance, not a life-threatening emergency. But anyone who has experienced that painful itch “down below” knows it can seriously affect your quality of life. Most women will experience at least one episode of vaginitis during her lifetime. But if you experience repeated vaginal infections, use some of the preventive measures outlined above. You’ll save yourself a lot of suffering.