Vaginitis, also referred to as vaginal inflammation is a very commonly occurring condition in women, characterized by itching sensations, discharge of fluid and prominent aching in the vagina. The vagina is the female reproductive organ in the form of a muscular tube that extends from the external genitals through the cervix, reaching up to the uterus. The primary reason due to which vaginitis happens is a disruption in the normal microbial flora in the vagina or the onset of an infection from bacteria, fungi or parasites. In addition, the commencement of puberty, signalling the development of sexual characteristics in adolescent girls, also triggers vaginitis is some cases.
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However, in certain instances, allergies to specific substances prompt vaginitis in women. These are mostly owing to materials and chemicals present in soaps, perfumes, lubricants, condoms and application of topical creams. Moreover, vaginitis can also be transmitted to women by means of sexual intercourse, with bacteria and yeast infections being the most common vaginal inflammatory disorders resulting from direct contact.
Types Of Vaginitis
Based on the exact causative factors, there are many types of vaginitis. The most frequently occurring infections seen commonly in women are:
In the menopause phase in adult women, production of the female reproductive hormone estrogen reduces. This causes the covering over the inner layers of the vagina known as endothelium to gradually become thinner, making it rather susceptible to inflammatory responses.
In the vagina, there exists a natural growth and sustenance of different species of bacterial microbes and a delicate balance is maintained within the region, to ward off infections and protect the organ from diseases. When this vaginal microbial flora goes out of balance, bacterial vaginosis occurs accompanied by itching and inflammation, mostly due to lack of adequate amounts of a bacterial species known as lactobacilli.
This form of vaginitis arises from microbial infection of the Trichomonas vaginalis, a species of single-celled protozoan parasites. Women are afflicted by trichomoniasis, also referred to as trich, mainly from transmission during sexual intercourse. This parasite can also infect the urethra, a thin muscular tubular structure extending from the bladder to the outside of the system – the external urethral orifice and which allows the passing of urine to take place smoothly.
Medically known as candidal vulvovaginitis, this is a yeast infection induced by the Candida albicans species of fungus, that prompts an inflammation of the vagina as well as the vulva, which is the external opening of the vagina.
Also Read: Vaginal Yeast Infection: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
The predominant cause of vaginitis is infections by microbial species. Infections in the vagina can be triggered by bacteria, known as bacterial vaginosis, yeast contamination by the Candida fungal species – vaginal thrush and even owing to sexually transmitted diseases from parasitic infections like trichomoniasis. In rare instances, other some other sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhoea, chlamydia and herpes prompt the occurrence of vaginitis in women. Additionally, lack of proper hygiene practices, such as bathing daily and cleansing the vaginal region also leads to inflammation in the vagina. Women sometimes encounter vaginitis due to allergies resulting from the use of certain perfumes, lubricants and condoms, or even experience irritating sensations from using a sanitary napkin or tampon.
Some attributes predispose women to develop vaginitis, increasing the risk of inflammation and infection. These consist of pregnancy, vaginal irrigation or douching using sprays, tools for birth control, taking antibiotics, wearing very tight jeans or pants, donning damp, unclean underwear, suffering from diabetes and decrease in estrogen synthesis in times of menopause.
Besides pain in the vagina and an irritating tendency leading to rubbing and itching in the region often, vaginitis also gives rise to agony while having sexual intercourse.
Other symptoms of vaginitis comprise discomfort during urination known as dysuria, an unpleasant odour emanating from the vagina and a discharge of fluid that is white to grey colour, with a watery consistency and at times, with foam.
The doctor first records the complete medical history of the patient, including any sexually transmitted diseases that the women might have developed in the past. Then the physician carries out a pelvic exam using an apparatus known as a speculum, to view the interior portions of the vagina to identify any signs of infection, irregular fluid discharge and inflammation. A sample of the fluid discharge from the vagina is also collected from the affected woman and examined in the laboratory, to determine the type of vaginitis.
The pH, a pointer of how acidic or alkaline an environment or substance is, is measured for the vaginal region. This is done employing a pH test stick or pH paper and placing it on the walls of the vagina and if the value is higher than the normal range of pH in the vagina, it could be an indicator of bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis.
Treatment for vaginitis depends on the causative factors. If bacterial vaginosis is diagnosed in a woman, then prescription oral antibiotic medications and antibacterial creams to be applied topically on the vagina, are given by the healthcare provider. Likewise, if a yeast infection is triggering vaginitis in the patient, then prescription oral antifungal drugs, as well as topical antifungal creams and suppositories are recommended by the medical expert.
In the case of trichomoniasis, antiparasitic medicines are prescribed by the physician and prescription estrogen pills and vaginal creams are given to women encountering vaginitis during menopause, to rectify the situation of low levels of estrogen in the system. If vaginitis occurs due to factors other than infection, puberty or menopause, such as poor personal cleanliness and allergies, then following proper female hygiene practices, changing the soaps, tampons, sanitary napkins and avoiding the use of lubricants, creams causing irritation, helps avert inflammation in the vagina.