What Are Vaginal Infections?
Vaginal infections, also known as vaginitis, are any of a collection of infections that cause vaginal inflammation. When the vagina’s normally healthy ratio of abnormal and normal bacteria becomes unbalanced, vaginal infections can develop.
The most common vaginal infections include:
- Bacterial vaginosis — With this condition, anaerobic bacteria, which is usually found in the vagina, over-accumulates. Untreated bacterial vaginosis can lead to problems during pregnancy and increase the risk for sexually transmitted infections.
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) — Trichomoniasis, chlamydia and gonorrhea, three STIs, are caused by parasites or bacteria spread by partners during sexual activity.
- Yeast infections — While yeast is always present in the vagina, problems can develop when the fungus Candida overgrows.
Any woman can get a vaginal infection, but common causes include:
- Hormonal changes, particularly during pregnancy
- Medication use, particularly antibiotics or steroids
- Sexual activity or having an STI
- Use of hygiene products, including bubble bath, douches, and vaginal sprays or deodorants
Because there are a variety of vaginal infections, symptoms can vary depending on the type of infection present. However, most vaginal infections result in the same collection of symptoms, including:
- Discharge — A gray/white discharge with a foul odor can be indicative of a bacterial vaginosis, while a yeast infection may cause a thick, white discharge. Yellow/green discharge could be a sign of trichomoniasis.
- Irritation — Uncomfortable burning or itching can develop in the vagina or vulva.
- Odor — Odor may fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle and can vary in intensity.
- Pain — Pain while urinating or during intercourse is common with vaginal infections.
Treatment for vaginal infections varies, depending on the type of infection present. Doctors will often perform a physical exam and collect samples to properly diagnose the condition before recommending one of these medical treatments:
- Creams or suppositories — Over-the-counter or prescription antifungal cream, as well as antifungal suppositories, may be recommended to treat yeast infections. Antibiotic creams can be prescribed to help treat other forms of bacterial vaginosis.
- Injections — Injected antibiotics can be used for STIs, particularly gonorrhea.
- Oral medications — Antibiotics may be prescribed for bacterial vaginosis and chlamydia, and oral antifungal medications may be prescribed for yeast infections. Anti-parasite and antibiotic medications may be prescribed for trichomoniasis.
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