Millions of women of all ages are affected by vaginitis (vaginal inflammation) each year. Susceptibility to vaginitis typically peaks during a woman’s reproductive years as fluctuating hormones and sexual activity can result in vaginal discomfort.
The three most common forms of vaginitis are yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and trichomoniasis. Symptoms of each can be similar to one another and usually include vaginal discharge, itching, and irritation, so it’s important to understand how they differ and if your condition requires specialized treatment.
Knowing your body well and understanding the symptoms, causes, risk factors, and treatment options available will help you decide upon a course of action that is right for you.
What is a Yeast Infection?
Vaginal yeast infections are a common condition caused by an overgrowth of yeast (candida) that can be found in minor amounts in most vaginas. Other names for it (like the fancy ones your doctor would use) are “monilial” and “candidiasis.” Yeast infections can also affect other parts of the body including the vulva, feet (athlete’s foot), and mouth (thrush).
When to See a Doctor? If you have vaginal itching and discomfort for the first time or have never had a vaginal yeast infection diagnosed by a healthcare professional. If you’re experiencing lower abdominal, back or shoulder pain, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, or foul-smelling vaginal discharge, as you may have a more serious condition. If you have been exposed to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which can lead to AIDS. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
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Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
What is Bacterial Vaginosis?
The most common vaginal infection according to the CDC is bacterial vaginosis (BV), an infection brought on by an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina
Bacterial vaginosis is distinguished by a foul, fishy odor, a thin, grayish-white discharge, and a change in vaginal acidity (pH). Similar to yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis is caused by an abnormal growth of bacteria within the vagina.
When to See a Doctor?
You should see your healthcare professional if you’re experiencing symptoms like a fishy odor, change in discharge, or sudden irritation within 48 hours after a new sex partner to make sure you do not have a sexually transmitted disease or BV. A health care provider will examine your vagina for signs of vaginal discharge. Your provider can also perform laboratory tests on a sample of vaginal fluid to determine if BV is present.
Treatment: Bacterial vaginosis must be treated with prescription antibiotics as there are currently no FDA approved OTC treatments on the market.
What is Trichomoniasis?
Trichomoniasis (trich) is another common vaginal infection caused by a protozoan parasite known as Trichomonas vaginalis. Although symptoms of the disease vary, most people who have the parasite cannot tell they are infected. While a common vaginal infection, trichomoniasis affects both men and women and is often transmitted sexually.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to diagnose trichomoniasis purely based on symptoms, so a visit to your healthcare professional is required. As a parasitic infection, Trichomoniasis must be treated with prescription antibiotics as there are currently no FDA approved OTC treatments available.