What Is Vaginitis? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

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Have you noticed an abnormal discharge from your vagina that has an odd smell or color? Do you have vaginal itching or irritation? Do you feel pain during sex? If you’ve had any of these issues, you may have vaginitis. Vaginitis is inflammation of the vagina that results in itching, discharge, and pain. You can get this condition if you have an infection of the vagina or if there is a change in the balance of your vaginal bacteria. If you are concerned that you might have vaginitis, continue reading to learn more about its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

What Is Vaginitis?

Vaginitis is inflammation of the vagina caused by bacteria, like chemicals found in certain products like scented soaps and low estrogen levels. There are several different causes of vaginitis:

  • Bacterial vaginosis– an infection caused by an overgrowth of the bacteria Gardnerella. This is a germ that normally lives in the vagina without a problem.
  • Candida or yeast infections– due to overgrowth of Candida, but usually only occurs in females who are pregnant, obese, diabetic, immunosuppressed, or on antibiotics.
  • Trichomoniasis– a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Atrophic vaginitis– the result of thinning of the vaginal walls, which commonly occurs in post-menopausal females
  • Non-infectious vaginitis– other types of non-infectious vaginitis include allergic or irritant vaginitis, when the vaginal tissue comes into contact with a chemical or foreign body

Signs and Symptoms of Vaginitis

Vaginitis symptoms will vary somewhat depending on the cause of your vaginitis, however, most cases will have some of the following symptoms:

  • Abnormal-looking vaginal discharge
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • Itching or irritation of the vagina
  • Pain with urinating
  • Pain with intercourse

If you notice any symptoms like this, you should visit your doctor.


To diagnose your vaginitis, your doctor will:

  • Get a thorough medical history: Your doctor will ask about your medical history, especially your history of vaginal infections or STIs, and will ask you about the history of this illness.
  • Perform a pelvic exam: As part of your physical exam, your doctor may use a device called a speculum to look inside your vagina for inflammation and vaginal discharge.
  • Collect a sample for lab testing: During the speculum exam, your doctor may use a test swab to collect a sample of vaginal discharge. This sample is to confirm what type of vaginitis you have.
  • Perform pH testing: Your doctor may check the pH of your vaginal fluids by applying a litmus paper to the vaginal secretions or wall of your vagina.

Treatments for Vaginitis

Treatment for vaginitis depends on the cause of your vaginitis. Doctors trea:

  • Bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis with antibiotics, usually with an antibiotic called metronidazole.
  • Candida and yeast infections with antifungal creams, usually for only 1-3 days. There is also an option to take oral antifungal medication.
  • Noninfectious vaginitis by avoiding the product that’s causing your vaginal irritation.
  • Atrophic vaginitis with topical estrogen creams, and you may use lubrication to improve the pain associated with intercourse.

If your vaginitis does not resolve with the treatment that your doctor prescribes, it may need to be treated for longer with more medications. It’s important to follow up with your doctor about whether your symptoms resolve.

Next Steps: How To Prevent Vaginitis

There are a few ways you can prevent vaginitis:

  • Avoid too many baths, hot tubs, and whirlpool spas because yeast tends to grow with moisture.
  • Avoid products like scented tampons, pads, and scented soaps that may irritate your vagina.
  • Wipe from front to back after using the toilet to avoid spreading bacteria from the anus to the vagina.
  • Avoid douching because it disrupts the delicate balance of organisms living in your vagina.
  • Practice safe sex with the use of barrier contraception, like condoms, to avoid getting sexually transmitted infections.

When To See Your Doctor

Talk to your doctor if you feel like you are having symptoms of vaginitis. It is important to be open with your doctor about your vaginal health. If you have more questions about vaginitis, ask your doctor for more information.

Resource Links:

  1. “Vaginitis” via Cleveland Clinic
  2. “Atrophic Vaginitis” via StatPearls 
  3. “Vaginitis” via Mayo Clinic
  4. “Vaginitis” via StatPearls 
  5. “Gardnerella” via  StatPearls 
  6. “Vaginal Candidiasis” via StatPearls 
  7. “Trichomoniasis” via StatPearls 
  8. “Diagnosis of vaginitis via American Family Physician