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Vaginitis is an inflammation or irritation of the vagina that is usually associated with an overgrowth of vaginal bacteria or yeast. Vaginal infections are one of the most common health problems for women. Most types of vaginitis are not contagious and are usually not serious, but they can be annoying and uncomfortable.

  • Infectious vaginitis is the most common and is usually caused by a bacterial overgrowth, but can also be due to a yeast or parasitic infection.
  • Atrophic vaginitis occurs most often in postmenopausal women and is due to a drop in estrogen levels.
  • Allergic vaginitis is caused by an allergic reaction to spermicides and more rarely, latex.

Sign and symptoms

  • Vaginal discharge that will vary in texture (thick, thin, curd-like), color (white, gray, yellowish), odor (fishy smell) and amount (heavy or light) depending on the type of infection. The normal vagina has a clear, cloudy or whitish discharge.
  • Vaginal symptoms that may include: itching, burning, irritation, redness, swelling and possibly pain
  • Vaginal dryness (with atrophic vaginitis)
  • Pain with sexual intercourse
  • Pain and burning when urinating
  • Symptoms may vary with the menstrual cycle.


Many organisms live in a delicate balance in the vagina. When this balance is disrupted symptoms occur. Most infectious vaginitis cases are caused by either bacterial vaginosis (most common cause), vulvovaginal candidiasis (a yeast infection) or trichomoniasis (a parasitic infection). Noninfectious causes are a decrease of natural estrogen or an allergic reaction.

Risk factors

  • Use of antibiotic medications
  • Spermicides
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Douching
  • Changes in hormone levels (pregnancy, breast-feeding, menopause, using birth-control pills)

What to do

  • Wear underwear and pantyhose with cotton crotches.
  • Avoid wearing jeans, pants, or panty hose that are too tight.
  • Wash your vaginal area regularly with mild soap and water. Rinse well and dry thoroughly after washing.
  • Don't share towels; let towels dry between uses.
  • Keep the area around the genitals as dry as possible.
  • Don't sit around in a wet bathing suit.
  • Avoid perfumed or deodorant soap, detergents, fabric softeners, bubble baths, powder, and vaginal sprays.
  • Always wipe away from the vagina (front to back) after bowel movements.


  • Vaginitis should not be self-treated with douches or deodorant sprays.
  • For vaginitis caused by infection, your doctor may prescribe creams, suppositories, vaginal tablets, or oral antibiotics. Take or use all of the medication prescribed. Symptoms may improve before the infection is cured.
  • For vaginitis caused by lack of estrogen, symptoms are usually relieved by replacing the estrogen. Vaginal creams or oral tablets may be recommended.
  • Your partner should also be treated if the vaginitis is caused by trichomoniasis.
  • If the vaginitis is due to an allergic reaction, discontinue using the offending product.

More information from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists>

Last Updated: 1/7/2014