Vaginitis, also called vulvovaginitis, is not one specific infection. The term is used to encompass a variety of disorders that cause infection or inflammation of the vagina. The causes of vaginitis can include bacteria, yeast infections, or viruses. It can also be passed between sexual partners. Vaginal dryness due to lack of estrogen can also contribute to causing vaginitis.
A vaginitis test—also known as a “wet mount”—helps your doctor diagnose vaginal infections that could be causing vaginitis.
Symptoms of vaginitis can differ among women, depending on the cause of the infection. Some women have no symptoms, and vaginitis is detected during a regular gynecologic exam. Common symptoms include:
- vaginal discharge than may have an odor
- itching on the outside of the vagina
- burning during urination
- pain or discomfort during intercourse
A vaginitis test called a wet mount is used to help diagnose vaginal infections that do not affect the urinary tract. It is also called a “wet prep.” Your doctor will have you lie down on an exam table, with your feet in stirrups, like a regular gynecologic exam. He or she will insert a speculum into the vagina to help him or her see the area. A sterile, moist cotton swab is inserted into the vagina to obtain a sample of vaginal discharge. While you may feel pressure or discomfort, the test should not hurt.
The swab is then used to transfer the sample onto a slide. The slide can then be examined under a microscope to check for infection.
You will be asked to abstain from douching 24 hours before your appointment. Some doctors ask that you not have intercourse 24 hours prior to the exam.
Abnormal results from a wet mount indicate there is an infection. When looking at the sample under the microscope, the doctor is generally looking for signs of a yeast infection or the presence of certain bacteria or microorganisms, such as the bacterium Gardnerella (the cause of bacterial vaginosis), or the Trichomonas parasite (which causes trichomoniasis).
It is possible for more than one type of vaginitis to be present at the same time. Common types of vaginitis are:
- non-infectious vaginitis
- trichomoniasis vaginitis, a sexually transmitted infection
- candida (yeast)
- bacterial vaginosis (BV)
- chlamydia vaginitis
- viral vaginitis
- atrophic vaginitis
Depending on your results, the specific infection can be treated and symptoms eased. Noninfectious vaginitis is not caused by an infection. This kind of vaginitis may be caused by reactions to vaginal sprays or spermicide. Perfumed soaps, lotions, and fabric softeners can also cause irritation that results in noninfectious vaginitis.
During treatment, you may need to avoid intercourse. If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant, let your doctor know before she prescribes anything. After treatment, you might need to be tested again to make sure the infection has been cleared. Ask your doctor whether further testing is necessary.
While there is no way to completely prevent vaginitis, there are things you can do to help lower your chances of getting vaginitis. Good personal hygiene is important, and avoiding wearing tight jeans or spandex can help lower your risk of developing a yeast infection.
Do not douche or use vaginal sprays or perfumed soaps in the vaginal area. This can cause irritation.
Practice safer sex to lower the risk of a sexually transmitted infection.
If you are peri-menopausal or menopausal, you may experience symptoms related to lack of estrogen. This can also happen if your ovaries have been removed. A lack of estrogen can lead to vaginal dryness and irritation. Talk with your doctor about whether hormone therapy is appropriate. There may also be creams or lubricants you can use.
Regular gynecologic exams are important in maintaining vaginal health. Talk with your doctor about any concerns you have. If you are sexually active, get screened for sexually transmitted infections.