Vaginitis, also known as vulvovaginitis, is not one specific condition. The term encompasses a variety of disorders that cause infection or inflammation of the vagina or vulva.
The causes of vaginitis can include bacteria, viruses, or yeast infections. It can also be passed between sexual partners. Vaginal dryness due to lack of estrogen can also be a contributing cause.
A wet mount is used to help diagnose vaginal infections that could be causing vaginitis and don’t affect the urinary tract. It’s also called a vaginitis test or wet prep.
Vaginitis is detected during a regular gynecological exam.
Symptoms of vaginitis can differ, depending on the cause of the vaginal infection. Some people have no symptoms.
Common symptoms, when present, include:
- vaginal discharge that may have an odor
- itching or swelling of the vulva
- burning during urination
- pain or discomfort during intercourse
Your doctor will ask you to abstain from douching in the 24 hours before your appointment. Some doctors also ask that you don’t have intercourse or use a tampon 24 hours prior to the test.
Your doctor will have you lie down on an exam table with your feet in stirrups, like at a regular gynecological exam. They’ll insert a speculum into the vagina to help see the area. A sterile cotton swab is inserted into the vagina to obtain a sample of vaginal discharge.
While you may feel pressure or discomfort, the test shouldn’t hurt.
The doctor will transfer the sample of discharge onto a slide. The slide is examined under a microscope to check for infection.
Abnormal results from a wet mount indicate there’s an infection.
When looking at the sample under the microscope, the doctor is generally looking for signs of a Candida yeast infection or the presence of certain bacteria or other microorganisms. These include the bacterium Gardnerella and the Trichomonas parasite.
Gardnerella causes bacterial vaginosis, while the Trichomonas parasite causes trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
It’s possible for more than one type of vaginitis to be present at the same time. Other common types of vaginitis include viral vaginitis, noninfectious (irritant) vaginitis, and atrophic vaginitis.
Your doctor will tailor treatment to your specific type of infection or inflammation. If you’re pregnant or think you may be pregnant, let your doctor know before they prescribe anything.
Treatment for a yeast infection may include prescription vaginal creams, vaginal suppositories, or oral antifungal medication.
Trichomoniasis and bacterial vaginosis can be treated with prescription oral antibiotic medication.
Noninfectious (irritant) 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. Your doctor will ask you to avoid any of these products that may be causing irritation.
During treatment, you may need to avoid intercourse.
After treatment, you might need to be tested again to make sure the vaginitis has cleared up. Ask your doctor whether further testing is necessary.
Practicing good personal hygiene is important to preventing vaginitis.
Here are other things you can do to help lower your chances of having vaginitis:
- Avoid irritating products. Don’t douche or use vaginal sprays or perfumed soaps in the vaginal area. These products can cause irritation.
- Stay away from tight clothes. Avoiding wearing tight jeans or spandex can lower your risk of developing a yeast infection.
- Reduce your risk of STIs. Practice sex with a barrier method to lower the risk of an STI. Also get screened for STIs.
- Consider hormone therapy. If you’re perimenopausal or menopausal, you may experience symptoms related to a 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 replacement therapy is appropriate. There may also be topical creams or lubricants you can use.
Speak with your doctor about any concerns you may have. Regular exams are important for maintaining vaginal health.