Vaginitis: What You Need to Know

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Burning, itching, and changing discharge are some of the most common reasons why patients make appointments with their gynecologists outside of routine checkups. On an episode of Healthful Woman, Dr. Stephanie Lam explained these common symptoms of vaginal infections. You can listen to that episode to learn all about common types of vaginal infections and their treatments or continue reading below.

Common Vaginitis Symptoms

As Dr. Lam says, “itching, odor, irritation, burning. Those are probably the top four symptoms that I would say lead a patient to call the office.” These symptoms may vary depending on the type of infection that a patient is facing, and may range in severity. For example, burning accompanied by a cut or blister is more likely in a herpes infection, while yeast infections commonly cause itching without odor.

Comparing Yeast Infections, Bacterial Vaginitis, and STIs

Yeast infections are among the most common types of vaginal infections. These occur due to an overgrowth of fungus or yeast in the vagina. Dr. Lam explains that this can be caused by common behaviors such as “antibiotic use, too much alcohol, too many carbs or sweets, wearing wet bathing suit or staying in the clothes that they worked out in for too long.”

Bacterial infections, or bacterial vaginitis (BV), are also relatively common. This is caused by an overgrowth in the bacteria present in the vagina and a change in pH. Dr. Lam explains that these infections are not sexually transmitted, but rather caused by similar issues that lead to yeast infections. BV commonly results in odor, irritation, or burning while urinating.

Some common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) include herpes, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. Dr. Lam says that patients should look out for blisters or burning as well as “change in the color of the discharge or if your partner is complaining of [symptoms].” In particular, it is important to schedule an appointment if patients notice symptoms and have a new sexual partner.

Less common conditions include atrophic vaginitis, which occurs during menopause, and dermatologic conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and contact allergies.

Common Causes for Vaginitis

When treating patients with vaginitis symptoms, Dr. Lam explains that “first I look at the age of the patient. Two, I ask, are you sexually active. Have you had any new sexual partners? Three, any change in diet, exercise, any medications that you’re taking.” These factors can all point to yeast or bacterial infections or STIs. In addition, Dr. Lam notes an increase in yeast infections in recent years due to the increasing popularity of activities like cycling or spinning and a tendency to wear exercise clothes too long. As an example, Dr. Lam says “there are certain buzzwords or trigger things that may lead me in a direction of what I’m thinking. Patient may say, ‘I have no new sexual partners. I took antibiotics and I have a white discharge. No odor.’ That may lead me down the road of thinking a yeast infection.”

Treatment Options for Vaginitis

For yeast infections, BV, and most STIs, treatment options can include oral medication, creams, or vaginal suppositories. Over-the-counter medications and prescriptions are both available depending on severity of the infection and your gynecologist’s recommendation. In some cases, Dr. Lam also recommends changes in diet and natural remedies. Yogurt and other probiotics can be helpful for yeast infections, but tend to offer relief slower than taking medications.

Schedule an Appointment

If you notice the symptoms mentioned above, be sure to schedule an appointment with a gynecologist. Call Carnegie Women’s Health at (315) 628-7063 or contact our New York City office by completing our online form.

Dr. Stephanie Lam

Dr. Stephanie Lam

Dr. Stephanie Lam is a Board Certified Obstetrician/Gynecologist. She served for many years as full-time academic faculty at the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center in New York before joining the practice. She is a committed teacher, and during her academic tenure, Dr. Lam was the recipient of multiple medical school teaching awards.