If you are like most women, you will have vaginitis at least once in your life. Vaginitis is a name for itching or burning in the vagina, often with an unusual smell or discharge. The most common kinds of vaginitis are bacterial vaginosis (BV), yeast, and trichomoniasis (trich, pronounced "trick").

Vaginitis is seldom dangerous. In most women, it is easy to treat. But if you are pregnant, an infection may create special problems for you and your baby (see below).

Causes of Vaginitis

The healthy vagina contains a balance of several kinds of bacteria. "Good" bacteria help keep the vagina slightly acidic. This keeps harmful bacteria from growing too quickly. A healthy vagina produces a mucus-like discharge that may be clear or slightly milky, depending on the time of a woman's monthly cycle. Healthy discharge has little odor. When the balance of the vagina is upset, harmful bacteria grow too quickly and cause infections. Discharge may have an odd color or smell. Harmful bacteria and other germs can be spread through sex. Other things that can upset the balance of the vagina include:

  • Antibiotics (medicines)
  • Pregnancy
  • Douching
  • Damp underwear
  • Tight pants
  • Poor diet
  • Vaginal products (sprays, lubricants, birth control devices)

If You Have Vaginitis

If you have symptoms of vaginitis, you need to see your health care provider for a correct diagnosis. To help your provider find out what you have:

  • Schedule the exam when you're not having your monthly period.
  • Don't douche 24 hours before your exam.
  • Don't use vaginal sprays 24 hours before your exam.
  • If you have sex less than 24 hours before the exam, use condoms.