As any woman knows, when something causes the vaginal area to feel inflamed, everyday actions like peeing or sitting can be irritating at best and painful at worst. That inflammation, which can develop from very different causes, is called vaginitis.
“Different types of vaginitis may share symptoms of vaginal itching, discomfort, and often associated vaginal discharge,” says Yale Medicine pathologist Angelique Levi, MD.
The symptoms of vaginitis might be limited to the vagina—the muscular canal that connects the uterus to the outside of the body—but they can also affect the external parts surrounding it, called the vulva.
Inside a healthy vagina, an intricate community of bacterial and fungal microbes carry out vital tasks, like keeping the area acidic (a low pH level) enough to ward off infections and producing small amounts of discharge, which keeps the vagina clean. If the delicate balance of these microbial populations is disrupted, the area can turn into a breeding ground for “bad” bacteria or fungus. Another form of vaginitis can be the result of hormonal changes. As a woman’s estrogen levels fluctuate throughout her life, lower levels can lead to vaginal irritation and inflammation.
Given the complex origins of vaginitis, it’s important to seek medical care at the earliest signs of swelling and discomfort.
At Yale Medicine, our specialists take time to identify the specific cause of vaginitis so that the most targeted treatment approach can be found.