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Vaginitis, also called vulvovaginitis, is not one specific infection. The term encompasses a variety of disorders that cause infection or inflammation of the vagina and/or vulva. 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 be a contributing cause.
A vaginitis test, or "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, when present, include:
A vaginitis test is used to help diagnose vaginal infections that don’t affect the urinary tract. It’s also called a "wet prep." Your doctor will have you lie down on an exam table with your feet in stirrups, like at a regular gynecologic exam. They’ll insert a speculum into the vagina to help 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 shouldn’t hurt.
The doctor will transfer the sample onto a slide. The slide is examined under a microscope to check for infection.
Your doctor will ask you to abstain from douching 24 hours before your appointment. Some doctors ask that you don’t have intercourse 24 hours prior to the exam.
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 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’s possible for more than one type of vaginitis to be present at the same time. Common types of vaginitis are:
Your doctor will tailor treatment to your specific type of infection. Treatment for a yeast infection may include prescription vaginal creams, vagina suppositories, or antifungal medicine.
If you have noninfectious vaginitis, that means it wasn't 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. Your doctor will ask you to avoid any of these products that may be causing irritation.
During treatment, you may need to avoid intercourse. If you’re pregnant or think you may be pregnant, let your doctor know before they prescribe anything. After treatment, you might need to be tested again to make sure the infection has cleared. Ask your doctor whether further testing is necessary.
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.
Don’t 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. You should also get screened for sexually transmitted infections.
If you are perimenopausal 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.
Talk with your doctor about any concerns you have. Regular gynecologic exams are important in maintaining vaginal health.
Written by: Jaime Herndon
Medically reviewed on: Dec 23, 2015: Steven Kim, MD
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