To diagnose vaginitis, your doctor is likely to:
- Review your medical history. This includes your history of vaginal or sexually transmitted infections.
- Perform a pelvic exam. During the pelvic exam, your doctor may use an instrument (speculum) to look inside your vagina for inflammation and abnormal discharge.
- Collect a sample for lab testing. Your doctor might collect a sample of cervical or vaginal discharge for lab testing to confirm what kind of vaginitis you have.
- Perform pH testing. Your doctor might test your vaginal pH by applying a pH test stick or pH paper to the wall of your vagina. An elevated pH can indicate either bacteria vaginosis or trichomoniasis. However, pH testing alone is not a reliable diagnostic test.
A variety of organisms and conditions can cause vaginitis, so treatment targets the specific cause:
- Bacterial vaginosis. For this type of vaginitis, your doctor may prescribe metronidazole (Flagyl) tablets that you take by mouth or metronidazole (MetroGel) gel or clindamycin (Cleocin) cream that you apply to your vagina. You'll need to get tested and be given a prescription for these medications.
- Yeast infections. Yeast infections usually are treated with an over-the-counter antifungal cream or suppository, such as miconazole (Monistat 1), clotrimazole, butoconazole or tioconazole (Vagistat-1). Yeast infections may also be treated with a prescription oral antifungal medication, such as fluconazole (Diflucan). The advantages of over-the-counter treatment are convenience, cost and not waiting to see your doctor. However, you might have something other than a yeast infection. Using the wrong medicine may delay an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
- Trichomoniasis. Your doctor may prescribe metronidazole (Flagyl) or tinidazole (Tindamax) tablets.
- Genitourinary syndrome of menopause (vaginal atrophy). Estrogen — in the form of vaginal creams, tablets or rings — can effectively treat this condition. This treatment is available by prescription from your doctor, after other risk factors and possible complications are reviewed.
- Noninfectious vaginitis. To treat this type of vaginitis, you need to pinpoint the source of the irritation and avoid it. Possible sources include new soap, laundry detergent, sanitary napkins or tampons.
Lifestyle and home remedies
You'll need prescription medication to treat trichomoniasis, bacterial vaginosis and vaginal atrophy. If you know you have a yeast infection, you can take these steps:
Use an over-the-counter medication specifically for yeast infections. Options include one-day, three-day or seven-day courses of cream or vaginal suppositories. The active ingredient varies, depending on the product: clotrimazole, miconazole (Monistat 1) or tioconazole (Vagistat-1).
Some products also come with an external cream to apply to the labia and opening of the vagina. Follow package directions and complete the entire course of treatment, even if you're feeling better right away.
- Apply a cold compress, such as a washcloth, to the labial area to ease discomfort until the antifungal medication takes full effect.
Preparing for your appointment
Your family doctor, gynecologist or another medical practitioner can diagnose and prescribe treatment for vaginitis.
What you can do
To get ready for your appointment, make a list of:
- Your symptoms and how long you've had them
- Key personal information, including how many sex partners you have and whether you have a new sex partner
- All medications, vitamins and other supplements you take, including doses
- Questions to ask your doctor
Avoid using tampons, having sexual intercourse or douching before your appointment so that your doctor can assess your vaginal discharge.
For vaginitis, some basic questions include:
- What can I do to prevent vaginitis?
- What signs and symptoms should I watch for?
- Do I need medication?
- Are there over-the-counter products that will treat my condition?
- What can I do if my symptoms return after treatment?
- Does my partner also need to be tested or treated?
Don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, such as:
- Do you notice a strong vaginal odor?
- Do your symptoms seem tied to your menstrual cycle? For instance, are symptoms more intense just before or just after your period?
- Have you tried over-the-counter products to treat your condition?
- Are you pregnant?
- Do you use scented soap or bubble bath?
- Do you douche or use feminine hygiene spray?
Don't feel embarrassed to discuss symptoms that might suggest vaginitis. Discuss your symptoms with your health care provider as soon as possible, to avoid delaying treatment.