vulvovaginitis, while uncomfortable, is essentially harmless and usually responds promptly to simple treatment. Its symptoms include itching, irritation, or pain in the external genital area (the vulva) and pain in the vagina during intercourse. The vaginal discharge is often heavier than usual. It is frequently discolored (yellow, gray, or greenish), and may or may not have an unpleasant odor.
Lactobacillus acidophilus is a strain of friendly bacteria that is an integral part of normal vaginal flora. Lactobacilli help maintain the vaginal microflora by preventing overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria and Candida. Lactobacilli produce lactic acid, which acts like a natural antibiotic. These friendly bacteria also compete with other organisms for the utilization of glucose. The production of lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide by lactobacilli also helps to maintain the acidic pH needed for healthy vaginal flora to thrive. Most of the research has used yogurt containing live cultures of Lactobacillus acidophilus or the topical application of such yogurt or Lactobacillus acidophilus into the vagina. The effective amount of acidophilus depends on the strain used, as well as on the concentration of viable organisms.
Vaginal application of a proprietary Lactobacillus acidophilus preparation may help nonspecific vaginitis. In one trial, 80% of women with nonspecific vaginitis who used the preparation were either cured or experienced marked improvement in symptoms.
Some doctors recommend vitamin E (taken orally, topically, or vaginally) for certain types of vaginitis. Vitamin E as a suppository in the vagina or vitamin E oil can be used once or twice per day for 3 to 14 days to soothe the mucous membranes of the vagina and vulva. Some doctors recommend vaginal administration of vitamin A to improve the integrity of the vaginal tissue and to enhance the function of local immune cells. Vitamin A can be administered vaginally by inserting a vitamin A capsule or using a prepared vitamin A suppository. Vitamin A used this way can be irritating to local tissue, so it should not be used more than once per day for up to seven consecutive days.
Herbs that may be helpful
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, a cream containing neem seed extract, saponins of Sapindus mukerossi (reetha), and quinine hydrochloride (5 ml applied vaginally once at bedtime) eliminated all symptoms in 10 of 14 women with chlamydia compared with none of four women given placebo cream. Neither cream was effective in women with trichomoniasis or candidal vaginitis.
Topically applied tea tree oil has been studied and used successfully as a topical treatment for Trichomonas, Candida albicans, and other vaginal infections. Tea tree oil must be diluted when used as a vaginal douche, and should only be used for this purpose under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner. Some physicians suggest using tea tree oil by mixing the full-strength oil with vitamin E oil in the proportion of 1/3 tea tree oil to 2/3 vitamin E oil. A tampon is saturated with this mixture or the mixture is put in a capsule to be inserted in the vagina each day for a maximum of six weeks.
Teas of goldenseal, barberry, and echinacea are also sometimes used to treat infectious vaginitis. Although all three plants are known to be antibacterial in the test tube, the effectiveness of these herbs against vaginal infections has not been tested in humans. The usual approach is to douche with one of these teas twice each day, using 1–2 tablespoons (15–30 grams) of herb per pint of water. One to two pints (500–1,000 ml) are usually enough for each douching session. Echinacea is also known to improve immune function in humans. In order to increase resistance against infection, many doctors recommend oral use of the tincture or alcohol-preserved fresh juice of echinacea (1 teaspoon (5 ml) three or more times per day)—during all types of infection—to improve resistance.
Are there any side effects or interactions?
Refer to the individual herb for information about any side effects or interactions.