Vaginitis and Vaginal Infections
Symptoms of a Vaginal Infection continued...
Some vaginal discharge is quite common and normal for women of childbearing age. Normally, cervical glands produce a clear mucous secretion that drains downward, mixing with bacteria, discarded vaginal cells, and Bartholin gland secretions at the opening of the vagina. These substances may (depending on how much mucus there is) turn the mucus a whitish color, and the discharge turns yellowish when exposed to air. There are times throughout the menstrual cycle that the cervical glands produce more mucus than others, depending on the amount of estrogen produced. This is normal.
Sexual excitement and emotional stress have both been associated with a normal vaginal discharge. This discharge is a clear, mucus-like secretion.
If your vaginal discharge is abnormal in color, such as green, has a foul smell, changes consistency, or is significantly increased or decreased in amount, you may be developing a form of vaginitis.
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV) causes an abnormal vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor. Some women report a strong fishlike smell, especially after intercourse. The discharge is usually white or gray. It can be thin. You may also have burning during urination or itching around the outside of the vagina, or both. Some women with BV have no symptoms at all.
- Yeast infections or candidiasis cause a thick, whitish-gray "cottage cheese" type of vaginal discharge and may be itchy. You may have intense itching in your genitals. Painful urination and intercourse are common. You may not always have a vaginal discharge. Men with genital candidiasis may have an itchy rash on the penis. Most male partners of women with yeast infection do not experience any symptoms of the infection.
- Trichomoniasis causes a frothy vaginal discharge that may be yellow-green or gray, itching and irritation of the genitals, burning with urination (sometimes confused with a urinary tract infection), discomfort during intercourse, and a foul smell. Because trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease, symptoms may appear within four to 20 days after exposure. Men rarely have symptoms, but if they do, they may have a thin, whitish discharge from the penis and painful or difficult urination.
- Pain is not a frequent symptom (except for the itching) and should prompt you to see your health care provider.
- If you have a condition called vulvodynia, you may have burning, stinging, irritation, or rawness of your genitalia but no infection or skin disease of the vulva or vagina. You may have pain, off and on. This is a different condition that requires further diagnosis with your health care provider.
When to Seek Medical Care for a Vaginal Infection
You should seek medical care for a vaginal infection any time you have pain. Although vaginal infections may cause unpleasant itching, they should not cause pain.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if this is the first time that vaginal yeast infection symptoms have occurred, or if you are unsure if you have a yeast infection. (If you are sure that you have a yeast infection, you can treat the disorder with over-the-counter medications available at the pharmacy.) But if your symptoms do not respond to one course of over-the-counter treatment, you may not have a yeast infection.