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Vaginitis and Vaginal Infections

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Causes of Vaginal Infections continued...

Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease (also called trich, pronounced "trick") caused by a parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. Trichomoniasis is primarily an infection of the urinary and genital tract. For women, the vagina is the most common site of infection. For men, the urethra is most commonly affected.
 

Other causes of vaginal infection may be an allergy to spermicides, feminine hygiene products, and laundry detergents and fabric softeners. You may also have a different sexually transmitted disease. Older women may experience atrophic vaginitis (a thinning of the vaginal walls with menopause). You may have forgotten to remove a tampon, or another foreign object may be in your vagina causing irritation.

Symptoms of a Vaginal Infection

Vaginal discharge, itching, and burning are common symptoms of the various forms of vaginal infections. Although the symptoms of these infections can be very similar, there are some differences to look for in the color and odor of the discharge.

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.
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