What are the Signs of a Vaginal Infection?

Margo Upson
Margo Upson

Vaginal infections are a common condition, experienced by many women all around the world at one time or another. An infection is caused by a strain of bacteria, yeast, or protozoal organism, and is one of the most common reasons that women visit their doctors. There are numerous types of vaginal infections, but the symptoms are very similar for most.

A change in discharge may be a sign of an STD.
A change in discharge may be a sign of an STD.

The vaginal area is home to different types of organism, mostly lactobacillus acidophius, beneficial bacteria that also aids in digestion. There are enough types and amounts of organisms in the vaginal area to create a balance. An infection occurs when a new type of bacteria is introduced to the area, throwing off the balance and causing an infection.

Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can result in vaginal discharge.
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can result in vaginal discharge.

The most common symptoms of a vaginal infection are burning, itching, redness, and an unpleasant odor. There may also be swelling. Another symptom is a change in discharge. Although women usually experience normal discharge throughout the course of their menstrual cycle, a vaginal infection can alter the color, texture, and amount of the secretions.

One of the most common types of vaginal infections is bacterial vaginosis, caused by Gardnerella vaginalis and other organisms in the vagina. The main symptom of this infection is a very strong odor, most noticeable after intercourse. Women may also notice an excess of watery discharge, either clear or white in color.

Candida vaginitis, or a yeast infection, is another type of infection. The symptoms of this infection include swelling, irritation, redness, itching, and changes in discharge. Thick, white discharge, or even no discharge at all, is common with yeast infections.

Trichomonas vaginitis, sometimes also known as "trich," is the third most common type of vaginal infection. The symptoms are very similar to bacterial vaginosis; an increased amount of discharge, possibly in a different color than normal, and some itching are normal signs. There may also be a noticeable smell associated with this infection.

The symptoms of a vaginal infection are aggravating, but easily relieved. A woman's doctor can prescribe an antibiotic which can quickly clear up the infection. There are also some treatments available over-the-counter at many drug and department stores. Because the symptoms of a vaginal infection could be the signs of something more serious, such as a sexually transmitted disease or an allergic reaction, it is important that a woman visits her doctor for evaluation before attempting to diagnose or treat an infection on her own.

A vaginal infection can cause itching.
A vaginal infection can cause itching.
Margo Upson
Margo Upson

Margo has a varied academic background, which has involved everything from psychology and culinary arts to criminal justice and education. These wide-ranging interests make her an ideal wiseGEEK writer, as she always enjoys becoming an expert on new and unfamiliar topics.

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Discussion Comments


I used to get vaginal yeast infections so often that I asked my doctor what I could do to prevent them. She suggested a couple of things, and some of them I was already doing.

She said I should always wear cotton underwear. Also, I should change out of a wet swimsuit as soon as possible, because it could provide a moist, warm environment for bacteria to thrive. I already was doing both of these things.

However, she told me about another preventative method I had never heard of before. She said I should try taking acidophilus supplements. This is the same stuff you find in yogurt that helps prevent yeast infections.

I started taking one supplement a day, and I stopped getting yeast infections. As an added benefit, it helped with digestion. I felt much healthier all around.


Yeast infections are the most unbearable type. They make life miserable until you find a way to get rid of them.

I have tried taking over-the-counter medicine for a yeast infection, and it never works for me. I always have to go to the doctor for medicine.

When I have an itch that will not go away and is so powerful that it won't let me sleep or sit still, I know that I have a yeast infection. I do notice an increase in discharge, but this is minor compared to the terrible itching.


@jennythelib - If you're trouble with a vaginal bacterial infection again, you might ask your doctor (since you'll be there anyway) about treating with hydrogen peroxide instead of antibiotics. A clinic study found that a hydrogen peroxide vaginal wash was just as effective in treating even nasty, recurring cases, and might even have less chance of a recurrence than when you treat with antibiotics.

Another advantage of the hydrogen peroxide rinse is that it helps bring your vagina's pH back to where it should be, which encourages the growth of the "good" flora that keep things healthy down there. It's a fairly delicate system that can easily by upset by things like stress, pregnancy, and taking antibiotics. (I also try to really watch my sugar - that helps prevent yeast infections.)


I assume that antibiotics would only be for the bacterial vaginal infection! I've also been told by an on-call doctor (not my personal gynecologist) that you can cure these by douching with Betadyne - but I preferred the pills, thank you very much.

Personally, I find that it's really difficult to tell the kinds apart. Supposedly the smell is different (more like fish for bacterial vaginosis [BV] and more like beer or bread for yeast). But you can also have both together! I always go to my doctor. I hate to spend the $30 copay, but to me it's worthwhile to make sure I know what I'm dealing with.

I find that prevention is the best cure. If I have to take antibiotics for any reason, I load up on the yogurt and am particularly careful about yeast infections, as those can be an aftereffect. And I do all the usual things they advise to prevent vaginal infections. They are easy to treat, but not always easy to cure - they can recur, or treating one can cause another kind!

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