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Vaginal Infections

Types of infection and how to spot them

A vaginal infection is an inflammation of the vagina causing a variety of uncomfortable symptoms. The main types of vaginitis are thrush, vaginitis, bacterial vaginosis, chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis (STIs).

Thrush

Thrush is a common fungal infection. Symptoms include thin and watery, or thick and white (‘cottage cheese’) discharge. Other symptoms include intense itchiness and pain around the vagina. The discharge from thrush does not have a strong odour but may smell yeasty (like bread or beer).

Vaginitis

Vaginitis is a term to describe any inflammation, soreness, or swelling of the vagina. Some symptoms that often accompany vaginitis include abnormal discharge, irritation, itching, bleeding mid-cycle, or dyspareunia (painful intercourse). If it is bacterial, vaginitis can be caused by thrush, bacterial vaginosis, or chemical irritation from soaps, spermicides, or douching.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

Bacterial vaginosis is an extremely common condition in which the natural pH of the vagina becomes disrupted. In many cases, the only symptom will be a change in your discharge. BV discharge is white or greyish coloured and has a strong fishy smell, which may be more intense after sexual intercourse. BV does not usually cause itching or irritation.

Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis

These three infections are sexually transmitted. Each present with different symptoms and in some cases you may be asymptomatic even though you are carrying the infection. See our symptoms and sexual health pages for more information.

Vaginitis and general vaginal health

Treatment for vaginitis depends on what is causing it, with fungal infections treated with antifungal creams and tablets, and bacterial infections treated with antibiotics. In general, some things you can do to help improve your vaginitis and to maintain your vaginal health in general include:

  • Keeping your genital area clean and dry – take a warm bath rather than a hot one and use plain, unperfumed soap to clean your genital area (the vagina cleans itself with natural secretions); dry yourself thoroughly
  • Avoiding douching (spraying water inside your vagina) – it may make your vaginitis symptoms worse, by removing the healthy bacteria that line the vagina and help keep it free from infection
  • Not using feminine hygiene products – such as sprays, deodorants or powders
  • Using pads rather than tampons if you have an infection
  • Wearing loose-fitting cotton underwear – don’t wear underwear at night while you sleep

Causes

Bacterial infections of the vagina are usually caused by something that upsets the balance of the bacteria that exists normally in the vagina. The bacteria the is found in a healthy vagina is there to protect and keep it healthy. The main functions of healthy vaginal bacteria are:

  • To outnumber any potential bad bacteria that enter the vagina
  • To regulate the pH of the vagina and keep it within a healthy range (around 4.5, which is slightly acidic)
  • To produce natural antibiotics where necessary to kill bad bacteria
  • Produce a lubricant that prevents unwanted bacteria from settling in the vaginal wall

What to do next

Even a slight infection can cause unpleasant symptoms and discomfort. Make an appointment to speak to a member of our team as soon as you notice anything out of the ordinary. We are available six days a week, with female doctors available where preferred. Give us a call or use our online booking system.

FAQ

Is bacterial vaginosis (BV) a sexually transmitted infection?

BV is not a sexually transmitted infection. If you have BV, your partner does not need to get treated. BV can, however, be caused by a new partner, or by having multiple sexual partners, due to the fact that intercourse can disrupt vaginal pH. BV can also occur in women who are not sexually active.

Is BV caused by poor hygiene?

No. In fact, in some cases BV can be caused by too much focus on cleanliness, especially where soaps and vaginal deodorants are concerned.

Which bacterial infections are sexually transmitted?

The sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that are caused by bacteria are chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. STIs like genital herpes and HIV are caused by viruses.

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Please note that Walk In Clinic is a private medical centre and not an NHS service.