How Do You Know if You Have an Infection Down There?

Medically Reviewed on 12/23/2022
Vaginal Infections
If your vaginal infection symptoms are caused by yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or trichomoniasis, you may be given an antibiotic or antifungal medicine.

Vaginal infection is medically known as vaginitis. Yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and trichomoniasis are the three most common causes of vaginal infections.

These infections may lead to various symptoms, such as:

  • Pain and burning in the vagina
  • Itching in the vaginal region
  • Pain and/or a burning sensation during urination
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Irritation, swelling, and ulcers around the vulva and vagina
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge with foul smell and changes in color (white, grey, green, or yellow) and consistency (thinner, thicker, or cloudy)
  • Pain in the pelvic region
  • Bleeding or spotting between periods

Most women have symptoms, but some show extremely weak signs or none at all. In some instances, healthcare professionals may identify or suspect possible vaginal infections while performing a normal pelvic exam. Your doctor may test your vaginal fluid to determine a possible infection. As a result, it is advised that you have regular checkups with your healthcare provider to assess vaginal infections.

What is vaginitis?

Vaginitis is a vaginal or internal genital inflammation. It is a very common occurrence as one-third of women experience vaginitis at some point in their life. There are several causes of vaginitis, including certain infections and sexually transmitted illnesses. The most noticeable sign is an abnormal flow of a white or yellowish discharge from the vagina (leukorrhea). 

The cause of the inflammation determines the treatment for vaginitis. Vaginitis can be caused by a variety of bacteria in women of reproductive age. Atrophic vaginitis, caused by low estrogen levels, can occur in women after menopause and some chemicals can induce irritating or allergic vaginitis.

What causes vaginitis?

Vaginitis is classified into two categories, infectious and noninfectious. 

Infectious vaginitis

It is commonly caused by bacteria, fungi, or a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The following are some of the widely seen examples of infectious vaginitis:

  • Yeast infections
    • This is the most common illness in women. Moreover, it is one of the most common causes of vaginitis. 
    • One of the most common yeast infections is candidiasis, which is caused by Candida albicans, a common yeast.
    • Yeast infections occur when a certain type of fungus, which is the normal flora of the vagina, acquires an advantage and outnumbers healthy, friendly microorganisms. 
    • The most noticeable symptom is a thick, odorless white discharge that resembles cottage cheese.
    • Infections can cause excruciating itching
    • Most yeast infections clear up quickly after being treated with an antifungal cream or tablet.
    • Women who are pregnant, diabetic, have a compromised immune system, or are on antibiotics are more susceptible to yeast infections.
    • It can affect infants born to infected mothers.
    • This can spread through sexual contact.
  • Bacterial vaginosis
    • It accounts for up to half of all vaginitis cases in the United States. 
    • It is caused due to excess growth of unbeneficial, bad bacteria.
    • It does not spread through sexual contact. 
    • The vagina naturally has a high concentration of beneficial bacteria, which help maintain an acidic environment in the vagina to prevent infections. 
    • Pregnancy, having new or several sexual partners, douching, and using fragrant soap can all disrupt the delicate balance, allowing unwanted bacteria to flourish. 
    • Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include:
      • White, gray, or green discharge
      • Itching
      • Burning
      • Pungent, fish-like smell
    • This infection can occur in women without symptoms and the illness may subside on its own in certain instances. 
    • Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics depending on the severity of the infection. 
  • Trichomoniasis
    • Referred to as trich, it is an STI that can result in vaginitis. 
    • Trichomonas vaginalis, a protozoan causes trichomoniasis.
    • Both sexual partners get infected through sexual contact. 
    • Although the infection can cause inflammation, over 70 percent of infected women and men exhibit no symptoms. 
    • If a woman does develop symptoms, they may include a vaginal discharge that has a fishy smell. 
    • Antibiotics can cure trichomoniasis, but it is important to note that both partners must be treated even if one partner is diagnosed with trichomoniasis. 
    • This disorder can cause penile discharge, redness, and pain in men. 
    • The CDC states that sexual partners should abstain from sex for at least 7 to 10 days after completion of the antibiotic treatment.
  • Chlamydia
    • It is the most frequently reported STI caused by a specific type of bacterium. 
    • It is typical for chlamydia to cause no symptoms; however, you may experience more vaginal discharge than usual, as well as bleeding between periods or after intercourse. 
    • You may also experience pain during intercourse or urination.
    • Untreated chlamydia can lead to major issues such as infertility, persistent pelvic discomfort from pelvic inflammatory disease, and issues during pregnancy
    • Antibiotics are effective against chlamydia. 
    • If you have or suspect chlamydia, you should immediately see a doctor. 
  • Gonorrhea
    • Gonorrhea is an STI, caused by bacteria.
    • You may not experience any symptoms, but if you do, they should develop within 10 days after the infection. 
    • You may experience symptoms, such as:
      • Increased vaginal discharge than usual
      • Pain in your lower abdomen
      • Pain during urination
      • Bleeding or spotting between periods
    • Untreated gonorrhea can lead to major consequences such as infertility and persistent pelvic discomfort due to pelvic inflammatory disease
    • Antibiotics are given to treat gonorrhea. 

Noninfectious vaginitis

It may be caused by low estrogen levels (which cause atrophic vaginitis) or exposure to irritating substances or habits.

  • Atrophic vaginitis
    • A condition in which the vaginal tissue becomes dry and thin as estrogen hormone levels fall.
    • Atrophic vaginitis symptoms often appear gradually over time and include:
      • Discomfort during intercourse
      • Vaginal dryness
      • Burning sensation during urination
    • Estrogen contributes to the health and lubrication of the vaginal walls. 
    • Estrogen levels in women fluctuate during various phases of their life, such as during pregnancy or when nursing
  • Exposure to irritants
    • Noninfectious vaginitis can occur as the result of an allergic response to soap or substances, such as those used for douching. 
    • Douching (bathing the interior of the vagina with water and soap) is not recommended by doctors because it has been associated with an increased risk of vaginal infections and STIs. 
    • The vagina naturally cleans itself and a mild cleaning regimen is enough to maintain a healthy vagina. 
    • A drop in estrogen occurs naturally during menopause and continues beyond that when estrogen levels remain permanently low. 
    • The tissue becomes drier and thinner as the hormone levels fall. 
    • Some of these symptoms might be alleviated by using vaginal moisturizers and lubricants. 
    • Your doctor may prescribe low-dose estrogen depending on the severity of your condition. 
    • Medication may be taken in creams, an oral pill, a skin patch, or a pill placed directly into the vagina.


The vagina includes the labia, clitoris, and uterus. See Answer

How is vaginitis diagnosed?

A pelvic examination with a speculum by a doctor can aid in the diagnosis of vaginitis if you have never encountered vaginitis or if your symptoms change from past experiences. The doctor will evaluate your medical history and inquire about prior sexually transmitted illnesses during this consultation. 

During the pelvic exam, your doctor will obtain a sample containing cervical cells and vaginal discharge with a cotton swab and send it for lab testing. This is a crucial step in determining the presence of infection and the type of vaginitis.

The doctor may conduct a pH test as an increased pH might suggest bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis. A pH test stick is placed on the vaginal wall during this exam. However, pH testing alone is not a valid diagnostic test and is frequently used in combination with another testing method.

How is vaginitis treated?

The treatment is determined by the type of vaginal infection. If your symptoms are caused by yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or trichomoniasis, you may be given an antibiotic or antifungal medicine orally (by mouth) or topically (applied within the vagina).

If a sexually transmitted infection is the source of your infection, you and your partner should contact your healthcare provider and get treated immediately.

Medically Reviewed on 12/23/2022
Image Source: iStock image

Vaginal Yeast Infection:

Vaginitis (Vaginal Infection):

Vaginal Symptoms-Teen: