Understanding and identifying vaginal infections
As seen on Canadian Health & Family with Dr. Marla Shapiro. Learn more
Get the facts!
A vaginal yeast infection is a common infection that is caused by a fungus called Candida. Candida is a naturally occurring yeast that is found in small amounts in a woman’s vagina. A yeast infection is the result of an increase in the quantity of Candida.
The following factors may contribute to vaginal yeast infections:
- birth control pills
- recent or current use of antibiotics
- unprotected sex
- poorly controlled diabetes
- weak immune system
- vaginal douching
If you have a yeast infection, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- vaginal itching
- burning while urinating
- pain during intercourse
- swollen or red vulva
- thick, white vaginal discharge resembling cottage cheese
Most yeast infections are successfully treated with over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medications (e.g. clotrimazole, miconazole, fluconazole).
These OTC medications are available in the following forms:
- tablets or suppositories inserted into the vagina
- ointments and creams
- oral capsules
For recurring yeast infections, you should see your healthcare professional as a prescription therapy may be required.
Although you may never determine the exact cause of your yeast infection, there are some things you can do that may minimize your chance of getting one:
- wear cotton underwear (as opposed to synthetic)
- wear loose clothing
- quickly change out of wet clothes or bathing suits
- eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fibre
- keep your genital area clean and dry
- rinse well after using soap in your genital area
- avoid vaginal douches and deodorants
- always wipe from front to back following a bowel movement
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common type of vaginal infection. A bacterial infection occurs when the bacteria that is normally found in a woman’s vagina, multiplies. Although BV is more frequent in sexually active women, it is not usually considered a sexually transmitted infection.
The following factors may contribute to bacterial infections:
- vaginal douching
- feminine hygiene products
- having a new or multiple sex partners
Bacterial vaginosis may, or may not, be accompanied with symptoms. When present, symptoms include:
- a more watery vaginal discharge
- a white/grey vaginal discharge
- a “fishy” odour
When symptoms are present, your healthcare professional may prescribe antibiotics (e.g. metronidazole, clindamicyn). The medication will be prescribed as a cream inserted into the vagina or as pills taken by mouth.
Nearly one-third of the female population has bacterial vaginosis. Although the best way to prevent BV is still unknown, limiting your number of sexual partners and not douching will help reduce the risk of upsetting the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina.
Trichomoniasis, also known as “trich”, is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite. Although it is more common in women, both men and women can get a trich infection. In women, the infection can present itself in the vagina, urethra, cervix, bladder and genital area glands.
The following factor may contribute to parasitic infections:
- unprotected sex with an infected partner
Trichomoniasis is not always accompanied by symptoms, but if you do have symptoms, they will usually appear within one week of being infected. Asymptomatic women and men may pass on trich to their sexual partners without even realizing it.
When present, symptoms in women include:
- vaginal itching
- abnormal vaginal secretions
- pain during urination
- pain during sexual intercourse
If you test positive for trich, your healthcare provider will prescribe an antibiotic (metronidazole). This medicine, usually taken by mouth as pills, tablets or capsules, kills the parasite causing the infection.
Trich is most often spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner. As an infected person may not have any symptoms, it is important to always practice safe sex to prevent getting trich.