Like most body parts, vaginas differ from person to person. What’s normal for you may differ from what’s normal for someone else. Knowing your own body and what’s normal for you is an important part of monitoring your own health. If you are concerned about any issues concerning your vagina or think there’s a problem, contact your gynecologist. Definitely consult with your healthcare provider before applying or using any treatments. Some of the most common vaginal problems are listed below. For information on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) related to vaginal infections, visit our medical information page.

Vaginal discharge is normal. The glands inside your vagina and cervix produce small amounts of fluid. This fluid flows out of the vagina each day, carrying out old cells. This is your body’s way of keeping your vagina healthy and clean. The discharge is usually clear or milky and does not smell bad. The color and thickness of the discharge changes with your menstrual cycle. There is more discharge when you ovulate or breastfeed or when you are sexually excited.

Changes in vaginal discharge can occur if the normal balance of healthy bacteria if your vagina is upset. Many things can cause this imbalance, including douching, feminine hygiene spray, certain soaps or bubble baths, antibiotics, diabetes, pregnancy, or infections. Changes that may signal a problem include an increase in the amount of discharge, a change in the color or smell of the discharge, and irritation, itchiness, or burning in or around your vagina. Discharge that is stained with blood when you are not having your period may also indicate a problem. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms.

The fungus responsible for causing yeast infections is often found in a healthy vagina. If something changes the balance of the normal organisms found in the vagina, it can cause an overgrowth of the yeast and, subsequently, an infection.

Symptoms of yeast infections include:

  • A thick white vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese
  • Swelling and pain around the vulva (the skin around the vagina)
  • Intense vaginal itching
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Burning of the skin with urination

Yeast infections usually are not caught from a sex partner. You may be more likely to get a yeast infection if you have been taking antibiotics or steroids, are pregnant, or have diabetes. Some women get frequent yeast infections for no obvious reason.

Yeast infections may be treated with a cream or gel that you put into your vagina or with a medicine taken by mouth.

Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an overgrowth of any number of organisms that may be found in a healthy vagina. Something usually changes the pH in the vagina, allowing for the overgrowth of the bacteria. No one knows why some women get this infection.

Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include:

  • White, gray, or yellowish vaginal discharge
  • A fishy odor that is strongest after sex or after urinating or washing with soap
  • Itching or burning
  • A slight redness and swelling of the vagina or vulva

Although uncommon, bacterial vaginosis can lead to various complications, including:

  • Miscarriage
  • Increased risk of infection after a gynecologic surgery (C-section, hysterectomy, dilation and curettage, etc.)
  • Increased susceptibility to STIs
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease, which can increase the risk of infertility

Bacterial vaginosis is usually treated with antibiotic pills or creams.

Trichomoniasis (trik-oh-mown-eye-a-sis) is an infection caused by a parasite, spread by having unprotected sex with a person who is infected with trichomoniasis. Some people who are infected may not have any symptoms for a long time.

Symptoms can vary.

People with a penis may have:

  • Itching or irritation inside the penis
  • Burning after urination or ejaculation
  • Discharge from the penis
  • Discomfort/pain during sexual intercourse

People with a vagina may have:

  • Itching or irritation around the vagina
  • Burning after urination
  • A watery, yellowish or greenish bubbly vaginal discharge
  • Discomfort/pain during sexual intercourse

Trichomoniasis is treated with antibiotics. It is also necessary to treat the sexual partner(s) of infected individuals.

For more information, view our full info page on trichomoniasis.

Pain and discomfort during menstruation vary from person to person. If you have menstrual cramping for more than 2 or 3 days, experience unusual cramping, or experience an excruciating or debilitating level of pain, you could have a medical condition in need of treatment. Contact your healthcare provider. Even if you experience only lower levels of menstrual pain, it can be treated. You do not have to suffer in silence.

Sexual intercourse should not be painful. If it is, it could be an indication of infection, illness, or problems with your reproductive organs. If you are experiencing pain during sexual intercourse, contact your healthcare provider.

General Tips on Preventing Vaginal Infections (Perineal Hygiene)

  • Avoid douching.
  • Avoid using bubble bath and feminine hygiene products, colored or perfumed toilet paper, or sanitary pads or tampons that contain a containing a deodorant.
  • After using the toilet, always wipe from front to back to keep bacteria from your rectal area out of your vagina.
  • Wear loose cotton underpants during the day to allow your genital area to “breathe”.
  • Skip wearing underpants at night.
  • Avoid wearing tight pants, pantyhose, swimsuits, biking shorts or leotards for long periods.
  • Change out of wet or sweaty clothes as soon as possible after a work-out.
  • Use a mild laundry detergent. Consider an extra rinse cycle if you think the detergent may be irritating your genitals.
  • Avoid using hot tubs.
  • Bathe or shower daily and gently pat your genital area dry with a clean towel
  • If you feel irritated by latex condoms or spermicidal products, talk to your healthcare provider

If you think you may have an infection, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider