Vaginal Infections: What Are They and How To Tell If You’ve Got One by Dr. Mike Roizen

You tell your doctor that you’ve been experiencing vaginal itching and burning, redness, unusual vaginal discharge (ranging from strong odor to white or green color, very thick or foamy), and pain during sex or masturbation. She tells you it may be a vaginal infection.

But what is a vaginal infection? There are a few different kinds of infections you can get on or in your vulva or vagina. When the vulva (the lips of your external female genital area) and vagina get irritated, it’s called vulvovaginitis. Sometimes it’s caused by a reaction or allergy to something that irritates your vulva or vagina, like perfumed soap, scented tampons, a douche, or lubricant. If this is the case, the symptoms will usually go away when you stop using whatever is irritating your vulva or vagina. If symptoms don’t go away or get worse, you should see your primary care provider to rule out yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or a more serious issue.


Yeast infections can occur when the bacterial environment inside your vagina, known as the vaginal microbiome, gets thrown off balance. The vaginal microbiome is made up of several good bacteria and a stable, acidic pH environment. Taking antibiotics, fluctuating hormone levels and douching, or a number of other factors can disrupt the ratio of the natural yeast and bacteria that live in your otherwise healthy vagina, resulting in a yeast infection. The most common type of yeast infection is caused by one of the many species of fungus known as Candida. Candida live naturally in your vagina in small numbers and usually don’t cause any harm. However, Candida thrive in a warm, moist, airless environment. Under those conditions, they can grow in number, causing a vaginal infection. While there are many species of yeast, Candida albicans is the most common. Vaginal yeast infection symptoms include a thick, white discharge that some women compare to cottage cheese, as well as vaginal itching and redness of the vulva and vagina.


Similar to yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis (B.V.) is the result of a change in your vaginal environment. Overgrowth of specific bad bacteria causes B.V. Like yeast infections, B.V. can also cause vaginal itchiness or pain, and you may notice more discharge than normal with a strong, fishy smell.


Avoid, damp or tight-fitting clothing, douching and feminine hygiene products, such as sprays and deodorants. Change out of wet swimsuits or other damp clothes as soon as you can and avoid baths, hot tubs and whirlpool spas where hot water may contribute to bacteria. These habits can disrupt your vaginal balance, creating an easier environment for infection to flourish.

Yeast and other vaginal infections can only be diagnosed and treated by a professional. Most vaginal infections can be cured with medication, so make sure to see your primary care provider if you experience any of the symptoms stated above.

Feel free to send questions to Dr. Roizen at You can also follow him on Twitter @YoungDrMike and get updates on the latest and most important medical stories of the week.


Dr. Mike Roizen^ MD, a paid spokesperson for AZO®, is the first Chief Wellness Officer at any major healthcare institution. He is a professor at the Cleveland Clinic Learner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. He founded RealAge (, co-invented a drug now approved by the FDA, helped start 12 other companies and co-authored nine books on health, including four New York Times #1 bestsellers on health. He also has chaired an FDA advisory committee and was an editor for six medical journals.

^ Dr. Roizen is a paid spokesperson for AZO.