The two most common types of vaginal infections are bacterial vaginosis (BV) and yeast infections, and there are treatments for each. It is important to know which type of infection you have; treating bacterial vaginosis with yeast infection treatment will not help and, in some cases, can worsen BV symptoms.
Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis
Although many women do not notice any symptoms when they have bacterial vaginosis, others experience a thin white or gray discharge. The discharge can also appear as pasty. There may be a fishy odor, especially after sex. For most women who do have symptoms, the discharge is the only symptom. Some women, however, also experience itching, pain, or burning in or around the vagina.
Symptoms of yeast infections
A yeast infection, also called genital/vulvovaginal candidiasis, occurs when there is an overabundance of yeast in the vagina. Many women notice a vaginal discharge that resembles cottage cheese; however, the discharge can also be thin or milky. Yeast infections are often accompanied by burning and itching in and around the vagina.
Because of the similarity of symptoms between these two conditions, it is always best to visit your doctor to make sure you have an accurate diagnosis.
Treatment for BV and yeast infections
For BV, antibiotic creams or oral medications are prescribed when needed. For women with mild symptoms -- or none at all -- your doctor might recommend waiting to see if the infection clears up on its own before prescribing medication. When deemed necessary, BV is usually treated with metronidazole tablets. It can also be treated with metronidazole gel or clindamycin cream, which is placed directly inside the vagina.
Yeast infections are treated with antifungal medications. There are a number of creams and suppositories available over-the-counter, but it is important to talk with your doctor before using these to confirm that you do have a yeast infection. According to the CDC, “[o]veruse of these medications can increase the chance that they will eventually not work because the yeast can become resistant to treatment.” If over-the-counter treatments do not work or if you have recurrent yeast infections, your doctor can prescribe other medications.
Bacterial Vaginosis: CDC Fact Sheet: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Genital/vulvovaginal Candidiasis (VVC): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention