Itching...Down There?

Vaginal discharge can be immensely frustrating for many women and for the doctors helping to alleviate their woes. Normal discharge varies through the phases of a woman's life and the days of her menstrual cycle.

It can be clear or white in color and watery or mucous in quality. When a discharge seems to change from what a woman considers normal, and especially when there's itching, she may automatically assume she has a yeast infection. Not so fast. The causes of such symptoms can be many, so let's review a few of the possibilities.

One of them, of course, is Vulvovaginal candidiasis, more commonly known as yeast infections, which affect up to 75 percent of women some time in their lives.

The tell-tale symptom often is a curd-like white discharge and itching. But there are other causes of itching, so if it's your first time with these symptoms it's worth seeing your doctor prior to starting treatment. If it turns out to be a yeast infection, it's usually easily treated with over-the-counter vaginal antifungal creams.

Some women prefer a one-dose prescription pill for its simplicity but it can cause nausea. If you have recurring yeast infections, you should be evaluated for diabetes or immune system problems like HIV.

Another common infection with a discharge and itching is bacterial vaginosis (BV), caused by an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. Women tend to get this one when they have a new sexual partner or change sexual partners frequently.

BV is also associated with sexually transmitted infections like trichomoniasis. It may cause copious gray discharge that has a fishy odor. If diagnosed by your doctor, antibiotics will be prescribed.

When should you contact your doctor about a discharge? If it is different from your usual discharge or if there are any other bothersome symptoms such as:

  • Intense itching or raw skin
  • Lower abdominal cramping
  • During a pregnancy
  • If it is associated with the use of vaginal devices like an IUD or pessary
  • In the event of unprotected sex
  • If it has a new, unpleasant odor

Unfortunately, not all sexually transmitted infections cause vaginal discharge or other symptoms but can lead to infertility and spread to new partners. So it is important to get screened at least annually or whenever you venture into a new intimate relationship.