What is vaginal discharge?

Vaginal discharge is something that every women experiences and it is a vital part of your reproductive system functioning normally by keeping your vagina clean and moist.  The acidic environment inside the vagina is created by the normal bacteria, which helps ward off infection.  Normal vaginal discharge presents as a clear to a milky white colour and has little to no smell.  Vaginal discharge alters during your menstrual cycle, due to the impact this has on the vaginal acidity and as a result you may experience more discharge when you are ovulating.   Also, vagina discharge can be altered due to other factors such as the birth control pill, pregnancy and sexual arousal.

What is abnormal vaginal discharge?

There can be times when vaginal discharge can indicate that there is a problem such as infection.  If you notice your vaginal discharge has an odour, is a different colour, you have an inflamed vagina and/or your vagina itches, it is advisable to make an appointment to see your GP or healthcare provider for an investigation.  Sometimes there can be an imbalance of the normal bacteria which exist in the vagina. In this instance, symptoms are not caused by a harmful infection, but by an imbalance in the normal bacteria i.e. one type of bacteria becomes dominant

How is a vaginal infection diagnosed?

You will need to advise your healthcare provider of your exact symptoms.  A vaginal examination and a sample of your vaginal discharge will likely be taken using a swab.  The swab will be sent to a pathology laboratory to be screened for infection/s, including sexually transmitted infections.  The examination and swab is a very quick and effective way of diagnosing if an infection is present. Sometimes, however, a swab is not helpful and symptoms are treated on the basis of clinical suspicion.   This is the case with Bacterial Vaginosis which causes a smelly profuse vaginal discharge but is not diagnosed by a swab test.  Sometimes Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) can be seen on a slide when a pap test is done.

What are the treatments options available for vaginal infection?

Depending upon whether you have an infection and what infection you have, will depend upon the treatment.  There are various treatments for vaginal infection, these include topical creams and oral treatments, such as an antibiotics.  If the discharge is caused by candida (thrush) then often antibiotics will make symptoms worse. If you are diagnosed as having a vaginal infection, your healthcare provider will discuss and explain treatment options that are available to you.

How can I avoid vaginal infection?

The best way to avoid vaginal infection is through good feminine hygiene, ensuring that your vagina is always clean and dry.  It is best to avoid tight Lycra and nylon around the crutch area for long periods of time, particularly if you are sweating.  Cotton underpants are recommended, as nylon and lace can be irritating.  It is important to never spray perfume or vaginal deodorants around your vaginal area.  Also, avoid perfumed soaps, douches and perfumed bubble baths, as these can all lead to irritation around the vaginal area which could result in infection.  Practicing safe sex using condoms, will also reduce your risk of a vaginal infection.  However, certain conditions such as thrush and bacterial vaginosis are common and tend to recur.