Yeast infection vs bacterial vaginosis: Know the differences between the vaginal infections

Bacterial vaginosis and vaginal yeast infection can lead to unusual vaginal discharge and discomfort. We tell you the differences between bacterial vaginosis and yeast infection.

Vaginal infections are common among women. And yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis are mostly the causes of vaginal infections. Though the reasons behind these common gynaecological problems are different, they are mostly responsible for unusual vaginal discharge and discomfort down there. There are similarities between the two, but there are also key differences between yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis. Read on to know more about these conditions that lead to vaginitis or vaginal inflammation.

What is vaginal yeast infection?

Vaginal yeast infection, also known as vaginal candidiasis, is a fungal infection that is primarily caused by Candida albicans, says obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Sushma Pampanavar. Its symptoms include vaginal irritation, discharge, and intense itching of the vagina and vulva. Candida albicans is a type of yeast that is normally present in the vagina in small amounts, but there can be overgrowth, causing an infection.

Vaginal candidiasis is a fungal infection. Image courtesy: Freepik

What is bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis or BV is a condition characterised by an imbalance in the normal bacteria that inhabit the vagina. Normally, the vagina contains a balance of various bacteria, including lactobacilli, which help maintain an acidic environment that discourages the growth of harmful microorganisms. In BV, there is a decrease in the number of lactobacilli and an overgrowth of other types of bacteria, such as Gardnerella vaginalis. This imbalance can lead to symptoms such as increased vaginal discharge with a fishy odour. BV is the most common cause of vaginal discharge among women in reproductive phase, according to the World Health Organization.

What are the differences between yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis?

Here are key differences between these two vaginal infections:

1. Symptoms

In case of vaginal yeast infection, you will notice a thick, white, curd-like vaginal discharge accompanied by intense itching and irritation of the vagina and vulva, says the expert. When it comes to bacterial vaginosis, there is a thin, grey or white vaginal discharge with a fishy odour that is hard to miss. Some women may also experience itching or irritation, but it is usually less severe compared to a yeast infection.

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2. Causes

Yeast infection is caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans, often triggered by factors such as hormonal changes, antibiotic use, diabetes, weak immune system, or wearing too tight clothes. Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an imbalance in the normal vaginal flora, which can be influenced by factors such as vaginal douching, multiple sex partners, smoking or hormonal changes.

3. Treatment

Yeast infection is typically treated with antifungal medications, such as Fluconazole (oral) or antifungal creams (topical), which help eliminate the fungus causing the vaginal infection. Bacterial vaginosis is usually treated with antibiotics, such as Metronidazole (oral or vaginal gel) or Clindamycin (oral or vaginal cream), which help restore the balance of bacteria in the vagina.

It is possible to have both a yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis at the same time, says Dr Pampanavar. This dual infection may present with overlapping symptoms and requires appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

A cotton underwear to prevent yeast infection
Cotton underwear is good for vaginal health. Image courtesy: Freepik

How to prevent yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis?

Do the following to prevent yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis:

  • Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothes, as they can create a warm, moist environment conducive to yeast growth.
  • Refrain from frequent or unnecessary vaginal douching, as it can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina.
  • Opt for cotton underwear, as it allows better air circulation and moisture absorption.
  • Practice good personal hygiene, including gently washing your private area with a mild soap and water and ensuring thorough drying afterward.
  • Avoid the excessive or unnecessary use of antibiotics, as they can disrupt the normal balance of microorganisms in the body, including in the vagina.
  • If you have diabetes, make sure to maintain good blood sugar control, as elevated blood sugar levels can promote yeast overgrowth.
  • Incorporate probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, into your diet, as probiotics can help maintain a healthy balance of vaginal bacteria.
  • Consider taking probiotic supplements meant for vaginal health, which may help restore and maintain the balance of beneficial bacteria in the vagina.
  • Limit exposure to potential risk factors for BV, such as smoking, multiple sex partners, and unprotected sex, as these factors can increase the likelihood of developing an imbalance in vaginal flora.

By following these preventive measures, women can reduce their risk of developing yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, and improve vaginal health.

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