When comparing a yeast infection vs UTI, while some of the symptoms might seem similar, they’re actually very different infections. In this blog, we’ll break down what the differences are between the two infections and several other related infections that fall under the umbrella term vaginitis.
What is vaginitis?
Vaginitis is a term for inflammation or irritation of the vulva or vagina. Vaginitis includes common vaginal infections such as yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. Trichomoniasis is also a form of vaginitis.
There can be numerous causes for vaginitis, one of which is lack of estrogen. Vaginitis caused by lack of estrogen is called atrophic vaginitis and is usually caused by breastfeeding, menopause and damage to or removal of the ovaries.
More commonly, vaginitis is caused by irritation relating to sexual activity. While it isn’t a sexually transmitted infection, your partner’s natural chemistry can influence the balance of yeast and bacteria in your vagina.
Vaginitis is also commonly caused by an allergy or irritant. These can be caused by chemical compounds in different kinds of lubricants, condoms, sex toys, vaginal deodorants, washes and bath products, scented feminine hygiene products, spermicide and even laundry detergents or fabric softeners. Certain behaviors can also increase your risk of vaginitis, such as douching, spending time in a hot tub or swimming pool, wearing tight pants and/or undergarments that do not have a cotton lining and wearing a wet bathing suit for a prolonged period of time.
Recurrent vaginitis is when a person gets vaginitis four or more times per year. This can be caused by conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV or diabetes
What is a yeast infection?
A yeast infection occurs when the vagina overproduces its naturally occurring healthy yeast, which can lead to irritation. If something disrupts the vagina’s chemistry, the yeast can grow unchecked and lead to a yeast infection. Some of the causes of this disruption include normal changes in hormone levels (during the menstrual cycle, for example), antibiotics and other drugs, pregnancy, diabetes, a compromised immune system or a natural reaction to a partner’s genital chemistry.
While yeast infections most commonly occur vaginally, they can also infect the penis and scrotum, causing redness or irritation. Yeast infections can also occur in the mouth, throat or tongue. This is commonly known as thrush.
Symptoms of yeast infections include thick, clumpy discharge or a whitish coating in and around the vagina. This can cause irritation that includes itching, burning and redness in and around the vaginal area. Extreme irritation can lead to a burning sensation when urinating, which is one reason a yeast infection can be mistaken for a UTI.
Yeast infections can be treated with antifungal medicine, which can be obtained over the counter or from a doctor’s prescription. It’s important to finish whatever course of medication you take, even if your symptoms go away.
What is bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is a form of vaginitis that occurs when the healthy bacteria in the vagina are thrown off balance. Anything that changes the chemistry or pH balance of the vagina can cause fluctuations in bacteria levels that can lead to infection. Like yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection, but your partners’ genital chemistry can possibly lead to a disruption of your own chemistry.
Bacterial vaginosis doesn’t always have symptoms, but when it does, it commonly includes a strongly smelling discharge, which can be white, gray or greenish. Bacterial vaginosis can also cause irritation, itching or discomfort, including a burning sensation when urinating.
Bacterial vaginosis is easily cleared up with antibiotic pills, creams or gels. These treatments typically have to be prescribed by a doctor.
What is trichomoniasis?
While trichomoniasis is considered a kind of vaginitis, it’s different in that it’s the only infection considered to be sexually transmitted. This is because trichomoniasis (or trich, as it’s commonly known) is caused by a parasite that is carried in sexual fluids, including semen, pre-ejaculate and vaginal fluids.
The infection is often asymptomatic, so many carriers of the infection may not know they have it. When symptoms do occur, they typically include vaginal or urethral discharge with an unpleasant smell, painful urination, frequent urges to urinate, vaginal spotting or bleeding, burning or itching around the vagina, redness or swelling of the vagina and a burning sensation after ejaculation.
Trich will not go away on its own, so it’s important to get treated before you pass the infection to other partners. Treatment for trich typically involves a short (typically single) dose of antibiotics.
What is a UTI?
So, if a UTI is different than vaginitis, what is it? A UTI is an infection that affects the urinary tract system, which can include the bladder and urethra.
UTIs are very common and occur when bacteria from the genital or anal areas enter the urethra. This can occur during sexual activity when bacteria from your or your partner’s fingers, genitals, anus or sex toys makes contact with the urethra. UTIs can also be caused by chlamydia or gonorrhea infections.
The most common symptom of a UTI is a burning sensation when urinating, though, as outlined above, this can be a symptoms of a few different infections. Other symptoms associated with UTIs include bad smelling or cloudy urine, blood or pus in the urine, and soreness in the lower belly, back or sides.
If left untreated, a UTI can lead to a kidney infection, so it’s important to seek treatment as soon as you experience symptoms. UTIs can not be treated with over-the-counter medicine. The only treatment for a UTI is antibiotics prescribed by a doctor or nurse.