Medical conditions causing irritation of the vagina and sensitive external genital tissues often cause similar symptoms, including pain, burning and itching. If you are experiencing such symptoms, you may suspect a yeast infection or sexually transmitted disease, such as genital herpes. While similarities exist between the conditions, there are important differences.
Sores or Not
The presence of sores helps differentiate genital herpes from a yeast infection because sores are not a common symptom of vaginal yeast infections.The initial symptoms of genital herpes usually appear within a few days of exposure to the virus, but may not appear for up to 2 weeks. Small red bumps in the genital or anal area are the most common symptom of a genital herpes outbreak. There may be one sore or several clustered together.
The bumps turn into blisters, which rupture and cause sores that ooze or bleed. Burning, itching and tingling are common in the area affected by the sores. Genital herpes sores eventually form scabs and heal. They may develop inside the vagina or rectum, where they usually go unnoticed. Additionally, many women infected with genital herpes experience no symptoms when initially infected.
Pain and Itching
Both a vaginal yeast infection and an initial genital herpes outbreak can cause pain and itching in the vaginal area. With a herpes outbreak, the sores associated with the virus are tender. A vaginal yeast infection is characterized by overgrowth of fungus, known as Candida. This overgrowth inflames the skin, causing pain and burning. Both illnesses frequently cause burning and pain when urinating.
With a vaginal yeast infection, overgrowth of Candida usually causes intense itchiness in the entire genital area. Itchiness is also common during a herpes outbreak, but is most often caused by the sores and is more localized than what women with a yeast infection experience. A tingling sensation may occur with a genital herpes outbreak. This sensation generally does not occur with a yeast infection.
Vaginal discharge is a common symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection. Women typically notice a white, watery, odorless discharge with a cottage cheese-like consistency. Discharge is not common during an initial herpes outbreak, although women may notice a clear fluid or a small amount of bleeding when blisters rupture.
Some women with an initial outbreak of genital herpes experience flu-like symptoms. A low-grade fever, swollen lymph glands, muscle aches and a headache are possible symptoms. These symptoms do not occur with a vaginal yeast infection.
The signs and symptoms of vaginal yeast infections, an initial herpes outbreak and other medical conditions affecting the female genital tissues are often similar. It is important to see your doctor if you experience vaginal symptoms to ensure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Genital Herpes
- International Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Herpes Genitalis -- Topical Zinc Sulfate -- An Alternative Therapeutic and Modality
- Clinical Infectious Diseases: Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Management of Candidiasis -- 2009 Update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010
- The Complete Encyclopedia of Medicine & Health; Johannes Schade, M.D., Ph.D. (ed.)