All women normally have a vaginal discharge. Generally the discharge is of a mucus-like consistency, clear to white to a light cream in color, has no unpleasant odor, and does not itch or irritate the skin. The amount varies from woman to woman and may change within the menstrual cycle, from month to month, with pregnancy, and with age. Prescribed medications such as birth control pills, as well as over-the-counter products such as cold remedies, can also affect the amount of discharge.
Infectious vaginitis has specific organisms causing the symptoms. These organisms may actually be some that normally live in the vagina in small numbers but have overgrown for some reasons, or organisms introduced into the vagina that are not usually found there. Examples of vaginitis due to an overgrowth would be "bacterial vaginosis" and yeast, while trichomonas is a parasite that may be acquired from a partner. Gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause vaginal discharge, too.
Most women have heard of yeast infections and will immediately try over-the-counter products for symptoms, but yeast is actually second in prevalence to the bacterial vaginosis. Further making self-diagnosis difficult, some sexually transmitted bacteria and viruses, although infecting the skin or cervix, may cause similar symptoms so a woman thinks it is only vaginitis. Since each organism requires specific medication, only a clinician can determine the correct treatment. Promptly seeking evaluation of vaginitis can actually result in cost savings, because money is not wasted on the "wrong" medication.