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Women's Health

Vaginal Swabs



I have itching for about 5 months so I finaly went to my doctor. Because I have never been sexualy active so he said there is not much else it could be but a yeast infection. He said if the treatments for yeast infection don`t work then he would do some swabs. Can you explain how a vaginal swab is done? Is the pap smear usualy done at the same time or is it a different test?


Great question! The vaginal swab looks like a Q-tip on a stick. When the vaginal exam is done, the swab is gently placed into the vagina and the discharge adheres to the cotton. The swab is then sent out for culture, or it is gently rolled onto a glass slide so that the provider can look at the discharge under a microscope. Various infections, yeast or bacterial, usually have characteristics that can be identified this way.

The pap smear is similar, but it is usually done with a specialized brush that looks like a small mascara wand or it may look like a very small broom (it's made of soft plastic), or it may look like a tiny spatula (that is also made either of wood or plastic). The instrument is then gently rubbed on the cervix (the opening of the womb) and/or the walls of the vagina so that some cells will adhere to it. That instrument is then placed into a container so that a slide is made that can be examined for the presence of cancer cells.

The pap smear is not usually done when you have an infection, as the infection can interfere with a clear reading of the cells. It is an important part of a well woman exam. Early cancer detection is extremely important!

Both these procedures are done with the patient (usually) lying on her back with her feet up in stirrups so that the provide can see the genitals and do an accurate exam. A small instrument called a speculum is used to open the walls of the vagina so that the samples can be taken more easily. This usually feels strange, but it shouldn't hurt, especially if you relax the muscles like the provider will coach you to do. The provider will choose the correct size for the speculum so that it won't be painful. There are no sharp edges on the instrument, so there is no cutting or painful things that are done with this examination.

I hope this helps! All the best!

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Response by:

Elizabeth R Barker, APRN, BC, FNP, FAANP, CHE, PhD Elizabeth R Barker, APRN, BC, FNP, FAANP, CHE, PhD
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University