What is vaginal discharge?
Vaginal discharge is fluid made by the glands inside the vagina and cervix. It flushes out dead cells and bacteria, keeping the vagina clean and minimizing the risk of infection. This process is critical for maintaining a healthy environment in the female reproductive system.
Is vaginal discharge normal?
Typically, vaginal discharge is completely normal. Depending on the time in your menstrual cycle, the amount, color, and hue of the discharge may vary. Vaginal discharge varies in color from clear to a milky white. While you are ovulating, breastfeeding, or sexually aroused, you will have more dischargei. You may also notice a different smell to your discharge when you’re pregnant or haven’t been adhering to your normal hygiene routine. Carefree® offers a wide variety of panty liners designed to help keep you confident and comfortable while experiencing vaginal discharge.
Normal variations throughout your menstrual cycle are to be expected. When the smell, color, or consistency is unusual, particularly when it’s accompanied by vaginal burning or itching, you may have an infection or other condition, which requires medication or other medical intervention.
Causes of abnormal vaginal discharge
Any change in the bacteria balance in the vagina may alter the discharge color, odor, or texture. The following details a few common causes of upset vaginal bacteria balance:
- Yeast infections
- Antibiotic or steroid use
- Vaginitis or irritation in or around the vagina
- Bacterial vaginosis, a bacterial infection pregnant women and women with multiple sexual partners are more susceptible to contracting
- Vaginal atrophy or the thinning and drying out of the vaginal walls during menopause
- Birth control pills
- Douches, bubble baths, and scented soaps and lotions
- Trichomoniasis or a parasitic infection, most often contracted during unprotected sex
- Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Pelvic infection following surgery
- Cervical cancer
Vaginal discharge color
During a standard menstrual cycle, it’s not unusual for there to be slight changes in color, smell, and consistency. However, certain types of vaginal odor and discharge may point to an infection or another medical issue. It’s important to address unusual or foul-smelling vaginal discharge odor and color in a timely fashion for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Different vaginal discharge colors and textures can indicate different things:
- Clear and watery or stretchy: A clear vaginal discharge color is perfectly normal. You may experience clear, watery discharge during any part of your cycle. When you’re ovulating, the clear discharge often takes on a stretchy, mucous-like consistency.
- White: It is completely normal to experience white discharge throughout a menstrual cycle, particularly at the beginning or the end of the cycle.
- Thick, white, cheesy: Yeast infection, often accompanied by itching, painful intercourse, and swelling and pain around the vulva.
- White, gray, or yellow with a fishy smell: Bacterial vaginosisii often accompanied by burning, itching, and redness and swelling of the vagina and vulva.
- Frothy, yellow, or greenish with a foul odor: Trichomoniasisiii which is a common STD, often accompanied by itching and pain while urinating.
- Cloudy or yellow: Gonorrhea, a common STD, often accompanied by urinary incontinence, pelvic pain, and bleeding between periods.
- Pink: Shedding of the uterine lining following childbirth.
- Bloody or brown: Irregular menstrual cycles and in rare instances, endometrial or cervical cancer, often accompanied by abnormal vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain.
Vaginal discharge odor
A healthy vagina almost always has some sort of smell. The smell may vary depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle and your activity for a given day. For example, if you’ve just finished an intense exercise class, most likely your vagina will have a stronger smell, due to the surrounding sweat glands. Carefree® Acti-Fresh® Panty Liners are a great option for keeping dry and helping control feminine odors for up to 8 hours.
There are a couple of unusual vaginal discharge odors that don’t indicate serious issues. The foods you eat may affect your vaginal discharge odor. Citrus fruits tend to sweeten the smell, while broccoli, asparagus, garlic, and onions often make the smell more unpleasant. Some women also experience a bleachy or chlorine-like vaginal odor after using a condom or sexual lubricant.
Certain types of vaginal discharge odor may point to medical issues.
- Yeasty: Generally, the vagina has a small amount of yeast. However, an infection occurs when there’s a yeast overgrowth. A yeast infection is often accompanied by a faint, bread-like smell, and cottage cheese consistency discharge.
- Fishy: Typically, a fishy vaginal odor points to bacterial vaginosisiv an overgrowth of bacteria, which upsets the vagina’s sensitive PH balance. Bacterial vaginosis causes an increase in vaginal discharge and a strong fishy odor, which tends to get stronger following sexual intercourse.
How is abnormal discharge treated?
The recommended discharge treatment will depend on the given condition. For example, antifungal medications are used to treat yeast infections while antibiotic pills and creams are used to treat bacterial vaginosis.
Vaginal hygiene tips
Adhere to the following tips to keep your vagina clean, limiting the risk of infections and other issues that may contribute to abnormal discharge.
- Wash your vagina daily in the shower with warm or hot water and a gentle, mild soap
- Avoid feminine douche products, scented soaps, feminine sprays, and bubble baths
- Always wipe from front to back while using the restroom to avoid getting bacteria into the vagina, which may cause an infection
- Wear 100% cotton underwear
- Limit wear of overly tight clothing
If you have a significant amount of vaginal discharge, there has been a change in your vaginal discharge, or your vaginal discharge has an unusual smell or color, make an appointment with your gynecologist.
Note: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.
iContent distributed by Check Pregnancy. 2016, December 23.
Vaginal Discharge After Sex and What it Means [Blog Post].
Retrieved from: https://www.checkpregnancy.com/
iiProvided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2017, February 8.
Bacterial Vaginosis – CDC Fact Sheet [PDF].
Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/bv/stdfact-bacterial-vaginosis.htm
iiiProvided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2017, January 31.
Trichomoniasis - CDC Fact Sheet [PDF].
Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/trichomonas/stdfact-trichomoniasis.htm
ivContent distributed by Patient © 2017 - Harding, M. Gronow, H. (2014, September 230) Bacterial Vaginosis [Blog Post].
Retrieved from: https://patient.info/health/bacterial-vaginosis-leaflet