Do you know how to tell what’s going on in your vagina? Vaginal discharge can often help you know if your vagina is healthy or if there’s something going on that you should be concerned about.
Vaginal discharge is a normal function of your vagina. Glands inside the vagina create fluid that helps clean it out by carrying away dead cells and bacteria. This is one way your body helps fight vaginal infections.
What is normal discharge?
Normal vaginal discharge changes as you go through your monthly cycle. Normal differences include:
• The color may vary from clear to milky white. It may also look white or pale yellow if it dries on your underwear.
• The odor may vary from no smell to a mild odor, especially if you are pregnant or have not bathed thoroughly.
• The amount of discharge may vary from not much at all to enough to make your underwear wet. If you are ovulating, breastfeeding or feeling aroused, you may have more vaginal discharge.
• The consistency may vary from thin to sticky to thick to gooey.
Your normal discharge may also change at different stages in your life. Most women have more discharge that is thicker when they are pregnant. Some types of birth control can also affect your discharge. And many women have thicker discharge as they go through menopause.
What is abnormal discharge?
Abnormal changes in your vaginal discharge may be a sign that you have a vaginal infection or other health concern.
If your discharge has one or more of these changes, you should get it checked by your doctor:
• Green or grey color
• Cloudy or very yellow
• Very smelly, perhaps with a fishy odor
• Thick or similar to cottage cheese
• Bloody or brown when it’s not time for your period
Depending on the reason for the change to your discharge, you may also have itching in your genital area.
What causes abnormal discharge?
A variety of things can cause changes in your vaginal discharge:
• Vaginal discharge contains a lot of water. So if you are dehydrated, your discharge may be thicker.
• Some medications can change your discharge.
• STDs are spread through sexual conduct and can include chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis.
• Yeast infection is caused by a fungus.
• Bacterial infection occurs when the good and bad bacteria in your vagina are out of balance. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) can produce discharge that is gray and smells fishy.
• Cervical or endometrial cancer can change your discharge.
• Skin conditions such as lichen planus can cause a change to occur.
It is important to know that each type of vaginal infection needs a specific kind of treatment. If you try to guess or self-medicate, you may prolong your uncomfortable symptoms. If you think you have an infection, see your doctor to get the right treatment for what is actually going on.
Tips to help you stay healthy
Your vagina needs to maintain a precise balance between good and bad bacteria, and at the right level of acidity.
Try these things to help keep your vagina healthy:
• Don’t douche
Douching involves squirting liquid into your vagina. There are many different kinds of douches available for purchase, and some women say they feel cleaner when they douche. But douching can wash away good bacteria and upset the balance in your vagina. So don’t douche, even with plain water.
• Avoid sprays and powders
Don’t use hygiene sprays or other scents or powders in your genital area.
• Manage your sugar
If you have diabetes, excess sugar in your bloodstream can affect your genital area.
• Wear loose clothing
Tight-fitting clothes, including pantyhose, block air flow to your genital area and may help an infection grow.
• Wear cotton underwear
Cotton breathes better than synthetics, and allows better airflow around your genital area.
• Sleep better bare
Take off your underwear at night to allow more air to reach your genital area.
• Stay clean
Make sure to only wash your outer genital area with soap and just rinse the inner area with water alone when you bathe or shower. Also remember to wash your hands with soap before and after using the toilet to prevent spreading bacteria. Always wipe from front to back so bacteria from your bowels are not pulled forward toward your vagina.
• Practice safe sex
Use condoms to protect yourself from infections.
If you have noticeable, abnormal changes to your vaginal discharge, or if you have questions about your genital or sexual health, talk to your health care provider.
Reviewed April 20, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
10 Things Your Vaginal Discharge Might Be Trying to Tell You. Brittney McNamara. Teen Vogue Health. April 19, 2016.
Vaginal itching and discharge – Adult and adolescent. Medline Plus. Web. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
Vaginal Discharge: What’s Abnormal? WebMD. Web. Retrieved April 19, 2016.