Vaginal discharge is the term for the secretions that come from the vagina. Most of the time, vaginal discharge is completely normal. This discharge is usually whitish in color and can be clear, creamy, or thick at times.
Normal vaginal discharge usually doesn’t have a noticeable smell, and it changes throughout your menstrual cycle, during sexual arousal, pregnancy, and after menopause. It’s normal to have vaginal discharge, and different people have varying amounts of it.
Read on for what to know about vaginal discharge: what’s normal, what isn’t, and how to keep your vagina healthy.
Causes of Vaginal Discharge
Glands in your cervix and vaginal wall are responsible for producing and secreting vaginal discharge. The amount and type of discharge is primarily dependent on your hormones. Vaginal discharge is made primarily of water, and also contains healthy bacteria. Its main job is to protect you from infection and to keep your vagina lubricated and clean.
It’s normal for your vaginal discharge to change at times. Perhaps the most noticeable change is what happens when you ovulate, which usually occurs about halfway through your menstrual cycle. During ovulation, your vaginal fluid can become very abundant, and it may look clear and slippery. Some people describe it as similar to egg whites. This happens because estrogen peaks just before ovulation, and causes your cervical mucus to change to a more wet and slippery kind to make it easier for sperm to swim up your vagina and into your uterus to meet an egg in the fallopian tube.
Your vaginal discharge may also become more abundant during pregnancy, and when you are sexually aroused. During menopause, as your estrogen levels decrease, you may notice less vaginal discharge and you may feel drier overall.
Normal Vaginal Discharge
Some people are surprised by how much vaginal discharge they have or may notice that the color, amount, and consistency of the discharge change at times. Most types of vaginal discharge are normal, and it’s common for it to change at times, and throughout your life. Here are the factors that influence its appearance.
Color and Consistency
Vaginal discharge is usually white in color, but sometimes it can look clear. At other times, it may take on a light yellowish color. It can look creamy, thick, and may look sticky at times. Sometimes you may notice it in your underwear or when you wipe after using the restroom.
Normal vaginal discharge usually doesn’t have a particularly potent or unpleasant smell. That said, vaginal discharge is not odorless. You can get to know what’s normal for you in terms of scent, so that you can recognize it if anything smells “off.”
Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Abnormal vaginal discharge may look like discharge that is brown or gray. It may take on an unpleasant or unusual odor, such as smelling fishy. Its texture may change, and may look chunky, clumpy, or frothy.
Often, in addition to changes in color, smell, and texture, you will experience other symptoms, such as burning, itching, or vaginal irritation.
Causes of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Abnormal vaginal discharge usually happens as a result of an infection or other condition affecting your vagina. Let’s take a look at the most common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge.
Yeast infections happen when there is yeast overgrowth in the vagina. You may experience an itching, burning feeling, and your vulva may look inflamed. You will likely notice changes in your vaginal discharge as well. The discharge may look yellow or white, and the consistency may look chunky, similar to cottage cheese. Vaginal yeast infections are treated with antifungal medications, usually in the form of a vaginal cream, suppository, or oral pill.
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a parasite called trichomonas vaginalis. It’s a very common STD and up to 70% of people who have it don’t know because it often doesn’t cause symptoms. When symptoms are present, they can range from mild to severe.
Symptoms may include burning, inflamed, and tender genitals, as well as changes to vaginal discharge. Your vaginal discharge may look yellow or green, may increase in amount, and have a fishy scent. The infection can be successfully treated with oral medication.
Bacterial vaginosis occurs when there’s an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina, and is most common in people between the ages of 15 and 44. It causes vaginal inflammation and you may experience itching and pain.
Your vaginal discharge may become thinner or grayer in color. Sometimes a fishy odor accompanies these changes. It may also burn when you pee. Bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotics.
Gonorrhea is an STD caused by an infection with a bacterium called Neisseria gonorrhoeae. The majority of people with gonorrhea don’t have symptoms. When symptoms are present, they may include burning when you pee and abnormal bleeding between periods. Your vaginal discharge may change, too. You may notice that your discharge is thicker and takes on a yellow or green color. Gonorrhea is commonly treated with an antibiotic called ceftriaxone.
Chlamydia is an STD. If untreated, it can have serious effects on the reproductive system and can make it difficult to become pregnant in the future. It may also increase the likelihood of ectopic pregnancies.
Many people with chlamydia don’t have symptoms, but when they do, they may notice a burning sensation when peeing and abnormal vaginal discharge. Vaginal discharge may look yellow and cloudy. Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics.
Can You Get Rid of Vaginal Discharge?
Vaginal discharge only needs to be treated if you are experiencing abnormal discharge. When this happens, you will need to treat the underlying condition that is causing the abnormal discharge, such as an STD or bacterial or yeast overgrowth. But normal vaginal discharge doesn’t need treatment. It’s a healthy part of your body and serves to protect your vagina and keep it moist and clean.
You don’t need to do anything fancy to clean your vagina. Plain soap and water work just fine. In fact, heavily scented soaps and vaginal cleaning products aren’t healthy for your vagina and can cause irritation. It’s best to stay away from scented soaps, gels, deodorizers, and wipes. Vaginal douching is also not recommended.
A Quick Review
Vaginal discharge is a healthy part of your reproductive system and serves to protect your vagina from bacteria and keep it moist and clean. Normal discharge is usually white or clear and can be creamy, sticky, thick, or slippery. It usually doesn’t have a strong or off-putting odor. The important thing is to get to know what’s normal for you and to always contact your healthcare provider if something seems out of the ordinary or if you have any other questions about your vaginal health.
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