Some change in the smell, color, or quantity of vaginal discharge is completely normal. The amount can vary, as well as its appearance (clear to milky whitish), depending on your menstrual cycle.1
The smell may be different if you're pregnant, ovulating, or wear clothing made of less-breathable fabric. Many factors can cause a change in your vagina's natural bacterial balance and lead to irregular odors or discharge.2
Ask yourself these questions2:
A very strong, fishy odor or an unusual amount of greyish-white discharge may be the sign of an infection like bacterial vaginosis (BV).3 That's why it's very important to talk to a healthcare provider about BV.
There are many factors that can affect your vagina's natural balance of normal, healthy bacteria and lead to an overgrowth of bad bacteria, eventually contributing to BV.4 But don't worry! With the right diagnosis and prescription, BV (and its symptoms) are treatable.3 Here are some well-known risk factors for getting BV. If you'd like to learn more, check out "How to Keep Her Awesome."
Douching has been known to increase the risk of vaginal infections.4 If you need to wash your vagina, only wash the outside (the vulva). Don't mess up your vagina's natural balance with strong scents or suds.
Yes, unfortunately, sex can alter the pH level in your vagina. That's because semen has a pH level from 7 to 8.5 Use condoms to avoid upsetting your balance. If you're allergic to latex, consider a latex-free brand.
If you have a female partner, remember that you may be at risk of transferring BV to each other.6
If you experience changes in discharge and odor before or after menstruation, it's not uncommon. Your pH level is elevated during your period and major changes to your natural bacterial balance may occur.4,8 If things never get "back to normal" following a menstrual period, be sure to tell your doctor.
Our hormonal cycle plays a large part in keeping the vagina moist, healthy, and acidic. When women begin menopause and that cycle ends, pH level can rise and harmful bacteria may take up residence.8
If you're starting menopause, prep for a visit to your healthcare provider and ask about your how your changing hormones may be affecting your vaginal health.
Remember, minor and short-lived changes in smell, color, or discharge are normal. But if the change is significant, or accompanied by feelings of itchiness or burning, it may be a vaginal issue like the ones listed below2:
Bacterial vaginosis (BV for short) is a very common infection.6 In fact, it affects over 21 million women in the U.S. annually.9 BV is caused by an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your vagina. Basically, it's when the bad bacteria multiply and overpower the good.4 BV may increase your chance of contracting other infections or cause complications in pregnancy.10 Thankfully, BV can be treated with the right diagnosis.6
A yeast infection is caused by one of the many species of fungus known as Candida. Candida lives naturally in your body and does not usually cause harm. However, Candida can grow in warm and moist environments—causing a vaginal infection.11
Unlike BV or a yeast infection, trichomoniasis is truly an STI. It's a common infection caused by a single-celled parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis and is passed from partner to partner during intercourse.11
Chlamydia is a common STI that can affect your feminine health. Some women will have discharge with chlamydia, others may not. A more common symptom is bleeding, particularly after sex.11
Noninfectious vaginitis is when skin around the vagina becomes sensitive, most likely due to irritants like scented tampons, perfumed soaps, or even fabric softeners. Technically, this is not an infection. But it is recommended you stop using these products if you experience symptoms.11
Survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of Symbiomix Therapeutics, LLC, a Lupin Company and the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) within the United States between September 14 and 29, 2017 among 304 US women aged 18-49 who have been diagnosed by a healthcare professional with bacterial vaginosis (BV) within the past 2 years ("women with bacterial vaginosis"). Figures for age, income, race/ethnicity, region, education, and size of household were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.12
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