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 even if your pants are too tight. Many factors can cause a change in your vagina's pH balance and lead to irregular odors or discharge.2
NORMAL VS UM, VERY OFF
Ask yourself these questions3:
- Is the odor emanating from my vagina very funky?
- Is the quantity or color of the discharge different than usual?
A very strong, fishy odor or an unusual amount of greyish-white discharge may be the sign of an infection like bacterial vaginosis (BV). That's why it's very important to talk to a healthcare provider about BV.
WHAT CAUSES CHANGES IN pH?
There are many factors that can affect your vagina's pH balance and lead to common vaginal infections. Don't worry! With the right diagnosis and prescription, they are treatable. Here are some main factors. 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). Think of your vagina like a mouth. You wouldn't want to wash it out with soap; focus only on the outside.
Yes, unfortunately, sex can alter the pH level in your vagina. That's because semen has a pH level from 7.1 to 8. If you have a female partner, remember that improperly cleaned toys can also lead to an imbalance.5,6
Use condoms to avoid upsetting your balance. If you're allergic to latex, consider a latex-free brand.
THONGS & CERTAIN UNDERWEAR
If you experience changes in discharge and odor before or after menstruation, it's not uncommon. Your pH level is elevated during your period because blood has a pH level of 7.4.6 Tampons can further your imbalance. That's why if you notice any changes, it's important to talk to a healthcare provider.
Estrogen, one of our hormones, plays a large part in keeping vaginas healthy and slightly acidic. When women breastfeed or begin menopause, estrogen levels are low. This can cause a higher pH level.6
If you're breastfeeding or starting menopause, prep for a visit to your healthcare provider and ask about your estrogen levels.
COMMON VAGINAL INFECTIONS
Remember, simple 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 one of the common vaginal infections below.1,8
Bacterial vaginosis (BV for short) is a very common infection.8 In fact, it affects over 21 million women in the U.S. between the ages of 14 and 49 annually. BV is caused by an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your vagina. Basically, it's when the bad bacteria outnumber the good.9 BV may increase your chance of contracting other infections or cause complications in pregnancy. Thankfully, BV can be treated with the right diagnosis.10
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
When it comes to common vaginal infections, trichomoniasis is the only one that is truly an STI. (Side note: Learn why STDs are now called STIs!) It is caused by a single-celled parasite called Trichomoniasis vaginalis and is passed from partner to partner during intercourse.11
Chlamydia is not a common vaginal infection. However, it is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). 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
43% OF WOMEN WITH BV
are aware that if left untreated, BV can cause an increased risk of STDs.12*
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
KEEP HER IN THE KNOW
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- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Women’s health care physicians. www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Vulvovaginal-Health. Accessed September 25, 2017.
- WebMD. Vaginal discharge: what’s abnormal? www.webmd.com/women/guide/vaginal-discharge-whats-abnormal#1. Accessed September 25, 2017.
- Chatel A. 11 things your vagina is trying to tell you, if only you’d call her more often. www.bustle.com/articles/59078-11-things-your-vagina-is-trying-to-tell-you-if-only-youd-call-her-more-often. Accessed September 25, 2017.
- Oerman A. 11 ways to keep your vagina happy and healthy. www.womenshealthmag.com/health/healthy-vagina. Accessed September 25, 2017.
- Kumar N, Behera B, Sagiri SS, Pal K, Ray SS, Roy S. Bacterial vaginosis: etiology and modalities of treatment—a brief note. J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2011;3(4):496-503.
- Intimina. Why vaginal pH is essential to your intimate health. www.intimina.com/blog/vaginal-ph-importance/. Accessed September 15, 2017.
- Krupnick E. Why your thong may be bad for your health. www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/15/thong-health_n_4026307.html. Accessed September 25, 2017.
- Bilardi J, Walker S, McNair R, et al. Women's management of recurrent bacterial vaginosis and experiences of clinical care: a qualitative study. PLoS One. 2016;11(3):e0151794. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151794. eCollection 2016. Accessed August 23, 2017.
- Koumans EH, Sternberg M, Bruce C, et al. The prevalence of bacterial vaginosis in the United States, 2001-2004; associations with symptoms, sexual behaviors, and reproductive health. Sex Transm Dis. 2007;34(11):864-869.
- Brotman RM. Vaginal microbiome and sexually transmitted infections: an epidemiologic perspective. J Clin Invest. 2011;121(12):4610-4617.
- Orenstein BW. Types of vaginal infections. www.everydayhealth.com/news/vaginal-infection-types/. Accessed September 25, 2017.
- Data on file.