Vaginal discharge is normal. The glands inside your vagina and cervix produce small amounts of fluid. This fluid flows out of the vagina each day, carrying out old cells. This is your body’s way of keeping your vagina healthy and clean. The discharge is usually clear or milky and does not smell bad.
The color and thickness of the discharge changes with your menstrual cycle. There is more discharge when you ovulate or breastfeed, or when you are sexually excited.
How do I know if I have a vaginal infection?
Changes in vaginal discharge can occur if the normal balance of healthy bacteria in your vagina is upset. Many things can cause this imbalance, including douching, feminine hygiene spray, certain soaps or bubble baths, antibiotics, diabetes, pregnancy or infections.
Changes that may signal a problem include an increase in the amount of discharge, a change in the color or smell of the discharge, and irritation, itchiness, or burning in or around your vagina. Discharge that is stained with blood when you are not having your period may also indicate a problem. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms.
The fungus responsible for causing yeast infections is often found in a healthy vagina. If something changes the balance of the normal organisms found in the vagina, it can cause an overgrowth of the yeast and subsequently an infection. Symptoms of yeast infections include:
- A thick white vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese
- Swelling and pain around the vulva (the skin around the vagina)
- Intense vaginal itching
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Burning of the skin with urination
Yeast infections usually are not caught from a sex partner. You may be more likely to get a yeast infection if you have been taking antibiotics or steroids, are pregnant, or have diabetes. Some women get frequent yeast infections for no obvious reason.
Yeast infections may be treated with a cream or gel that you put into your vagina, or with a medicine taken by mouth.
Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an overgrowth of any number or organisms that may be found in a healthy vagina. Something usually changes the ph in the vagina, allowing for the overgrowth of the bacteria. No one knows why some women get this infection. Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include:
- White, gray, or yellowish vaginal discharge
- A fishy odor that is strongest after sex or after urinating or washing with soap
- Itching or burning
- Slight redness and swelling of the vagina or vulva
Bacterial vaginosis is usually treated with antibiotic pills or creams.
Trichomoniasis (trik-oh-mown-eye-a-sis) is an infection caused by a parasite, spread by having unprotected sex with a person who is infected with Trichomonas. Some people who are infected may not have any symptoms for a long time. Symptoms of infection may include:
- A watery, yellowish or greenish bubbly vaginal discharge
- A bad smell
- Pain and itching when urinating
Trichomoniasis is treated with antibiotics. It is also necessary to treat sexual partners of infected individuals.
Perineal Hygiene (Tips on Preventing Vaginitis)
- Avoid douching
- Avoid using feminine hygiene products, colored or perfumed toilet paper, sanitary pads or tampons that contain a deodorant, or bubble bath
- After using the toilet, always wipe from front to back to keep bacteria from your rectal area out of your vagina
- Wear cotton underpants (panties) during the day. Cotton allows your genital area to “breathe”. Skip wearing underpants at night (for heavier women, wearing cotton panties at night may help by absorbing excess moisture)
- Avoid wearing tight pants, pantyhose, swimsuits, biking shorts or leotards for long periods. Change as soon as possible after a work out
- Use a mild laundry detergent. Consider an extra rinse cycle if you think it may be irritating your genitals.
- Avoid using hot tubs
- Bathe or shower daily and gently pat your genital area dry with a clean towel
- If you feel irritated by latex condoms or spermicidal products, talk to your health care provider
- If you think you may have an infection, make an appointment to see your health care provider