Overview Of Vaginal Discharge
Vaginal discharge refers to secretions from the vagina.
The discharge may be:
- Thick, pasty, or thin
- Clear, cloudy, bloody, white, yellow, or green
- Odorless or have a bad odor
- Itching of the skin of the vagina and the surrounding area (vulva) may be present along with vaginal discharge. It can also occur on its own.
Causes Of Vaginal Discharge
Glands in the cervix and the walls of the vagina normally produce clear mucus. This is very common among women of childbearing age.
- These secretions may turn white or yellow when exposed to the air.
- The amount of mucus produced varies during the menstrual cycle. This happens due to the change in hormone levels in the body.
The following factors can increase the amount of normal vaginal discharge:
- Ovulation (the release of an egg from your ovary in the middle of the menstrual cycle)
- Sexual excitement
- Different types of infections may cause itching or an abnormal discharge in the vagina. Abnormal discharge means abnormal color (brown, green), and odor. It is associated with itching or irritation.
- Infections spread during sexual contact. These include chlamydia, gonorrhea (GC), and trichomoniasis.
- Vaginal yeast infection, caused by a fungus.
- Normal bacteria that live in the vagina overgrow and cause a gray discharge and fishy odor. This is called bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is not spread through sexual contact.
Other causes of vaginal discharge and itching may be:
- Menopause and low estrogen levels. This may lead to vaginal dryness and other symptoms (atrophic vaginitis).
- Forgotten tampon or foreign body. This may cause a foul odor.
- Chemicals found in detergents, fabric softeners, feminine sprays, ointments, creams, douches, and contraceptive foams or jellies or creams. This may irritate the vagina or the skin around the vagina.
Less common causes include:
- Cancer of the vulva, cervix, vagina, uterus, or fallopian tubes
- Skin conditions, such as desquamative vaginitis and lichen planus
Exams & Tests
Your provider will:
- Ask your medical history
- Perform a physical exam including a pelvic exam
Tests that may be performed include:
- Cultures of your cervix
- Examination of vaginal discharge under the microscope (wet prep)
- Pap test
- Skin biopsies of the vulvar area
Treatment depends on the cause of your symptoms.
Treatment Of Vaginal Discharge
Keep your genital area clean and dry when you have vaginitis. Make sure to seek help from a health care provider for the best treatment.
- Avoid soap and just rinse with water to clean yourself.
- Soak in a warm but not hot bath may help your symptoms. Dry thoroughly afterward. Rather than using a towel to dry, you may find that gentle use of warm or cold air from a hair dryer may result in less irritation than the use of a towel.
- Avoid douching. Many women feel cleaner when they douche, but it may actually worsen symptoms because it removes healthy bacteria that line the vagina. These bacteria help protect against infection.
Other tips are:
- Avoid using hygiene sprays, fragrances, or powders in the genital area.
- Use pads and not tampons while you have an infection.
- If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar levels in good control.
Minimize vaginal discharge by allowing more air to reach your genital area. You can do this by:
- Wearing loose-fitting clothes and not wearing panty hose.
- Wearing cotton underwear (rather than synthetic), or underwear that has a cotton lining in the crotch. Cotton increases airflow and decreases moisture buildup.
- Not wearing underwear.
Girls and women should also:
- Know how to properly clean their genital area while bathing or showering.
- Wipe properly after using the toilet — always from front to back.
- Wash thoroughly before and after using the bathroom.
- Always practice safe sex. Use condoms to avoid catching or spreading infections.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
- You notice bleeding after sex
- You have persistent vaginal discharge or bleeding