If the colour, consistency or smell of your discharge seems unusual, and/or is accompanied by vaginal itching, burning, or pain with urination, you may have an infection.
Signs of unhealthy vaginal discharge
Some of the typical signs of infection include:
- Change in colour
- Change in consistency
- A sudden noticeable, strong, or bad smell
- A larger amount of discharge than normal
- Accompanying symptoms such as itching on or around the genitals, pelvic or abdominal pain
- Vaginal bleeding outside of your regular menstrual bleed
Some common presentations:
Watery or white discharge with itchiness
Symptoms of thrush (a common fungal infection) include thin and watery, or thick and white discharge (sometimes compared to cottage cheese). Other symptoms include intense itchiness and pain around the vagina. The discharge from thrush does not have a strong smell.
Thrush can be treated simply with antifungal cream, pills, or both, which are sold at pharmacies.
Discharge with pain or bleeding
If you notice abnormal discharge together with symptoms of pain in the pelvis or on urination, painful sex, or bleeding between periods, it is important to see your doctor. These can be signs of STIs such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, or of a serious infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes or ovaries, known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can also be a complication of an untreated STI.
Abnormal discharge with genital blisters
Blisters in the genital area are a sign of genital herpes virus infection (HSV), and it is advised that you see a doctor as soon as possible to get tested and discuss options for treatment.
If you notice an unusually strong or foul-smelling discharge, and you have been attending to the basics of personal hygiene, this could be a sign of either of two types of infection.
White or grey discharge with ‘fishy’ smell
The symptoms of bacterial vaginosis (BV) include white or greyish coloured discharge, together with a strong fishy smell, which may be more intense after sexual intercourse. BV occurs when the natural bacteria (flora) of your vagina becomes imbalanced. BV does not usually cause itching or irritation.
BV is extremely common and isn’t sexually transmitted, although in some cases having a new sexual partner may trigger a bacterial vaginal imbalance. It is easily treated with antibiotics, which can be prescribed by a doctor.
Green, yellow or frothy discharge with ‘fishy’ smell
If you experience large quantities of frothy, yellow, or green discharge, together with a strong fishy odour, you may have trichomoniasis, which is a common STI caused by a tiny parasite. Other symptoms of trichomoniasis include pain, swelling and itching in the vagina or vulva, and pain with urination.
Abnormal vaginal discharge is usually a sign of infection, or something that has disrupted the natural balance of flora in your vagina. Douching or washing the vagina can disrupt this balance. You may also have a sexually transmitted infection, or an overgrowth of yeast.
Causes of abnormal discharge
Some of the most common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge include:
- Antibiotic or steroid use
- Bacterial vaginosis (a bacterial infection)
- Birth control pills
- Cervical cancer
- Chlamydia, gonorrhea, or Trichomoniasis (STIs)
- Vaginal douching, washing with scented soaps or lotions, bubble bath
- Pelvic infection or Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Vaginal atrophy during menopause
- Vaginitis (irritation of the vagina)
- Yeast infections
What to do next
Whether you are experiencing symptoms of an infection, are uncertain about your vaginal health, or would just like a check-up, our team is here to help. Use our online booking form or give us a call to make an appointment.
All women have some vaginal discharge which typically varies depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. Healthy discharge is produced by the cervix (opening of the womb). It is normal and healthy to produce a clear, cloudy white, discharge, which may appear yellowish when dry. Healthy discharge doesn’t smell strongly or have a very noticeable colour. You may feel discomfort from wetness, but there should not be any pain, burning, or itching when your vagina is healthy.
The most common and natural change in vaginal discharge happens during ovulation, which occurs roughly two weeks after your menstrual period (mid-cycle). You may notice that the discharge thickens to egg-white consistency, and clumps together. Ovulation discharge is typically clear, or may contain small white flecks. Birth control pills and pregnancy may also affect your discharge, and your vagina will produce increased amounts of discharge when you are sexually aroused.
The following is a list of suggested guidelines for avoiding vaginal infections, general things to consider when undergoing treatment, and ideas for reducing the discomfort of vaginal infections:
- Use condoms when having sexual intercourse with new partners.
- Take care of your body by eating well, getting enough sleep, and staying hydrated.
- Wear cotton underwear.
- Keep the vaginal area clean and dry.
- Wipe from front to back after urination or bowel movement.
- Avoid using pads that contain scents or deodorant.
- Avoid soaps or shower gels containing perfume or deodorant.
- Avoid tampons, especially during an infection.
- Don’t use oil-based lubricants (e.g. petroleum jelly ).
- Don’t douche.
- Use medication as long as directed.
- Sex should be avoided until the treatment plan is completed and you are clear of the infection.
- Scratching can cause further irritation to inflamed areas.
- See a doctor if your symptoms persist after completing treatment.