Vaginal discharge is a type of fluid that comes out from the vagina. Typically, it is clear or whitish in color. It is normal for most women to have vaginal discharge, although the amount can vary from person to person. It is also normal for the color, amount, and texture of the discharge to change depending on what time it is during the menstrual cycle.
Some changes, though, are not normal and may indicate the presence of an infection. Here’s what you need to know:
What Is Vaginal Discharge?
Vaginal discharge is a mixture of fluid and cells shed by your vagina. Normal vaginal discharge helps to keep the tissues in the vagina healthy. The discharge also helps to keep the vagina clean and moist and protects it from infection.
Some women have a little discharge sometimes, while others can have discharge daily. Some women can have a lot of discharge and may need a pantyliner to help keep their underwear dry. The amount of discharge can also change at various times in a woman’s life.
Vaginal discharge typically starts in a woman anywhere from 6 months to a year before her first period.
How to Know if Vaginal Discharge Is Normal?
Most women produce vaginal discharge, and it is considered normal. The type of vaginal discharge you have is considered normal if it is clear or white in color, is thick and sticky, or is slippery and wet. It can also be normal if there is no strong or unpleasant smell.
You may have more discharge if you’re sexually active, are pregnant, or are using birth control. You may also find that the discharge is slippery and wet before your period starts.
When Is Vaginal Discharge a Sign of Infection?
If your vaginal discharge changes in color, smell, or texture, it may be a sign of infection. There are several different signs to watch out for.
- Changes in the smell of the discharge, especially if the smell becomes strong or unpleasant.
- Changes in the color of the discharge, especially if the discharge turns green or gray.
- Changes in texture of the discharge, such as the discharge looking like cottage cheese or foam.
- Itching, redness, swelling or a burning sensation in the vagina.
- Any type of bleeding or even light vaginal bleeding, called spotting, from the vagina that isn’t part of your period.
Causes of Changes in Vaginal Discharge
Changes in vaginal discharge can be caused by infections, some of which may be caused by having sex with a person who already has the infection. Trichomoniasis (also called “trick”), bacterial vaginosis (also called Gardnerella or BV), gonorrhea (or clap), and chlamydia are infections that can be caused by sexual contact with a person who has the infection. Sometimes, you may also have a yeast infection called candidiasis, caused by a type of fungus.
Not all changes in vaginal discharge are caused by infections, though.
- You can have a vaginal discharge if there’s a foreign object inside or close to the vagina.
- A discharge can be due to an irritation or rash caused by coming in contact with a chemical substance or other objects.
- Sometimes, vaginal discharge can be caused by a condition called atrophic vaginitis that takes place after menopause.
How to Care for Vaginal Discharge
For normal vaginal discharge, clean and wash the area around the vagina using plain water. Avoid using substances like soaps and gels or deodorants or scented wipes, as these can cause irritation. Also, avoid washing inside the vagina using douches, as these can upset the balance of good bacteria in the vagina and cause infections.
Pantyliners can be used occasionally to help ward off smells if you have a lot of discharge or you want to stay dry. It is not recommended to use them all the time, as they can cause irritation when used for long.
Vaginal discharge is normal in women and helps to keep the vagina lubricated and free from disease and infection. Visit the doctor if you see changes in the smell, texture, or color of the vaginal discharge, as these can indicate the presence of an infection. Your doctor will recommend treatment depending on the cause of the condition.
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Medically Reviewed on 12/7/2021
Cleveland Clinic: “Vaginal Discharge.”
KidsHealth: “I’ve Never Had My Period, So What’s This Discharge?” “Vaginal Discharge: What’s Normal, What’s Not,” “Vaginal Yeast Infections.”
Mayo Clinic: “Vaginal discharge.”
NHS: “Vaginal discharge.”