Any bodily discharge can be embarrassing. If you don't know how to hygienically cope with vaginal discharge, you may have issues with odor and/or staining that can lead to additional embarrassment. While many discharges are normal and help keep the pH balance of your vagina intact, other discharges can be the sign of real issues that need to be addressed either with over-the-counter medication or by seeing a qualified doctor.
See if your discharge is normal. Normal vaginal secretions will be clear or milky in appearance. This natural lubricant helps clean your vagina, keeping it free from unhealthy germs. Normal secretions are odor-free. Secretions may be thin, stringy or have white spots. If this sounds like your discharge, leave it alone. Natural discharge is very important in keeping your vagina healthy.
Learn the types of vaginal discharge. There are several different types of vaginal discharge. These types are categorized based on their color and consistency. Some are normal, while others may indicate an underlying condition that requires treatment.
- Thick, white, cheesy discharge – This is usually a sign of a yeast infection. May also be accompanied itching or swelling around the vulva.
- White, yellow or grey discharge – Especially if accompanied by a fishy odor, this type of discharge is likely a sign of bacterial vaginosis. May also be accompanied by itching and swelling.
- Yellow or green discharge – A yellow or green discharge, especially when it is thick, chunky, or accompanied by a bad smell, is not normal. This type of discharge may be a sign of the infection trichomoniasis, which is commonly spread through sexual intercourse.
- Brown or bloody discharge – Brown or bloody discharge may be a product of irregular menstruation, but can also be a sign of more serious illness such as cervical cancer if accompanied by pelvic pain or vaginal bleeding.
- Cloudy yellow discharge – This type of discharge, especially if accompanied by pelvic pain, may be a sign of gonorrhea.
Consider the state of your body. Factors that affect vaginal discharge include what you eat, your menstrual cycle, whether or not you're on the pill, if you are breast-feeding, what medications you are taking, whether or not you are pregnant, and whether or not you are under stress.
- You can also be at risk of throwing off your vagina's natural pH balance if you are on antibiotics or if you use vaginal douches, feminine hygiene products or perfumed soaps. While anti-biotics cannot be avoided, douching and scented feminine products should always be avoided as these are bad for your body.
- Other things that can put you at risk include pregnancy, diabetes or other infections that are near or around that area of the body.
Look for foreign objects. Leaving in a tampon for too long can cause unusual discharge. Some women forget they even had a tampon up there! You can also end up with other objects in your vagina which can cause a discharge (as your body tries to expel it). A common example is a piece of a broken condom.
Know the difference between colors and odors of vaginal discharge. Off-color or foul odors in the vaginal region can be the sign of a pelvic infection after you've had a surgery, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), vaginal atrophy during menopause, trichomoniasis or vaginitis, and several other vaginal infections, all of which should be diagnosed by a doctor and treated as advised by your doctor.
- Vaginal discharge with bacterial vaginosis will be gray, white or yellow. It will also have a fishy odor.
- If you have gonorrhea, you might have a cloudy or yellow discharge.
- Yeast infections can be apparent if you have a thick, white discharge. This discharge is often described as having a cottage cheese consistency. Cottage cheese discharge is also characteristic of chlamydia, a common STI.
- If you have an irregular period or endometrial or cervical cancer, you may notice a bloody or brown discharge.
- If you have trichomoniasis, yellow/green frothy discharge that has a bad odor may affect you.
- If you don't have health insurance, there are clinics (like Planned Parenthood) which offer gynecological exams and treatment that are inexpensive or free.
- Avoid taking medication until you know what the cause is. There is medication for things like yeast infections, but you should not self-diagnose a yeast infection if this is your first time getting one. Taking yeast infection medication without a yeast infection can lead to future problems.