FACT: All Women Experience Vaginal Discharge
While I realize that for some, there may be an EWWW factor to the topic of vaginal discharge, many women ask about this and, are at times, concerned about theirs. (And if it makes anyone feel better, when I told my daughter about my topic, she said "YIKES!") Hopefully, if you stick with me, you will be more knowledgeable when you are done and better informed about the care of your vagina. And I promise: NO quiz.
The reason I decided to write about vaginal discharge is that I get a load of questions about the topic, mostly from teens wondering if this is normal. This is how the beinggirl.com women’s health experts (me included) respond to them:
Vaginal discharge is a fluid produced by your body to moisten and cleanse the vagina.
Vaginal discharge is simply mucus -- much like what moistens and protects your eyes and nose. It is usually clear in color, but could look white or off-white when it is seen outside of your body (on your underwear or toilet tissue). How much of it there is and how thick or watery it is will vary from day to day. This is due to normal changes in your hormone levels during your menstrual cycle (the time between menstrual periods).
If you find discharge uncomfortable, you can use a panty liner or pad to absorb it. Tampons should not be used to absorb discharge. Tampons are only used during your period to collect menstrual flow.
Perspiration or secreted or excreted fluid may create an odor when in contact with bacteria on your skin. Use wipes, specifically designed for the perineal area, or wash this area with soap and water if you detect an odor.
Some odors are related to vaginal infections. See a doctor/health care provider as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms:
- Discharge with a strong or bad odor
- Discharge that is is yellow, gray, or green in color
- Discharge that causes itching.
So many things we experience we accept as OK, the norm, and the everyday. This is one of those aspects of being a woman that is there; we deal with it, no muss or fuss. It is only when the status changes do we get concerned. And that is exactly what should happen, as that angst is what motivates us to seek treatment.
There are various bacterial or fungal infections that can cause itching, irritation, and thick, yellow or green vaginal discharge. Many are treated easily, like yeast infections, which can be managed using over-the-counter products. Others require a prescription following a proper diagnosis, which may require a culture.
Leaving an infection untreated should never ever be an option. That is because infection can travel to the uterus and causing a whopping problem, such as scar tissue, infertility, systemic problems, or worse. As part of caring for the woman, her sexual partner may also need to be treated to ensure there isn’t a passing of the infection back and forth like a bad ping-pong game.
Besides hormone cycles and infection, other changes can impact the amount of vaginal secretions produced, such as:
- Emotional stress
- Sexual excitement
The NIH offers the following tips to help prevent and treat vaginal discharge:
- Keep your genital area clean and dry.
- Do not douche. While many women feel cleaner if they douche after menstruation or intercourse, it may actually worsen vaginal discharge because it removes healthy bacteria lining the vagina, which are there to protect you from infection. It can also lead to infection in the uterus and fallopian tubes. Douching is never recommended.
- Use an over-the-counter yeast infection treatment cream or vaginal suppository, if you know that you have a yeast infection.
- Eat yogurt with live cultures or take Lactobacillus acidophilus tablets when you are on antibiotics to avoid a yeast infection.
- Use condoms to avoid catching or spreading STIs.
- Avoid using feminine hygiene sprays, fragrances, or powders in the genital area.
- Avoid wearing extremely tight-fitting pants or shorts, which may cause irritation.
- Wear cotton underwear or cotton-crotch pantyhose. Avoid underwear made of silk or nylon, because these materials are not very absorbent and restrict airflow. This can increase sweating in the genital area, which can cause irritation.
- Keep your blood sugar levels under good control if you have diabetes.
That’s it for DISCHARGE 101. Now, ElaineR.N. is happy to answer any questions!
(Thank you SunbonnetSmart for the lovely graphic!)